NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Sprint Cup Drivers Coming out of Pocono
Jeff Gordon hasn’t been the most consistent driver in NASCAR this season, but he sure has figured out how to find the winner’s circle when he needs to. And with a win in the Pocono 500 on Sunday, he just may find himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, whether he finishes in the top 10 in points through the regular season or not.
This is the thing about NASCAR’s new emphasis on winning. If you’re not consistent, but can still rip off the W’s like nobody’s business, they believe that you should be able to compete for the title just the same. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s going to make things a lot more exciting, even thought Gordon may have already all but locked up one of those two wild-card spots.
Either way, the motivation is working – with Sunday’s victory, Gordon doubled his win total from the entire 2008-2010 seasons.
But Gordon’s not the only one running every weekend – we’ve got 19 other drivers to cover in this week’s power rankings. Read on:
1. Jimmie Johnson
Oh, hey, seeing Johnson atop the power rankings is something completely new and unexpected, isn’t it? His fourth place finish helped close what was nearly a one-race gap between him and leader Carl Edwards. That gap is now six points.
2. Carl Edwards
It only takes one race, as Edwards found out on Sunday. That 40-point lead he’d been carrying on Jimmie Johnson didn’t take long to erode when he suffered engine issues early in the event. Granted, he’s still leading, but that once comfortable lead isn’t exactly cushiony anymore.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior’s performance this year reminds me of Matt Kenseth in 2003. Not a race winner, but almost always up there fighting for them, or at least comfortably sitting in the top 10. That probably won’t get him anywhere in the Chase, but it will at least get him to the Chase, and after the past couple of seasons, that’s a victory in and of itself.
4. Kurt Busch
If we’ve learned anything from Kurt Busch, it’s that pissing and moaning works. He started complaining about how the Penske cars weren’t all that great, and suddenly he’s in the thick of things going for the win two weeks in a row. Granted, it still looks weird to see him in all yellow instead of the Blue Deuce, because we’re used to that car running up front forever, but still.
5. Kyle Busch
This is supposed to be Denny Hamlin’s track, but it was Rowdy who took home the best finish of the Gibbs drivers when all was said and done. It’s his turn to lead the Toyota brigade this year and see if he can snag the championship. Hopefully the impending penalty that will likely come from the left front being 1/16” too low in post-race inspection won’t do anything to affect that fact.
6. Kevin Harvick
Happy could have made owner Richard Childress a bit happier than a fifth place finish, especially after the $150,000 fine and NASCAR probation for the Kyle Busch incident, but the weekend wasn’t a total loss; Childress ARCA driver Tim George, Jr. took the win at Pocono after leading only the final two laps in a fog-shortened event.
7. Matt Kenseth
It feels to me like Kenseth is retreating to those “quietly good” ways that won him the 2003 championship. Maybe it’s just me, though. Maybe it’s because I’m used to thinking of him like Scott Dixon in IndyCar—quiet, resourceful, focused and determined—that I don’t outwardly make comments about how he’s already got two wins this season.
8. Ryan Newman
Newman, Clint Bowyer and teammate Tony Stewart are now involved in a three-way logjam for positions eight through 10, separated by a mere two points. Newman actually sits 10th, but by virtue of beating the other two drivers on Sunday, gets this spot in the rankings.
9. Jeff Gordon
Gordon admitted in victory lane that he was “embarrassed” with the way that he and his team had been performing since the Phoenix victory. The resulting hard work obviously paid off with their second win of the season and Gordon’s first multi-win season since 2007. He’s also only six points out of the top 10 now after struggling to hang onto the top 20 for much of the season.
10. Clint Bowyer
Congrats to Bowyer for winning the Prelude to the Dream at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway this past week. His finish at Pocono, however, wasn’t quite so impressive, as he came home 16th. Bowyer’s still eighth in points, however.
11. Tony Stewart
Smoke’s Prelude to the Dream was a hit as usual, but his Pocono performance was a bit of a miss. He snagged a bonus point for leading a lap, but still finished 21st. Not quite the performance he was looking for. Not by a long shot. Maybe he'll pick up something when he drives Lewis Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes at Watkins Glen today...you never know.
12. Juan Montoya
Montoya actually spent a good chunk of the race out front, finishing seventh after leading 38 laps. It doesn’t suggest that this year will even come close to 2009 in terms of overall performance, but at the very least, it shows that the No. 42 team has got some fight in it, something that just didn’t seem like the case last year.
13. Denny Hamlin
It’s official: This is not Denny Hamlin’s year. A 19th place finish at Pocono, even after leading 76 laps, just cements that. If he even makes the Chase, expect him to finish closer to his car number (11) than last year’s rank (two).
14. Mark Martin
Token lame duck Mark Martin slide. Martin finished 18th in debuting the No. 5 Farmers Insurance car, the sponsor that will back next year’s driver Kasey Kahne. Yup. I’m going to make lame duck and Kasey Kahne references all year until this team does something interesting.
15. Greg Biffle
It couldn’t have been much worse for Biffle after starting 37th. He managed to come home a lap down in 27th, which was a marginal improvement, but he still slipped to 14th in points from 12th and faces a 14-point deficit for the final Chase spot.
16. Kasey Kahne
Kahne finished 12th on Sunday and remains a long shot for the Chase, but until he skydives out of an airplane to promote a race like teammate Brian Vickers did, that’s all I really care to say about him.
17. David Ragan
Ragan was the second-best of four almost evenly spaced out Roush Fenway Racing cars on Sunday. Matt Kenseth came home eighth, Ragan 17th, Greg Biffle 27th and Carl Edwards a disappointing 37th. That’s probably completely different from the order that anybody would have expected that to happen, but it could’ve been a lot worse for the undisputed No. 4 in the RFR stable.
18. A.J. Allmendinger
Once on the doorstep of the Chase, the quickly plummeting Allmendinger sits in a three-way tie with Kasey Kahne and David Ragan for 16th in points after finishing 25th on Sunday. His car was painted like a taxi cab for the race, owing to Richard Petty Motorsports financier Medallion Financial. Maybe Allmendinger should channel his inner New York City taxi driver to break the tie.
19. Paul Menard
Menard finished 14th after starting second, as we continue to wonder whether he’s ever going to break out and be the real deal or not. For some reason, his early season momentum never seems to carry on too long.
20. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex used his NAPA KNOW HOW to climb through the field and finish 10th after starting 31st. (Seriously, NAPA, I do this every week, will you sponsor my damn column already? You know I’m always going to bat for you…)