Power Rankings: Junior's a Cup contender, but he's got plenty of company

by | NASCAR Blogger

Dale Earnhardt Jr. burns the tires after ending his 143-Sprint Cup race winless drought. (US Presswire)  
Dale Earnhardt Jr. burns the tires after ending his 143-Sprint Cup race winless drought. (US Presswire)  

Before we get too carried away, let's not hand Dale Earnhardt Jr. the Sprint Cup Series trophy quite yet.

Although Junior's much ballyhooed win Sunday in Michigan did also pull him within four points of the Sprint Cup Series championship lead, there's a long way to go before any title is decided.

Don't discount Earnhardt as a contender for the crown by any means. He's been as consistent as they come through the first 15 races of the season, but there are several drivers out there that deserve strong consideration.

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Like all three members of the Roush Fenway Racing stable.

Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards all performed well in Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, and each driver is squarely in the championship picture at this point.

Kenseth came home third on Sunday after starting well before falling back in the middle portion of the race and then eventually working his way back to the front of the field.

"Yeah, it was an up-and-down day for us, we were fortunate to qualify good and the first couple restarts were not great, but finally got our way to the front and had a good fuel-only stop and led a few laps, got behind in the pits, got behind that one time taking more fuel I guess than everybody else and resurfaced seventh and it was hard for me to get going on the bottom," he explained. "As soon as we pitted under the green, the next stop, we caught a yellow, so we got a lap down.

"So from there, it was a battle back, but we got the car pretty good at the end, and we were able to make a pretty good charge and salvage a pretty good day out of it."

Biffle can basically rubber stamp that description with a day of his own that included several challenges, including tire issues.

"I am a little disappointed because we couldn't run the car as hard as we needed to," said Biffle, who remains third in the standings. "The right rear kept coming apart on us. I could only run it as hard as I could."

Edwards ran hard from a terrible 42nd-place starting spot to finish 11th, also overcoming handling hurdles throughout the 400-mile race.

"We were just too loose all day," Edwards said. "I am talking loose. That is as hard as I can drive, and [crew chief] Bob [Obsborne] and I just didn't pick the right setup for the race. We didn't expect it to be that loose.

"It wasn't a terrible day for some of the fighting and wiggling we were doing out there. It was crazy, and I am glad we finished in one piece and got a decent day."

Several decent days without any disasters usually wins championships. Any one of the three Roush entries has as much potential to accomplish that goal this year as anyone.

Sorry about that Junior Nation.

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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