NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Richmond

Hugo Olguin@@RealHugoOlguinContributor IIIApril 29, 2012

NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Richmond

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    NASCAR fans have a lot to talk about after a intense and controversial Capital City 400 in Richmond.

    We saw Kyle Busch break a 20-race losing streak after his KBM Nationwide Series team got win No. 1 on Friday night. We saw bad pit stops plague many drivers, including Jimmie Johnson.  

    Of course, there was the controversial Carl Edwards penalty got for jumping the restart.  A dominating day ruined.

    Even the points leader, Greg Biffle has a long night with a ill-handling car. 

    The theme to the 2012 season is there is no dominant driver out there right now.  It seem likes every week, at least one of the top drivers has a bad race.

    Here is my Top 20 drivers for this week's power rankings.

20. Jeff Gordon

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    Previous Week: 19th

    Jeff Gordon does not have a smile on his face leaving Richmond.

    After qualifying sixth, Gordon's car just fell down the leaderboard once the green flag came out. It got much worse for Gordon on Lap 57. Right after a restart, Aric Almirola made contact with Gordon, sending him up into Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch.  

    The result was a flat tire and having to make a pit stop under green. Gordon fell two laps down and was never able to recover. He ended up finishing one lap down in 23rd.

    Gordon is now 17th in points, 57 points out of the Chase. Unless Gordon starts getting into victory lane a few times, his chances to make the Chase are very slim.

    With only two Top-10 finishes this season, Talladega may not be the track Gordon wants to head to next. While he finished third in last year's race at Talladega, Gordon has finished 19th or worse in six of the last eight races.

19. A.J. Allmendinger

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    Previous Week: Not Ranked

    A.J. Allmendinger ran well for the most in Richmond, but it looks like his temper got in his way. Allmendinger ran in the Top 10 for most of the race and was poised for a great finish.  

    Allmendinger got into Juan Pablo Montoya after Montoya roughed up the No. 22 car. After Allmendinger bumped Montoya, the handling on his way went away, and he fell back to finish 16th.

    I've moved Allmendinger into the Top 20 because of how strong his car has been running lately. He is just not getting the finishes that match his runs. I see progress in Allmendinger as we get further in the season.  

    The problem for Allmendinger is that is his hopes to make the Chase are pretty bleak since he is 21st in points.  

    It gets worse for Allmendinger because next weekend is Talladega. In seven starts at Talladega, Allmendinger has never finished in the Top-10.

18. Jamie McMurray

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    Previous Week: Not Ranked

    Jamie McMurray has been silently climbing the points standings, and I don't think anyone has noticed.  

    While McMurray has not had a Top-10 finish since Bristol, he has finished 14th in three straight races, including this past weekend in Richmond.  

    McMurray has been trying to climb out of the hole he's been in after a crash in Daytona, a blown engine in Phoenix and a 32nd-place finish in Fontana.  

    Fortunately for McMurray, his four straight Top-20 finishes have moved him from 24th in points to 18th.

    I don't have much hopes for McMurray to make the Chase, but if he can capture the magic he had in 2010, anything can happen.

    As for Talladega, McMurray has a win in the past, but he's also finished 21st or worse in the last three races at the biggest track on the Sprint Cup schedule

17. Joey Logano

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    Previous Week: 15th

    Once again, Joey Logano had a bad run and was never a factor in Richmond. Logano started 18th and never gained any ground on the competition. Logano just fell behind and ended up finishing a lap down in 24th. 

    It still amazes me that Logano is 15th in points. Logano has benefited from most of the drivers around him in points being inconsistent. I believe we're just a few races away from seeing Logano drop right out of the Top 20 in points.

    Logano's last Top-10 finish was back in Phoenix, but Talladega could help Logano get another one. He finished 10th in last year's race and has four Top-10 finishes in six career starts at Talladega.

16. Kasey Kahne

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    Previous Week: 20th

    Kasey Kahne is starting to show the strength and success that many people expected from him when he joined Hendrick Motorsports.

    Kahne picked up his third straight Top-10 finish when he finished fifth back on Saturday night. 

    After a disastrous start to the season with four finishes of 29th or worse, Kahne appears to be turning things around.

    Just in the last four weeks, Kahne has moved from 31st in points to 23rd. Kahne has a very small chance at making the Chase. His best chance is to get some wins and grab a wild-card slot.

    Kahne's run of good finishes will be put to the test next weekend at Talladega. In 16 starts at Talladega, Kahne has only three Top-10 finishes. He finished 37th in last year's spring race in Talladega.  

15. Juan Pablo Montoya

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    Previous Week: 16th

    Just like his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya has been silently getting better.

    Montoya ran a pretty good race in Richmond, and even after tangling with A.J. Allmendinger, brought the Target Chevy home in 12th-place.

    Montoya has been trying to climb the points and improve after crashing into the jet-dryer in the Daytona 500. Since the Daytona 500, Montoya has climbed from 32nd in points to 16th.

