Magic Mile Power Rankings: Martinsville
It was only a matter of time. Jeff Gordon finally broke into the win column on Sunday, and it couldn't have come at a better time, as the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion moved within 28 points of co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson for the points lead. Not likely a differential that will be closed, but stranger things have happened with three races to go.
Kenseth did exactly what he needed to at Martinsville, a track that has been owned by Johnson over the last half-decade. Not only did he finish three spots ahead of Five-Time, but he led the most laps (202), giving him an extra bonus point to erase the four-point deficit and pull even with three races remaining.
Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings heading into Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway:
1. Matt Kenseth - To say that Sunday's performance was impressive is certainly an understatement. Coming into this season, Kenseth had led a total of 73 laps in 26 career starts at Martinsville. He led 96 in April and another 202 on Sunday. And, he finished ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who has led 2,450 laps in 24 starts at the half-mile oval.
Previous ranking: Third, +2
2. Jimmie Johnson - He led 123 laps and had a good day, overall. But the fact that Johnson finished fifth at his best track on the circuit was a bit disheartening to the 48 team. That said, if a guy can be upset with a fifth-place finish (his fifth in seven Chase races), then things can't be all that bad.
Previous ranking: First, -1
3. Kevin Harvick - Mr. Happy created some fireworks on Saturday, calling his soon-to-be ex-teammates, the Ty and Austin Dillon, "spoon-fed ... rich kids." Not exactly the best way to end his tenure with Richard Childress Racing, but he did finish sixth on Sunday, keeping his slim championship hopes alive. Wouldn't that be something if he rallied back to win it all? Now that would be must-see TV.
Previous ranking: Second, -1
4. Jeff Gordon - It's amazing what a win can do for your season. If nothing else, this proves that Gordon belongs in the Chase, no matter how he got there.
Previous ranking: Sixth, +2
5. Clint Bowyer - This guy deserves a lot of credit for the job he's done, not only on the track, but off of it as well. It hasn't been an easy couple months for Michael Waltrip Racing, but Bowyer continues to show why he's among the sport's elite. And had it not been for some slick driving by Kenseth at the end, it would have been Bowyer taking the runner-up spot.
Previous ranking: Seventh, +2
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - A respectable eighth-place finish that moves him down a spot in the rankings from last week. This is more about what the guys ahead of him are doing than a bad race by the 88. Another solid points day, but his hopes of a title are long gone.
Previous ranking: Fifth, -1
7. Kyle Busch - It just wasn't meant to be. What's crazy is that he has the same number of top-five finishes as Johnson and one more than Kenseth. But a 34th-place finish and a lack of wins has Rowdy in a severe hole.
Previous ranking: Fourth, -3
8. Greg Biffle - You have to admire the toughness The Biff showed at the end of the race on Sunday, going after and grabbing Five-Time during a TV interview. He was upset, and that kind of fight is admirable.
Previous ranking: Ninth, +1
9. Carl Edwards - He finished 12th. Boy, the guys underneath him in the MMPR must really be struggling for him to jump up two spots from last week.
Previous ranking: 11th, +2
10. Kurt Busch - It was a rough day for Busch, who has just three more races to get Furniture Row into Victory Lane. Look for him to work hard at that, as this has been a heck of a season for the 78.
Previous ranking: Ninth, -1
11. Joey Logano - The 22 has certainly cooled off over the last month. Hopefully the experience will benefit him in the long run.
Previous ranking: 12th, +1
12. Ryan Newman - He ran 432 laps on Sunday. That's something.
Previous ranking: Eighth, -4
13. Kasey Kahne - Is there a more frustrated driver in the sport right now? I say no.
Previous ranking: 13th, --
Top Non-Chaser. Denny Hamlin - Given his history at Martinsville, a seventh-place finish with only 14 laps led should be considered a down race for Hamlin. But not after what this team has been through this year.