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Magic Mile Power Rankings: Watkins Glen
All is right with the NASCAR world as Dale Earnhardt Jr. has solidified himself not only into the Chase - thanks to his third win of the season at Pocono Raceway - but via that victory has put himself in perfect position to enter the first round of the Sprint Cup Series playoff with momentum. With only five races remaining the regular season, there are still five spots open, which makes winning that much more important, starting this weekend at Watkins Glen International, the final road-course race of the season.
And while guys like Marcos Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger will be under the microscope on Sunday, there are a number of guys in the Magic Mile Power Rankings that need a wake-up call before they drop off the list, and fast.
Win - 10 points
Top-5 - 5 points
Top-10 - 3 points
Most Laps Led - 2 points
Pole - 1 point
21-30 - Minus-1
31-40 - Minus-3
41-43 - Minus-5
*The most recent five races are counted.
Here's a look at the MMPR (last five weeks' point total in parentheses) heading into Race 22 at Watkins Glen on Sunday:
1. Brad Keselowski (40 points) - Bad Brad has cooled off a bit in the last couple weeks. But with two wins in his last five starts, there is a lot to complain about in the No. 2 camp.
Previous ranking: First, --
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (32 points) - 2004. In case you wanted to know the last time Junior won more than a single race in one season. He's halfway to his 2004 mark of six wins, but it's likely that Junior has his sights set on his first championship trophy.
Previous ranking: Fourth, +2
3. Jeff Gordon (25 points) - Mr. Consistency followed up his win at Indy with a more than respectable sixth-place finish at Pocono. And with Watkins Glen (a track at which he's won four times) next on the docket, there's no reason to believe the 24 can't take a crack at one of the top-two spots in the MMPR next week.
Previous ranking: Second, -1
4. Matt Kenseth (21 points) - It's been a strange string of races for Kenseth, who has three fourth-place finishes and pair of finishes outside the top-20 in his last five starts.
Previous ranking: Fifth, -1
5. Kyle Busch (19 points) - Much like the man that sits above him in this list, Rowdy has been all in or all out the last five weeks, recording three runner-up finishes as well as a 28th and 42nd.
Previous ranking: Third, -2
6. Ryan Newman (18 points) -The Rocketman is quietly having a pretty nice season for himself, currently sitting fifth in points. Newman has finished eighth, 11th, fifth, 23th and third in his last five starts and while history dictates otherwise, could enter Watkins Glen with as much confidence as he's ever had at the 2.454-mile road course.
Previous ranking: Sixth, --
7. Joey Logano (16 points) - Sliced Bread has rebounded nicely after an ugly 40th at the Magic Mile a month ago. Logano has finished third and fifth in his last two starts and should be considered a threat at The Glen, where he's recorded two top-10s in his last three starts.
Previous ranking: NR
8. Clint Bowyer (13 points) - Like Newman, Bowyer is quietly going about his business, finishing inside the top 10 three times in the last five races. The most glaring stat, however, is Bowyer's lack of top-five finishes. He's coming off back-to-back seasons with 10 top-fives, but has only three in 2014.
Previous ranking: NR
9. Denny Hamlin (12 points) - It was a rough week for the 11 team following sanctions at Indy, but a ninth at Pocono gave Hamlin his fourth straight top-10. There aren't too many hotter than Hamlin right now - he'd probably be No. 1 had it not been for a 42nd-place finish at Kentucky five weeks ago.
Previous ranking: NR
10. Austin Dillon (11 points) - Not great. Not bad, either. The 3 just needs to keep doing what he's doing.
Previous ranking: Ninth, -1
Wave Around: Kevin Harvick - Talk about making something out of nothing. That runner-up finish in a beat-up car at Pocono came out of nowhere.
*This list is comprised of drivers that compete in the Sprint Cup Series on full-time basis.