NASCAR Power Rankings Heading Into Richmond

By Kevin Van Pelt

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has one race remaining in the regular season before the chase begins. The Labor Day weekend race at Atlanta didn’t disappoint as there was plenty of excitement and drama built up for the regular season finale. There will be six drivers fighting for the last playoff spot into the chase at Richmond with Kyle Busch currently holding the last spot.

Let’s take a look at this week’s power rankings.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.– NASCAR’s most popular driver is back on top of this week’s rankings after his solid seventh-place finish on Sunday. Junior was never in contention for the win, but was able to make his car better throughout the night taking a car that was running around 20th early on and turn it into a top 10 finish. Last week: 3

2. Greg Biffle– After qualifying second and taking the lead early in the race, it looked like Biffle was going to have a great day. Atlanta is the perfect type of track for Biffle and his 15th place finish was not what most people were expecting. Even with a disappointing run, Biffle still looks to be a strong candidate to win the chase this year. Last week: 2

3. Jimmie Johnson– The five-time champ made a mistake on Sunday that cost him a potential top five finish. It looked like Johnson didn’t know that there was two cars to his outside coming off the corner and ran everybody out of room causing a big wreck. Before the wreck, Johnson looked like he could be a contender for the win, but now we will never know. Last week: 1

4. Brad Keselowski– Another top five run for Keselowski this weekend as his hot streak continues. As the regular season gets closer to the end, there are more drivers who have put themselves in the conversation as championship contenders. Keselowski now has to be one of the clear favorites with the way he and his team have been been performing lately. Last week: 4

5. Jeff Gordon– The way Gordon was driving at Atlanta you could tell that he needs a win to get into the chase. It looked like Gordon was driving 10 times harder than anyone else on the track and for a second it looked like he was going to be able to get next to Hamlin coming off turn four on the last lap. However, Gordon had to settle for second and his chase chances will come down to Richmond. Last week: 7

6. Matt Kenseth– So now it is official that Kenseth will be heading over to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. Some people think that with Kenseth leaving it may cause some disruption with the team or that they will not be able to perform as well in the chase. However, the complete opposite of that may happen. Kenseth has been with this team for over a decade and the team will want to send Kenseth out with a championship. Last week: 6

7. Martin Truex Jr.– It finally looked like Truex was going to end his long winless streak that dates back to 2007. However, just like at Kansas earlier this year, it was Denny Hamlin who took the lead late from Truex to steal the victory. If there is any silver lining for Truex it’s that he is now officially in the chase. Last week: 9

8. Denny Hamlin– Back-to-back wins for Hamlin couldn’t have come at a better time. With only one race remaining until the chase starts, Hamlin is now the hottest driver heading into the chase and he has a great chance to make it three in a row at Richmond. He has been the best driver at Richmond over the past few years and there is no reason to think that he won’t be a contender at the end of the race next weekend. Last week: 11

9. Clint Bowyer– A 27th place finish is not what Bowyer was looking for last weekend, but his car was strong until he had problems with his battery that had to get changed under green. The entire MWR camp has been strong the whole season and they will be a real threat when the chase starts. Last week: 5

10. Marcos Ambrose– During the first run of the race, Ambrose worked his way up to the fourth position. When the caution came out, Ambrose lost six spots on pit road and was never able to get into the top 10 again. He managed to come home with a 15th place finish, but his chase hopes now come down to Richmond, where he will need to get his first win on an oval to get into the chase. Last week: 8

11. Kyle Busch– Things are looking good for Busch right now as he has a little bit of cushion over Gordon for the last wild-card spot. He is also the winner of the Spring Richmond race so you know he will be a threat for his second win of the season. Last week: 12

12. Kevin Harvick– He was dominate in the middle part of the race, but seemed to have lost something after he lost the lead due to some pit strategies. It was still nice to see Harvick back up front and it looks like reuniting him with his old crew chief Gil Martin may have been the right thing to put a spark in this team. Last week: NR

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