Dustin Long
Tuesday May 15th, 2012

Darlington Power Rankings

Hendrick Motorsports finally celebrated its 200th victory with Jimmie Johnson winning at Darlington, but much more took place there. Ryan Newman's pit crew had issues with Kurt Busch and Newman had strong words for Busch afterward. The action on the track, though, led to a shakeup in this week's Power Rankings with a new No. 1.

Matt Kenseth
2012 wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 7
Kenseth's sixth-place finish at Darlington marked the fifth time in the last six races he's finished sixth or better. For that, he moves ahead of teammate Greg Biffle to take the No. 1 ranking this week. It's easy to overlook him, but he and Biffle give Roush Fenway Racing a formidable 1-2 punch.
Greg Biffle
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 7
He won the pole and led 74 laps at Darlington but fell back late and finished 12th to lose his spot atop the Power Rankings. Kenseth has outperformed Biffle lately. Biffle has finished outside the top 10 in two of his last three races.
Tony Stewart
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top-10s: 5
Stewart is showing no sign of a championship hangover. Darlington was another strong run. He gave crew chief Steve Addington credit for helping him overcome handling issues earlier in the race. Stewart wasn't sarcastic after the race (unlike Talladega), saying, "considering the hurdles of the day, I'm pretty happy with a third-place run."
Denny Hamlin
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top-10s: 6
His runner-up finish continued his string of success at Darlington and was his third top-five in the last four races. The key for this team is consistency. He's not had more than two consecutive top-10 finishes. It will take better than that to win the title, but it's hard to argue with his results considering he has a new crew chief and the engine change Joe Gibbs Racing went through for this season.
Jimmie Johnson
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 8
No longer do Hendrick drivers have to answer the question about when will they get that 200th Cup victory for car owner Rick Hendrick after Johnson performed the feat at Darlington. Take away the restrictor-plate results and Johnson is all but in title form now; he hasn't finished worse than 12th in the non-plate races. Also, he's back to leading laps and controlling portions of races. This is a team that is trending up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 8
Never was a factor at Darlington, finishing 17th. That's his worst finish of the year and he drops in the rankings this week because of that. That finish ended a streak of six consecutive top-10 results.
Kyle Busch
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 6
He's the hottest driver in the series. In the last three races, he's finished first (Richmond), second (Talladega) and fourth (Darlington). His success has him looking ahead: "Just really looking forward to going to the All-Star Race ... and hopefully getting an All-Star win there and taking home a million bucks."
Martin Truex Jr.
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 7
Bounced back after two tough weeks where he placed outside the top 20 by scoring a fifth-place finish at Darlington. It was his fourth top-five finish of the season. He had only three top-five finishes last season.
Kasey Kahne
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 5
After a rough start, Kahne has scored five consecutive top-10 finishes to climb into these rankings. He placed eighth at Darlington. Said Kahne after that race: "We have been around the top 10, but we need better pit stops if we want to make it into that top five more often."
Tim Richmond
Career Wins: 13
Career Top-10s: 78
With Hendrick Motorsports celebrating its 200th victory, here's a tribute to Richmond, who scored nine victories for Hendrick -- the same number of races Darrell Waltrip won for the organization. One can only imagine how many races Richmond might have won had he not died in 1989 at the age of 34 because of complications from AIDS.

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