NASCAR Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Championship Showdown Heading to Martinsville

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IOctober 18, 2010

NASCAR Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Championship Showdown Heading to Martinsville

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Kyle Busch won most of the battle, but Jamie McMurray won the war in Charlotte, repeating the feat of stealing a win during the Chase for the Sprint Cup without actually making the Chase.

    But in his wake, Chasers took six of the next seven spots, with points leaders Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin taking spots three and four to set up an epic duel at the Martinsville Speedway. They've split the past eight Martinsville races between them, and while Johnson has five to Hamlin's three, Hamlin has won the past two.

    This weekend's race will go a long way towards settling the score between the two, and perhaps even Kevin Harvick if he can step up his game ever so slightly.

    Who's hot and who's not in the Chase right now? Read on to find out.

1. Jimmie Johnson

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    You have to fear and respect one of the sport's best drivers at one of his best tracks ever.

    Anything less than a victory from the No. 48 crew at Martinsville will be a disappointment. Just like anything less than a third-place finish at Charlotte, even with the early-race spin, would be a travesty.

2. Denny Hamlin

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, leads a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Geoff Burke
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    If this is "conservative" for Hamlin, I would hate to see what happens when he opens up.

    Remember at the beginning of the Chase how strongly he stressed patience in the first few races? If he's even better on the tracks he is comfortable opening up at, he may make a lot of preseason pundits look pretty smart.

3. Kevin Harvick

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, leads a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Geof
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Harvick would have a 249-point lead under the old system right now. His worst Chase finish is 15th. From Sonoma to now, the No. 29 team has only failed to finish worse than 15th two times.

    Let's be honest—this kind of season is the reason why some people hate the Chase. Does anybody really deserve the title more than Harvick?

4. Jeff Gordon

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Jeff Gordon (C), driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, talks with daughter Ella Sophia (L) and wife Ingrid Vandebosch (R) on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    So much for that pole position. Gordon finished a disappointing 23rd in the race to put him 156 points out of the lead. The maximum swing between first (with most laps led) and last is 161. Even if that were to happen, Gordon would still have to leapfrog two other drivers to take the points lead.

5. Tony Stewart

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 15:  Tony Stewart drives the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 15, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Sam Greenwo
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Being 21st and the last car on the lead lap ain't pretty, but you take what you can get sometimes. It's too bad, really—Smoke came into the Chase pretty hot, but you never know when your luck and momentum are going to run out.

    On the bright side, dig that crazy-looking car!

6. Kyle Busch

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, races Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North Caro
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Theoretically, Rowdy is back in the title hunt by virtue of this weekend's run, landing him fifth in points. It'll take some luck to make up 177 points in five races, but it isn't totally impossible. It just requires you to do everything you can and a little luck.

    Oh, who are we kidding? Kyle gave up hope a couple of weeks ago. I forgot. My bad.

7. Greg Biffle

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 15:  Greg Biffle drives the #16 Scotch Blue Ford during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 15, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Biffle's Chase has been like a carnival ride—up and down and everywhere in between. Charlotte didn't completely undo the damage done at Fontana, but it was another strong run and that's better than nothing.

    Of course, the "what if" that will nag this team for another 11 months or so will remain: "What if that engine hadn't let go in California?"

8. Kurt Busch

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #2 Operation Home Front/Miller Lite Dodge, spins out after an incident in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (P
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    And Kyle thought he was disappointed. This year's Coca-Cola 600 winner was anything but on Saturday night, placing an abysmal 30th (see above picture), losing three spots in points and pretty much bringing Penske Racing's Chase hopes to an end.

    Not bad for them to say they competed for the title in every series they contested this year, though. Not bad at all. Makes you wonder how next year might go.

9. Carl Edwards

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Carl Edwards pits the #99 AFLAC Ford during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    From laps 176 to 178 of Saturday's race, three Chase drivers each led a lap apiece. In the first two cases, the laps led were their only ones of the night. But Edwards, the last of that trio to lead, also led lap eight of the event. Take that, Kevin Harvick. (Or, alternatively, take your three wins and third place in points. Yeah, Carl's not a factor anymore.)

10. Jeff Burton

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Jeff Burton, driver of the #31 Caterpilliar Chevrolet, spins out after an incident in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 16, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Sam Gr
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Honest to God, I keep forgetting he's in the Chase. Sorry, JB.

    Fun fact: Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of Burton's last career Sprint Cup win. (Well, not quite, date-wise. But as far as schedule placement and race location go, two years.)

11. Matt Kenseth

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 14:  Matt Kenseth sits aboard the #17 Crown Royal Ford during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 14, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty I
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Showing signs of life in the morgue doesn't usually get you anywhere. Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx may have been brought back to life, but I don't think even "Kickstart My Heart" can bring this team remotely close to the top five, let alone a title.

    Maybe Robbie Reiser can come back from his management role at Roush and kickstart Kenseth and the No. 17 team next year.

12. Clint Bowyer

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 15:  Clint Bowyer drives the #33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 15, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Sam Gree
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Wait till next year, kid. (Downer slide? Yup. Do I care? Not at all! What do you expect from a team without its crew chief and an extra 150 points in the hole? Jubilation?)

    That's all we've got for this week. See you at Martinsville!

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