As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaves Pocono Raceway, the wild-card battle for the chase heated up even more as Jeff Gordon got his first win of the season. The win puts him into the second and final spot in the wild card with just five races remaining in the regular season. Now the teams will be turning left and right this weekend as the Sprint Cup Series will be heading to the second and final road-course race of the season at Watkins Glen.
Let’s take a look at this week’s power rankings.
1. Jimmie Johnson– There have been four drivers all year long who have stood out above the rest of the field in terms of consistency and competing for wins. Those drivers are, Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. All four drivers were poised for top 5 runs at Pocono but had problems ruin there days. Johnson was clearly the dominant car but got loose on the last restart, which Johnson believes was from a flat tire. Still, the 48 team looked strong again, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the competition. Last week:1
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.– Just like the first race at Pocono this season, Junior showed he had one of the cars to beat early on. He was in the lead after making a scheduled green-flag pit stop, but lost third and fourth gear shortly after. It was a rare mechanical failure for the 88 team as this was there first race this season that they did not finish on the lead lap. Last week: 2
3. Matt Kenseth– When the final restart came, it was surprising to see Kenseth the guy running in second place. Pocono is not one of his best tracks and while he was running up front all day, it was just one of those moments that make you think, wait, how did Kenseth get into second? Unfortunately, Kenseth got caught up in a wreck for the second week in a row. Last week: 3
4. Jeff Gordon– In a season that was full of bad luck and mistakes, it was only fitting that Gordon won the way he did at Pocono. Starting sixth on the final restart, the seas parted for him as the top four cars got caught up in a wreck and Gordon was able to get around the fifth place car of Kasey Kahne. For weeks I’ve been saying Gordon just needs one win to make the chase, not the two everyone has been saying he needs. Now with one win he is in position to make the chase. Last week: 6
5. Brad Keselowski– Once again crew chief Paul Wolfe had the right strategy to get Keselowski the right track position after starting in the back of the field. He was able to hold onto the lead after he first stayed out and was a top 5 car for the entire day. He wound up losing spots on the mini melee on the final restart, but overall it was a good day. Last week : 5
6. Greg Biffle– Casualty number four in the final restart, Biffle actually had contact from Keselowski just seconds before when the 2 car started sliding into him. This led Biffle to be up the track and he had a hard time avoiding Johnson and Kenseth. It was still another great run for Biffle but he just didn’t have the results to back it up. Last week: 4
7. Tony Stewart– Smoke quickly made his way into the top 10 and hung out there for most of the day. He wound up finishing 5th and he is heading to one of his best tracks on the circuit. He is only behind Gordon in career road course wins among active drivers and should be a threat this weekend. Last week: 7
8. Martin Truex Jr.– Somehow Truex has slipped into fifth in the points. He has had a very quiet year outside of his strong first six weeks of the season. However, he remains consistent and doesn’t make any mistakes throughout the course of a race weekend. A career season for Truex so far, if only he could get that elusive win. Last week: 10
9. Clint Bowyer– I know that there is still drama trying to be built on whether the guys in the top 10 will fall out or not, but in reality they are all safe. Bowyer is in 10th and is over a full race ahead of 11th place Kasey Kahne. Even if Kahne or any other driver makes a big run and is able to pass Bowyer, he still has a win to secure himself a wild card spot. Last week: 9
10. Kasey Kahne– Not many people get to say that they finished second with a flat tire, but that’s what Kahne did on Sunday. He was probably the most fortunate person on the day that the rain came when it did. On a side note, you can tell how strong Hendrick Motorsports is when their two dominant cars of the day have problems yet the other two cars still manage a one-two finish. Look out for Kahne and the rest of Hendrick Motorsports when the chase starts. Last week: NR
11. Denny Hamlin– The newly paved Pocono is clearly not sitting well with Hamlin. He was strong early but faded towards the halfway point of the race. As a four-time Pocono winner, it was weird not seeing Hamlin up front all day long. He was mid-pack when he got caught up in the late wreck with Kenseth and he didn’t get the finish he was expecting. Last week: 8
12. Ryan Newman– Another solid run for Newman who wound up finishing sixth. He did what he had to do to get himself into the wild-card position. He beat out Kyle Busch, who was the person he had to pass in points. However, Newman now has a new problem now that Gordon has a victory and is now ahead of him in points. With five races to go, don’t count out Newman yet. Last week: 12
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