Magic Mile Power Rankings: Chicago
Well, I have to say I'm a bit rusty as it's been nearly three months since the last time I updated these power rankings, there's no time like the present. So, with the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in the books, let's take a look at the top-13 playoff drivers following Sunday night's race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Matt Kenseth picked up his sixth win of the season, improving his once three-point lead to eight over Kyle Busch, who finished in second in the race.
Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings* heading into Sunday's race here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
1. Matt Kenseth - Well, duh. Not only was he leading before the rain came down and delayed an afternoon race into a prime-time race, but he was the first man to cross the finish line 6.5 hours after the race began. The fact this was Kenseth's Cup-leading sixth victory of the season doesn't hurt, either.
2. Kyle Busch - Rowdy led 67 laps on Sunday night and came less than a second from pulling off a triple-header weekend sweep of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. Maybe the most important thing Busch did all weekend, however, was keep himself alive in the Chase, something that's proved to be difficult for Shrub over the years.
3. Jimmie Johnson - It's not a far stretch to say that last week was not a great week for NASCAR. To add insult to injury, a NASCAR official cost the 48 valuable track position on pit road Sunday night. But like a champion - in this case, a Five-Time champion - does, Johnson simply stated a fact "Well, that wasn't cool," then went on to finish fifth. Not a bad night, considering.
4. Jeff Gordon - Gordon was a pretender until an unprecedented announcement to make him the 13th contender on Friday. The also ran then proceeded to lead 22 laps and grab his fourth straight top-10. Don't look now but the 24 just might make a run at this thing.
5. Kevin Harvick - This is exactly what makes Happy a serious threat to this championship. Two laps led and a modest race turns into a third-place finish. Sneaky good.
6. Kurt Busch - It's one thing for a one-car team to make a little history by making the Chase, it's another to actually contend for the championship. Busch never led a lap on Sunday night, but there he was when the checkered flag was flying, crossing the finish line in fourth.
7. Clint Bowyer - It couldn't have been an easy week for Bowyer. Between accusations, fines and docked points, the driver of the No. 15 5-hour Energy ran a very respectable race and snagged a ninth-place finish, his first top-10 in four starts. Maybe this was the wake-up call this team needed.
8. Ryan Newman - Like Gordon, Newman thought he was chasing the Chase rather than competing in it until NASCAR made its announcement to dock then Chaser Martin Truex Jr. 50 points, thus giving the spot over to Newman. A 10th-place finish on Sunday night certainly keeps the 39 as a factor moving forward.
9. Carl Edwards - It had to be a disappointing finish for Cousin Carl, who had a strong car at Chicagoland. That being said, Edwards is coming off a win in the season finale and can still make a run at this thing in spite of an 11th place finish to kick off the Chase. Of course, New Hampshire hasn't always been kind to the 99, so we'll see what happens.
10. Kasey Kahne - Kahne hasn't completely taken himself out of this thing yet, but it's going to take a lot better effort for the 5 team moving forward. Not a lot of great things to say here.
11. Joey Logano - The positive is that he took the pole and led 32 laps, but that was about the only thing that went right for the 22 car on Sunday. And a 52-point deficit in the standings is proof of that.
12. Greg Biffle - The Biff led two laps on Sunday, but failed to really be a factor in a race that was top-heavy from start to finish. This is going to take multiple wins for Biffle to even begin to be in the Chase contention talks. New Hampshire could be just the spot for him to attack.
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Look, the fact is that Junior isn't going to intentionally destroy his championship dreams by helping a teammate through a purposely-blown engine. That sounds ludicrous even in spite of this abysmal week in NASCAR's history.
Top Non-Chaser. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Did is just take half the season for him to shake off the rust? After failing to crack the top 10 in the first 25 races of the season, Stenhouse picked up his second straight top-10 with an eighth on Sunday night.