Power Rankings: Johnson leads Hendrick team on the rise

by | CBSSports.com NASCAR Blogger

Jimmie Johnson sports his clown hat in honor of the upcoming Madagascar movie. (US Presswire)  
Jimmie Johnson sports his clown hat in honor of the upcoming Madagascar movie. (US Presswire)  

Jimmie Johnson turning in a dominating performance to win again at Dover isn't exactly earth-shattering NASCAR news. After all, Johnson is now part of an elite three-man list along with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison as the only drivers to find victory lane at the "Monster Mile" seven times.

Johnson's performance, as well as that of the entire Hendrick Motorsports camp, shouldn't come as a surprise.

After a bit of a rocky start overall, the four-man stable has turned things up in a big way since the middle of May, clicking off four straight wins since Johnson's Southern 500 triumph at Darlington.

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He followed that with a Sprint All-Star win in Charlotte while teammate Kasey Kahne gave the organization career series win number 201 a week later in the Coca-Cola 600.

Now Johnson's Dover checkered flag brings the streak to four consecutive for Hendrick.

"The entire organization is feeling very good right now," said Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief Steve Letarte. "I mean as a company we're all working so hard and that's being rewarded by our performance on the race track."

That includes Letarte's driver, who turned in yet another impressive effort and consistent finish with his fourth Sunday at Dover.

"We are getting close," said Earnhardt of finally ending his near four-year winless drought. "We are finishing good when we are not winning. I can't complain too much about how we are doing. We've got some tricky tracks coming up for us. The summer months aren't really my thing, the tracks at least, but hopefully we can have some more good runs."

Those good runs keep coming for Kahne, who followed up his Charlotte victory with a top 10 finish despite not having the best car.

"From where we were running halfway and at lap 300 I think top 10 was good for our whole Hendrickcars.com Chevy team, but I wasn't real happy," said Kahne. "At times, we were the best car and the rest of the race we were not even close. So it was just a difficult struggle for us today."

Of all the Hendrick drivers, Jeff Gordon had the most difficult struggle on Sunday. After battling back from falling laps down when a loose wheel sent him to pit road, Gordon saw a lead he worked so hard to get back evaporate when a debris caution flew late in the race.

It ended up in Gordon finishing 13th and added to the likelihood of a wild card berth being his only opportunity to make the Chase.

"It's always more frustrating when you've got a car that can win; and you show it by going up there and taking the lead," said Gordon. "We don't care about finishing top 15 or top 10 right now. That does nothing for us. We need wins."

Johnson got one Sunday, and has two wins for the year. From the looks of things, more celebrations should be in the entire Hendrick team's immediate future.

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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