Power Rankings: Bowyer's win helps him climb back into Chase picture

by | NASCAR Blogger
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Clint Bowyer and his crew celebrate Bowyer's third win of the season. (AP)  
Clint Bowyer and his crew celebrate Bowyer's third win of the season. (AP)  

Clint Bowyer garnered the headlines Saturday night after winning the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But there were five other drivers powered by the same Toyota engine that helped Bowyer pull within 28 points of the Chase lead, all finishing inside the top 10.

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. all piloted their Camrys to solid finishes on Saturday to add another chapter to the manufacturer's renaissance season.

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"I'll just be honest," Bowyer said after taking his third win of the season. "At the beginning of the year I heard a lot of things, a lot of rumors about the engines, the engines, the engines. Let me tell you something, in a short amount of time, from the beginning of the year until right now they've slowly and steadily become the best engine program in the sport. Just proud of everything and proud of the engineers and everybody that's been a part of it."

Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team and Joe Gibbs Racing have both enjoyed success this year as part of the Toyota stable. While it hasn't always been picture-perfect, with Busch experiencing a series of engine malfunctions earlier this summer and others having a power plant hiccup or two, overall, 2012 has been a very good year for the manufacturer.

Bowyer's win was the 10th Sprint Cup win for Toyota in 2012, and the 49th since the manufacturer joined the series in 2007.

"Not only did the Toyota engine run with as much power as we needed to win with, we got the fuel mileage we needed to win with, we had just enough gas to do one of the most amazing starts to a burnout I ever saw," team owner Waltrip said after his driver's victory and post-race celebration.

"It really went kind of downhill from there. But to have an engine under your hood that can perform like it did, qualifying in the top five with a new track record speed, have that kind of speed and then also have the economy that it takes to race to the checker and not have to pit late, I think a lot of people need to look at what our manufacturer has done for our organization."

Both Bowyer and Hamlin, who trails leader Brad Keselowski by 15 points with five races left in the Chase, have legitimate shots to bring Toyota a Sprint Cup title.

"We started racing in '07 and here we are in '12 racing for a championship," Waltrip added. "There's a few things that have happened to me over my racing career that are really special to me, and this relationship is one of those."

POWER RANKINGS

(Last week's ranking in parenthesis)

1. Brad Keselowski (1): Fumbled on fuel mileage for the first time this year when he ran out of fuel while leading with 58 laps left to go on Saturday night to blow a chance of building his lead on top of the Chase standings.

2. Jimmie Johnson (2): Fuel mileage has never been Johnson's and crew chief Chas Knaus' strong suit and they were again caught in the middle in Charlotte.

3. Denny Hamlin (3): Also a hiccup on the fuel strategy game Saturday night, but was able to slice into Keselowski's Chase standing.

4. Clint Bowyer (5): Climbed right back into the Chase picture with win No. 3 of the season in Charlotte and is now only 28 points out of the top spot.

5. Tony Stewart (6): Got into a hole early when Stewart's car received damage on a restart jumble. Solid work the rest of the night to come home 13th.

6. Kasey Kahne (4): Surprisingly ineffective Saturday night after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte back in May. A ho-hum eighth-place finish for Kahne.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (8): A not bad 10th-place finish for Truex Jr. but put a fork in this Michael Waltrip Racing driver's championship hopes.

8. Kyle Busch (13): Keeps knocking down good finishes during the Chase despite not being in the title race. Busch came home an impressive fifth again Saturday night.

9. Jeff Gordon (9): So much for the run Gordon had going since his 35th-place finish in the Chase opener. A pit road speeding penalty doomed the Hendrick Motorsports driver to an 18th-place finish.

10. Kevin Harvick (11): An up and down night that ended mostly down with Harvick struggling to a 16th-place finish.

11. Greg Biffle (12): Had a rocket ship early in the race after setting a new track record in winning the pole. But Biffle could do no better than a fourth-place finish after challenging for the lead at one point.

12. Joey Logano (10): Brought home a top-10 finish, which wasn't bad but Logano and the Joe Gibbs Racing team thought they had more for the weekend.

13. Ryan Newman (14): A 20th-place finish for Newman on a very non-competitive night in the Queen City.

14. Matt Kenseth (15): Had a tire come apart early that caused Kenseth to spin out in turn four. Worked hard all night to get back on the lead lap and finally came across the finish line in 14th place.

15. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7): Most likely Earnhardt's last appearance in the rankings this year as he'll be out at Kansas and perhaps longer to end his season as he recovers from a concussion.

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