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Power Rankings: Smoke on roll, Biffle gets consolation

by | CBSSports.com NASCAR Blogger
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Tony Stewart gets a 2-2 start to the Chase, something Greg Biffle did in 2008. (AP)  
Tony Stewart gets a 2-2 start to the Chase, something Greg Biffle did in 2008. (AP)  

Updated Sept. 26

Drivers in this year's championship race dominated the opening week of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway saw eight of the first 10 spots in the final rundown occupied by Chasers.

However it was a different story in Round 2 on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when a number of drivers not in the championship field made an impact.

Greg Biffle was the best of the non-Chaser bunch, coming home third behind Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski. It has been a frustrating season for Biffle to say the least, but the Roush Fenway Racing driver was on his game in Loudon.

"We've had a lot of good days this season, just not a lot of good finishes," said Biffle after his best finish of the season. "It felt good to finish where we'd run all day. I think the worst we'd been on the racetrack was seventh or eighth, maybe sixth, probably the worst it was ever lined up. We ran from second to sixth all day. Just stayed there."

Biffle can relate to Stewart's hot start to the Chase. Biffle also won the first two races of the playoffs in 2008 and understands just how important a confidence builder reeling off back-to-back victories at the opening of the Chase schedule can be.

"It's certainly a helluva momentum builder to win the first two races of the Chase," Biffle said. "Like you said, we were able to do it a few years back. It just means so much to your team, gives you so much confidence going into all the races, the next races. It was great for us. I'm sure it's good for that team."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Brian Vickers' fifth-place finish was good for his unsettled team. Vickers gave Team Red Bull a satisfying performance amid weekend speculation the team might not survive past the final eight races of the season with new ownership nowhere in sight.

"Nothing has really changed there," Vickers said recently of the organization's future. "To my knowledge, they're still looking to sell the team. I've put them in touch with some great buyers, and they haven't done anything with it, so I'm not sure what they're up to.

"Just proud of the effort by everyone today. We had a great car and the team did its job."

David Ragan can sympathize with Vickers about the uncertain future. The Roush Fenway Racing driver is still not sure whether he'll be back with the team in 2012 with sponsor UPS announcing plans of a scaled-down sponsorship effort next season.

But that didn't stop Ragan from turning in an impressive effort Sunday in Loudon and ending up with a seventh-place finish.

"We made some good calls and put ourselves in position to make it on fuel, so that was a good pit call by Drew and our team," Ragan said. "We didn't have the best of cars today, but we showed that with some hard work and good strategy we could overcome that. It feels good for the UPS team to get a top 10. We had a top five in sight, but we had to save enough fuel at the end. I didn't want to run out, so it was a good job by everybody and now it's on to Dover."

Along with everyone else -- Chasers and those not in the title picture, who still have much to race for in 2011.

POWER RANKINGS
CurrentDriverPrevious
1Brad Keselowski2
Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.
2Jimmie Johnson1
Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.
3Kyle Busch4
Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.
4Kasey Kahne5
Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.
5Clint Bowyer3
Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.
6Denny Hamlin8
Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.
7Kevin Harvick12
Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.
8Greg Biffle6
A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.
9Joey Logano13
Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.
10Ryan Newman14
Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.
11Tony Stewart9
Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.
12Matt Kenseth11
Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.
13Martin Truex Jr.10
His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.
14Carl Edwards15
An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.
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