The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is heading to Atlanta this weekend after having an exciting race at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Drivers and fans alike didn’t know what to expect with the new grinding on the top groove of the track. The high line was expected to be gone, but as it turned out, all it took was some time to lay rubber down and the groove was back.
Let’s take a look at this week’s power rankings before Atlanta.
1. Jimmie Johnson– The five-time champ looked like he had the car to beat on Saturday, but wound up finishing second. It was still a great run for Johnson as he started from the 37th position and had to work his way to the front. In the past two weeks now, Johnson has had potential wins get away from him, which is costing him some crucial bonus points for the chase. The next two tracks are strong for Johnson, so don’t be surprised if he gets one more win before the chase begins. Last week:1
2. Greg Biffle– Coming off his win at Michigan, the Biff was a non-factor in the race at Bristol. However, he did take the lead on a couple of occasions after some pit strategy, but it was clear he did not have the car to stay up front as the leaders stacked up behind him while he tried to hang onto the lead. Even with a 19th place finish, Biffle was bale to clinch a chase spot. Last week: 2
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.– A rare quiet evening from Junior this weekend as he was not much of a factor for a top 10, let alone the race win. There should be no worries, though, from Junior nation because the 88 team is still clearly a championship team. Last week: 4
4. Brad Keselowski– The driver of the Blue Deuce was looking for his third straight Bristol win, but his run came to a disappointing end after getting wrecked halfway through the race. This put a little dent into the very impressive run Keselowski has been having over the past month, but this wreck shouldn’t ruin the team’s momentum. Every week he continues to have fast cars and he is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Last week: 3
5. Clint Bowyer– After watching Bowyer move through the field, it was surprising to me that he never challenged for the lead. Bowyer was the only car able to make moves on the bottom of the track. At one point in the race, Bowyer gained about five spots in a matter of a few laps just by running the bottom. However, he did have another solid top 10 by finishing seventh. Last week: 6
6. Matt Kenseth– The consistent and quiet Kenseth has been anything but that for the past month. Week after week, trouble seems to find Kenseth and he has been struggling just to finish races in one piece lately. This weekend he was battling for the lead with Tony Stewart before the two got tangled up and wrecked. Stewart has promised to wreck Kenseth every chance he gets, which is highly unlikely, but it will be interesting for how these two race each from here on. Last week: 5
7. Jeff Gordon– After a third place finish on Saturday, Gordon made up a few points on Kyle Busch, who is in the last wild-card spot as of now. The problem is that Gordon is still 16 points behind Busch and unless Busch struggles in one of the next two weeks, it will be hard for Gordon to catch him just with points and he needs to get that second win. The good news for Gordon is that he is heading to the track that he won at last season. Last week: 8
8. Marcos Ambrose– Three straight top fives for the Aussie is just what this team needed. Not only are they three top fives, including a win, they are top fives at three different kinds of tracks: a road course, two-mile oval and a short track. It may look like it’s too late to make the chase, but the way the 9 team has been performing don’t count Ambrose out yet. Last week: 9
9. Martin Truex Jr.– Under the old points system, it would be hard not to consider Truex a championship contender. Week after week he posts solid finishes and never gets into any trouble. However, in the current points system, Truex has almost no shot at winning the championship unless there is some improvement. Truex finishes sixth through 12th a lot, which won’t get the job done once the points are rest. The chase is all about getting wins and consistently getting top fives. Last week: 7
10. Kasey Kahne– When the 34 car of David Ragan blew an engine, Kahne was the first car to get into the oil right as the caution came out. Kahne then slid up into the wall and had extensive damage that needed to be repaired. He was able to get back on the track only losing one lap and was able to rally for a ninth place finish. If Ragan’s car never blew up, Kahne might have been looking at his third win of the season and a possible spot in the top 10 in points. Last week: 10
11. Denny Hamlin– A top-five car with the best strategy is a great way to guarantee yourself a victory. That’s what the 11 team had at Bristol. Hamlin was a top-five car for most of the day and he was the last of the leaders to pit, giving him 40 to 80 laps fresher tires then the drivers he was racing around for the win. This was Hamlin’s third win of the season and he looks like the Hamlin from 2010 who won eight races and finished third in the championship. Last week: NR
12. Kyle Busch– The last wild-card spot just got a little bit clearer for Busch after Bristol. Ryan Newman’s wreck combined with Busch’s top 10 finish has provided Busch with a nice cushion for the last spot. If he is able to get two solid finishes in the next two weeks, then most likely Busch will be in the chase, barring no other wild-card contender with a win gets a second victory. Last week: NR
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