    While Montoya has only one Top-10 finish this season, his name has been moving up the leaderboard during races, and he was running up in the Top 10 during the Capital City 400.  

    Montoya needs to get Top-10 finishes, and I believe he can get them. I still believe Montoya can still make the Chase. He's 39 points out of the Chase, and he still has time to make that up.

    Talladega could be where he can get a good chunk of those points. Montoya struggled in 2011 at Talladega, but in 2010, Montoya finished third in both races.

14. Paul Menard

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    Previous Week: 13th

    It appears that Paul Menard's fast start to the 2012 is falling apart. After getting three Top-10 finishes int the first four races, Menard's best finish was 13th from this past weekend in Richmond.

    Menard was having a decent run, but a bad pit stop hurt his run. A tire got away from one of his crewman after a tire from Jimmie Johnson's team was left in Menard's pit and got in the way. This led to a confrontation between a member of Menard's team and a member from Johnson's team.  

    Even with that happening, Menard got a decent finish and is 14th in points. Menard is still lingering the hunt for the Chase, but he needs to make some moves before drivers around him move past him in points and leave him behind.

    Talladega does not look like the place that Menard will get a good run. Menard has one Top-10 finish in 11 career starts at Talladega.

13. Clint Bowyer

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    Previous Week: 14th

    After having a blown motor last week in Kansas, Clint Bowyer recovered with a seventh-place finish in Richmond.  

    This was a very important Top-10 finish for Bowyer and his Chase hopes. Bowyer was able to keep close in the battle to get into the Chase. He sits 12th in points, just 14 points out of the Chase.

    With how strong Bowyer's MWR teammate, Martin Truex, Jr., has been running, it shows that Bowyer has the equipment to make the Chase and possibly get a win or two this season.  

    He could get his first win of the season next weekend in Talladega. He has won two of the last three races there.

12. Brad Keselowski

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    Previous Week: 12th

    Brad Keselowski has a relatively quiet night in Richmond. Keselowski was never able to contend for the win, but brought home a solid ninth-place finish.  

    Keselowski earned his fourth Top-10 finish of the season, and even with his win in Bristol, sits 13th in points.

    Keselowski has been plagued by inconsistency so far this season, but he can easily get another win or two and make the wild-card slot again if he needed it.

    He could get win No. 2 at Talladega. He won his first career Sprint Cup race in Talladega, but he finished 33rd in last year's spring race.  

    That's how easily someone's luck can change in Talladega.

11. Ryan Newman

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    Previous Week: 10th

    Who would have thought a win would lead to mediocre finishes for Ryan Newman? Since Newman's win at Martinsville, Newman has finished 21st, 20th and 15th this past weekend in Richmond.

    Newman started 12th and never really gained much on the competition, and that has been the theme for Newman's runs in the last few weeks. 

    Although Newman has not had a bad race recently, he's putting himself in danger of slipping out of the Chase. 

    He could fall out of the Chase next weekend after Talladega. Newman has struggled in recent years, finishing 23rd or worse in the last five races at Talladega.

10. Carl Edwards

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    Previous Week: Eighth

    Carl Edwards had to have smoke shooting out of his ears after the Capital City 400. Edwards dominated the race, leading 206 laps, and it all went wrong on a restart.  

    Edwards was black-flagged for jumping the restart on Lap 318. There were a few issues about whether Edwards was the leader or if Tony Stewart was the leader. NASCAR said Stewart was the leader and Edwards jumped the start. Edwards and his team contend that a NASCAR official told them that No. 99 car was the leader.  

    In my opinion, no matter what, Edwards jumped the restart and deserved the penalty. Edwards was able to recover and finish 10th.

    Edwards now sits ninth in points, and it will be key for Edwards to shake this off and focus on Talladega. 

    He'll need to focus since he has only two Top-10 finishes in the last 10 races in Talladega.

9. Kyle Busch

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    Previous Week: 11th

    Kyle Busch broke his 20-race winless streak after putting himself in position to win late in the Capital City 400.

    Busch hung around in the Top 5 for most of the race and took advantage of Johnson and Edwards' mishaps to get the win. Busch led 32 laps en route to his four straight spring race win in Richmond.

    Busch moves himself into 11th place in points, just 13 points out of the Top 10.  

    We all wondered what was wrong with Kyle Busch, and he's answered his critics (myself included) with a trip to victory lane.  

    Busch will need some luck to keep the momentum going into Talladega. Busch has only two Top-10 finishes in 14 career starts at Talladega. 

8. Kevin Harvick

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    Previous Week: Fifth

    Kevin Harvick has to be frustrated with a 19th-place finish in the Capital City 400.

    Harvick qualified third, and he just faded away after the race started. The handling on Harvick's car got so bad that he made an unscheduled pit-stop to work on the car.  

