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Surging Jimmie climbs, Harvick slips in post-Pocono Power Rankings

Pocono Power Rankings
Brad Keselowski and his freshly drained, broken ankle won for the second time this season, again reshuffling the Sprint Cup wild-card scenario. Kyle Busch came from deep in the field to finish second. Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson had a last-lap renewal of their percolating distaste for each other.

All in all, an otherwise mundane 500 miles at Pocono evolved into an interesting set of storylines on Sunday.

Foremost among them, of course, was Keselowski winning just days after suffering a broken ankle in a testing crash at Road Atlanta. That feat of will, modern medicine, pit strategy and serendipity -- a rain delay allowed him to have the ankle drained -- gave Keselowski two victories this season, just one less than series leaders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, but more importantly it boosted him back into the top 20, were he snatched one of two wild-card spots. The two drivers with the most wins from points positions 11-20 after Race 26 at Richmond will qualify for the Chase as wild cards.

Final Laps: Keselowski fights off pain, wins Pocono
Source:SI
Days after breaking his ankle, Brad Keselowski held on to win at Pocono for his second victory of the season.

Keselowski's exploits brought a quick end to Paul Menard's feel-good tale of winning the Brickyard 400 -- it was Menard's first Sprint Cup win -- and claiming a wild-card spot last week. With four drivers in the top 20 vying for a wild card, Keselowski and Denny Hamlin -- in 11th place with one win -- now hold the precious playoff tickets. But former race winners Clint Bowyer (13th), Greg Biffle (14th), Kasey Kahne (15th), Mark Martin (16th), David Ragan (19th) and Joey Logano (20th) lurk, and road course standouts Juan Pablo Montoya (21st) and Marcos Ambrose (23rd) could leap into the mix with a win at Watkins Glen this week. Few of these winless drivers have done anything to suggest a win is imminent, but in a season in which 14 different drivers have won races, surprises shouldn't be so surprising.

The landed gentry in the top 10, meanwhile, continues to jostle and posture, veering their cars toward each other and calling each other names (in the case of Johnson and Kurt Busch, at least). It must be nearing the point of the season when everything really matters.

 
1
Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 13
The five-time defending series champion was a predatory second at the resumption of the race after a lengthy rain delay, and he finished fourth after a rousing battle in the final laps with foe and foil Kurt Busch. Just nine points out of first place, Johnson has finished fifth or better in three of his last four races and, judging by the intensity in his eyes after a post-race verbal scuffle with Busch, is joining the hunt at just the right time. Just as always.
 
2
Carl Edwards
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 14
Seventh at Pocono, Edwards held onto the points lead but likely made his best move toward winning a first Sprint Cup championship before even arriving in the Pennsylvania hinterland. Re-signed with Roush Fenway Racing, the 31-year-old, who serves as his own agent, can now focus on removing Johnson's figurative boot heel from the figurative chest of the series. It just comes down to doing it.
 
3
Kyle Busch
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 13
He recovered from an early spin onto pit road to claw back through the field and finish second. Properly motivated and outfitted with strong equipment -- and Joe Gibbs Racing was formidable although the results of Joey Logano (26th) and Denny Hamlin (15th) didn't reflect it -- he is menace.
 
4
Kurt Busch
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 12
A post-race spat with Johnson became the most memorable part of his afternoon, which is somewhat of a shame. Busch, who led four times for 38 of 200 laps, held off Johnson in a highly charged battle of champions in the final laps as he continued to jostle for respect and a renewal of his title-winning ways. He might have lost the post-race interview battle with Johnson, but he won the day in finishing a place higher than Johnson and gaining two spots in the standings to fourth, just 14 points out of first place.
 
5
Ryan Newman
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 10
So continues an extremely quiet but impressive march to the Chase. Newman finished fifth on Sunday, and has a win, three top-fives and five top-10s in his last eight races. He's only gained two slots in the standings (to 8th) during that span, but his consistency level has to be encouraging.
 
6
Jeff Gordon
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 10
An anonymous sixth on Sunday, Gordon held onto seventh place in the points standings in the first race of his 40-something era.
 
7
Kevin Harvick
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 10
He won the rain-postponed truck race on Sunday morning but dropped two spots to fifth in Sprint Cup points with a 14th-place finish in the main event. A three-time winner this season (tied for the series lead with Kyle Busch), Harvick's self-diagnosed mini-funk continues at an inopportune time.
 
8
Matt Kenseth
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 11
Finished 16th, dropped a spot to sixth in the standings.
 
9
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 9
NASCAR's most popular driver found the rip cord before plummeting out of the top 10 and into a wild blue yonder of Chase calamity. A solid ninth-place finish -- his best since finishing seventh at Pocono in June -- helped him maintain 10th place and an automatic playoff berth after losing seven points positions the past six weeks.
 
10
Brad Keselowski
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 6
His second victory of the season could be his path to the Chase via the wild card. But he's 18th in points and 10 days after breaking an ankle testing on a road course, he'll need to be better than competent at Watkins Glen to maintain that crucial top-20 standing.
 
 
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