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Keselowski wins back top spot; Busch continues late-season surge

Phoenix Power Rankings

Brad Keselowski moved closer to becoming NASCAR's newest Sprint Cup champion. Former champion Jeff Gordon got payback. Former champion Jimmie Johnson slammed into the wall. And Clint Bowyer showed that drivers are athletes, too, when he sprinted to Gordon's garage after a fight between his crew and Gordon's crew.

Yes, Phoenix had it all at the end to excite and anger fans. But through all the chaos, a new leader in the Power Rankings emerged, every position changed and two drivers entered the rankings this week. Here's how Phoenix ruffled the rankings.

 
1
Brad Keselowski
2012 wins: 5
2012 Top-10s: 23
Last week's rank: 2

Keselowski's sixth-place finish Sunday at Phoenix was his 17th top-10 finish in the last 19 races. While many expected Jimmie Johnson to extend his points lead at Phoenix, a track at which he's historically been strong, Keselowski was better most of the weekend.

"Quite honestly, I'm disappointed," Keselowski said after the race. "I felt like we had a car to win the race and things just didn't fall our way to be able to pull that off." Keselowski clinches the title by finishing 15th or better this weekend at Homestead. He also can clinch it by finishing 16th and getting a bonus point for leading a lap or placing 17th and getting the bonus point for leading the most laps.

 
2
Jimmie Johnson
2012 Wins: 5
2012 Top-10s: 24
Last week's rank: 1
Johnson's worst-case scenario took place at Phoenix, when he blew his right front tire and crashed, finishing 32nd. It will take one of NASCAR's greatest rallies for him to overcome the 20-point deficit to Keselowski at Homestead to win his sixth series title. Only three times since 1975 has the defending champion trailed entering the season finale. "The position we're in now really is a go-for-broke mentality from driving the car, pit calls all those things to try to catch the 2 car in a situation," Johnson said.
 
3
Kyle Busch
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 19
Last week's rank: 4
Busch's late-season surge continued with a third-place finish at Phoenix, but his inability to win races he dominated also continued. Busch led 237 of the 319 laps, but he was beat on the final two restarts by race winner Kevin Harvick. Still, Busch has scored six top-10s in the last seven races -- including five top-five results during that time.
 
4
Clint Bowyer
2012 Wins: 3
2012 Top-10s: 22
Last week's rank: 3
Some will say Bowyer's a victim of circumstances, while others will say he had it coming. Either way, Bowyer lost a top-10 run when Jeff Gordon wrecked him in retaliation for previous incidents this season, including in Sunday's race. That incident, which ended Bowyer's slim title hopes, instigated a brawl between their crews in the garage. Bowyer climbed from his car on pit road and ran to Gordon's hauler before a NASCAR official stopped him.
 
5
Kasey Kahne
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top-10s: 19
Last week's rank: 7
Kahne's fourth place run was overshadowed by all the chaos Sunday, but it was his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. He also moved into third in the Cup point standings and is set for his career-best finish in the points, topping his eighth-place finish in the points in 2006.
 
6
Matt Kenseth
2012 Wins: 3
2012 Top-10s: 19
Last week's rank: 5
Kenseth's up-and-down streak continues with a 14th-place finish. In his last six races, he's placed first, 14th, first, 14th, fourth, 14th. That could be a good sign going into this weekend?s season finale at Homestead -- his last race with Roush Fenway Racing, where he's run full-time in Cup since 2000.
 
7
Jeff Gordon
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 17
Last week's rank: 6
Gordon saw a top-10 run go away after his retribution-seeking contact with Clint Bowyer late in Sunday's race. "It's just things have gotten escalated over the year and I've just had it," Gordon said. "Clint's run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I've had it and was fed up with it and got him back."
 
8
Denny Hamlin
2012 Wins: 5
2012 Top-10s: 17
Last week's rank: 9
Hamlin's runner-up finish ended his streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 10. His effort isn't surprising -- he's been one of the best this season on tracks similar to Phoenix, such as New Hampshire and Martinsville.
 
9
Kevin Harvick
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 13
Last week's rank: N/A
Harvick broke a 44-race winless streak two days after reports that he will leave Richard Childress Racing after next season to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. While he and Childress wouldn't officially confirm the move, their comments made it clear that next year will be Harvick's last at RCR -- where he's raced in Cup since 2001 taking over the ride for the late Dale Earnhardt.
 
10
Kurt Busch
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 4
Last week's rank: N/A
Nothing comes easy for Busch. He scored his second consecutive top-10 for Furniture Row Racing after crashing in that melee at the end of the race. He and his team rallied back from being a lap down when he had to pit for a loose lugnut. He and crew chief Todd Berrier are making progress with this team.
 
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