Power rankings: Johnson gets back on top

by | NASCAR Blogger
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Jimmie Johnson takes the top spot in Pete Pistone's power rankings. (US Presswire)  
Jimmie Johnson takes the top spot in Pete Pistone's power rankings. (US Presswire)  

No one’s engraving his name on the Sprint Cup Series trophy just yet, but Jimmie Johnson is in a familiar place.

The five-time series champion has moved to the top of the Chase standings after Sunday's victory at Martinsville with only three races left in the season.

But Johnson is not at all ready to count any chickens -- or Sprint Cup trophies for that matter. Johnson leads second-place Brad Keselowski by three points.

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"I mean, anything can happen," Johnson said. "We've done a very nice job over these seven races to put ourselves in the points lead. We've had a variety of different races finish with fuel mileage and things like that that have kept us out of Victory Lane and certainly played into their hands. You think of Dover, I think there's another one in there.

"We're ready to race under any conditions. (Keselowski) is a great driver. It's a great team. Next two races will tell the tale. Anything can happen. We could both wad it up next week and Clint Bowyer is your champion. You never know. You got to go race the race."

Keselowski, meanwhile, shows no signs of letting up the charge he has made since the beginning of the year to bring team owner Roger Penske his first Sprint Cup title.

So Johnson will remain focused on employing the oldest sports cliches and play things "one race at a time."

"The championships I've won, I saw a lot of amazing things out of my competition. I'm certainly seeing that with Brad," Johnson said. "So it's just that familiar space where you can't count him out. That's the reason I had that tone in my voice in qualifying. I knew they had a poor qualifying effort but they would be there when the checkered fell. They're a good team.

"I have to expect that. We all do. That goes for the rest of the year."

However short that rest of the year may be.

POWER RANKINGS

Last week’s rankings in parenthesis

1. Jimmie Johnson (2): Climbed back to the top of the Chase standings after win No. 4 of the season and the seventh of his career at Martinsville Speedway. Locked and loaded for a run at a sixth championship.

2. Brad Keselowski (1): Has to consider a sixth-place finish at Martinsville successful even if Keselowski did cough up the Chase lead to Johnson. Sunday's race at Texas will be pivotal in the Penske Racing driver's title hopes.

3. Clint Bowyer (4): Hangs on in the championship picture with a 26-point deficit to Johnson after a fifth-place finish at Martinsville that included a little contact with Jeff Gordon down the stretch.

4. Kasey Kahne (5): Came home third Sunday and stayed within 29 point of the lead as Kahne looks to end his first season with Hendrick Motorsports on an up note.

5. Denny Hamlin (3): Title hopes basically ended when Hamlin's car lost power after a master control switch failure and he was doomed to a 33rd place Martinsville finish, even after rallying back from two pit road speeding violations.

6. Kyle Busch (8): Wasn’t able to run down Johnson for the win. Some were surprised there wasn’t more contact between the two drivers, but at the end of the day Busch came home with a second-place finish.

7. Jeff Gordon (9): Strong as usual at Martinsville but wasn't able to add career win No. 8 at the track to his resume. A seventh-place finish for Gordon.

8. Martin Truex (7): The stellar season is fading down the stretch for the Michael Waltrip Racing driver who turned in a disappointing 23rd-place finish at Martinsville.

9. Greg Biffle (12): Nice run by Biffle at a track that has not been one of his best. The Roush Fenway Racing driver started 30th but notched a top-10 Martinsville finish.

10. Tony Stewart (6): What a difference a year has made for Stewart, who has been nowhere to be found in this year's title race. After winning last season at Martinsville, turned in a 27th-place effort on Sunday.

11. Ryan Newman (11): A better outing than his Stewart-Haas Racing boss at Martinsville with Newman coming home 11th on Sunday.

12. Matt Kenseth (13): An eventful day saw Kenseth manage a 14th-place finish at Martinsville, where like his teammate Biffle he has struggled over the years.

13. Joey Logano (14): Three races left at Joe Gibbs Racing and a 16th-place finish in his final Martinsville start for the team.

14. Carl Edwards (15): Might have had a better finish had it not been for a chain reaction crash in the closing laps with Sam Hornish Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

15. Kevin Harvick (10): The miserable season for Richard Childress Racing can't end soon enough, with Harvick leaving Sunday's race after blowing an engine.

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