    Harvick has fallen in the points standings in recent weeks. In the last five races, Harvick has fallen from second to seventh.

    Fortunately for Harvick, Talladega is the next stop on the Sprint Cup schedule. Harvick finished fifth in last year's spring race, and he won it back in 2010.

7. Tony Stewart

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    Previous Week: Ninth

    Tony Stewart was not too happy with his pit crew after the race in Richmond.  Stewart had a car that was capable of winning, but on the last caution, Stewart's crew let him down. Stewart lost the lead to Kyle Busch after problems on a pit-stop cost Stewart any advantage he had on Busch for the final restart.

    Stewart couldn't get past Busch and finished third after losing second to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

    Even with two wins this season, Stewart sits just eighth in points. It shows how wins count, but good consistent finishes are very important too.

    While many people consider Stewart a contender next weekend at Talladega, they should think twice about it.

    Stewart has only one win in 26 career starts and has only one Top-10 finish in the last six races at Talladega.

6. Denny Hamlin

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    Previous Week: Seventh

    Denny Hamlin has to be pretty happy lately with crew chief Darien Grubb. Hamlin has had three Top-10 finishes in the last four races and has two wins already this season.

    Hamlin kept the good finishing going with a fourth-place finish this past weekend in Richmond. 

    Hamlin is now up to third in points, just nine points out of first-place. I believe Hamlin has answered questions about his confidence after a rough 2011 season.  

    The FedEx Toyota is looking as strong as ever and is a serious contender for the championship. 

    Don't be surprised if Hamlin has a good finish next weekend in Talladega. Hamlin has three Top-10s in the last four races in Talladega. 

5. Jimmie Johnson

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    Previous Week: Sixth

    What a strong car Jimmie Johnson had this past Saturday in Richmond. He started 27th and climbed up to the front. He looked like he was a contender to get into victory lane. 

    Unfortunately for Johnson, he was a victim of a costly mistake on pit-road. As the caution came out on Lap 314, Johnson made a pit-stop that his crew made mistakes, and Johnson had to start at the rear of the field due to a tire violation.

    Johnson worked his way back up to a sixth-place finish. While this was Johnson's seventh Top-10 finish of the season, you have to wonder, how many ways can Jimmie Johnson lose a race?

    If he doesn't win soon, people are going to wonder what is wrong with the No. 48 team.

    Johnson is up to sixth in points, only 24 points of the points lead.

    Johnson will definitely be a favorite to win next weekend at Talladega, especially since he won this race last season.

4. Martin Truex, Jr.

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    Previous Week: Second

    Martin Truex, Jr. had his string of five-straight Top-10 finishes come to a screeching halt after a rough night in Richmond.

    Truex and his team missed the set-up on the car and were never a contender in the race. Even with an eighth-place starting position, Truex dropped all the way to a 25th-place finish.

    It was only a matter of time before Truex would have a bad race; now, we can see how tough he is to rebound from a bad race. 

    Truex has not had too much success at Talladega, Just four Top-10 finishes in 14 career races. He finished 13th in last year's race. 

3. Matt Kenseth

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    Previous Week: Third

    A quiet night for Matt Kenseth in Richmond.

    Kenseth stayed out of trouble, and his crew did a good job in pit road. Kenseth started the race in 24th and brought the No. 17 car home in 11th. It wasn't an impressive night, but Kenseth did his job by working his way up and keeping the car in one piece.

    Kenseth is fourth in points, just 10 points away from taking the points lead from his RFR teammate, Greg Biffle.

    While Kenseth has not had a Top-10 finish at Talladega since 2007, he is the 2012 Daytona 500 winner. That makes him a player for next weekend's race. 

2. Greg Biffle

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    Previous Week: First

    Greg Biffle did not have the night he wanted to have in Richmond. After starting 28th, Biffle could never make up much ground on the rest of the field. Biffle's team appeared to have missed the setup like Martin Truex, Jr.'s team did. Biffle was able to break into the Top-20 and finish in 18th place.

    Biffle holds on the points lead, but not by much. His rough night closed up the gap with the rest of the Top 10. Biffle's lead is down to five points ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

    Biffle knows that every race counts, and he needs a good finish next weekend at Talladega. He finished seventh in last year's race, but Biffle has only three Top-10 finishes in 18 career races at Talladega. 

1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

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    Previous Week: Second

    Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is back on top of the power rankings after another great finish at Richmond. Junior benefited from Johnson and Edwards having problems and almost got the win. He was able to finish in second place Saturday night even with his brakes starting to fail.

    Junior is now just five points out of the points lead. Earnhardt is looking better than ever. While he's still searching for that elusive win, he still has four Top-5s and seven Top-10 finishes this season.

    Earnhardt is in championship form right now, and it's hard to argue against Earnhardt's chances at winning the championship.

    All he needs is a win, and that could come next weekend at Talladega. Junior finished fourth in last year's race and has five wins at Talladega during his career.

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