So, Greg Biffle is the points leader. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are on the outside looking in on the Chase. And Hendrick Motorsports, the premier team in NASCAR for the better part of the last decade, is having issues - mechanically and personally. With just three weeks left in the regular season, things certainly are heating up in the Sprint Cup Series.
Here's a look at the top-10 drivers heading to Bristol Motor Speedway in the first edition of the "Magic Mile" Power Rankings list:
Brad Keselowski - Mr. Twitter has back-to-back runner-ups and hasn’t finished outside the top-10 since June 24, and that was a respectable 12th at Sonoma. That streak should continue this week at Bristol, where he led 232 laps en route to the first of his three victories this season.
Greg Biffle - Right place at the right time? Sure, but The Biff might have had something for Johnson even if the 48 didn’t run into engine trouble. Despite its unpredictability, Bristol has been Biffle’s second-most consistent track at an 11.8 average finish.
Jimmie Johnson - Mr. Five Time was on cruise control until an engine issue cost him with less than five laps to go this weekend, a rare hiccup for a team that’s looked championship-ready for the last month. His career numbers at Bristol aren’t stellar, but Johnson has been red-hot of late with a win, and four top-10s, including three top-fives in his last five starts at the "World’s Fastest Half Mile."
Clint Bowyer - The two-time New Hampshire winner has been quietly consistent of late with four top-10s in his last five races. He’s never finished better than third at Bristol, but Bowyer has made a habit of finishing better than history dictates of late.
Martin Truex Jr. - He has one runner-up and has led only 332 laps this season (which ranks ninth). Yet here we are with three races remaining and Truex is a near-lock to make the postseason, thanks in large part to his last five races, where he’s finished no worse than 11th. Truex may struggle to maintain that roll, though, as he has just two top-fives in 11 starts at Bristol.
Kasey Kahne - With four top 10s in his last six starts – headlined by a win at “The Magic Mile” – Kahne might actually be one of the biggest threats to win the championship if he’s able to find his way into the Chase. Bristol isn’t one of his better tracks (19.8 average finish), but he does have a runner-up finish at the short track.
Ryan Newman - Only Keselowski has more top-10s in the last six races than Newman’s five. He needs another win to ensure himself a spot in the Chase, however. Bristol could be a good spot to do it, too, as he is almost always running near the front (12 top-10s in 21 career starts).
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - With three fourth-place finishes in his last six starts, an argument for Junior to be a bit higher in the rankings is probably fair. But poor finishes at Pocono (32nd) and Watkins Glen (28th) drop him down the list. Earnhardt has won previously at Bristol and has seven top-fives to his name in 25 starts, so it’s a safe bet he’ll find his way a bit higher in the rankings at this time next week.
Marcos Ambrose - With three straight top 10s, including a win and fifth-place finish this past weekend, Ambrose is making a late run at a wild-card spot. But it’s going to take another victory (maybe two) to sneak in. He does have a top-five in seven career starts at Bristol, so let’s not count the Aussie out just yet.
Jeff Gordon - His verbal barb at Junior on Sunday spoke volumes of just how frustrating a season this has been for the 24. Yet, with three weeks to go he’s just one win away from locking up a wild-card spot. Can he do it at Bristol? His five wins and 21 tops 10s in 39 career starts say he can.
Rankings and opinions are expressed solely of the writer.