By Dustin Long
March 06, 2012
Phoenix Power Rankings

Jimmie Johnson is back in the black, an electronic bugaboo short-circuited Tony Stewart's chances and Denny Hamlin triumphed at a track that tormented him two years ago.

To nobody's surprise, Phoenix added another layer of drama to the NASCAR season.

Johnson moved to 37th in the point standings and climbed out of his hole after a Daytona penalty dropped him to -23 points entering the Phoenix race. Stewart seemed in position for a strong finish until, while saving fuel late, he shut his engine off and it wouldn't restart.

And Hamlin, who saw his title hopes take a hit two years ago when he had to pit late in a Chase race at Phoenix, didn't have fuel problems Sunday, scoring his first win of the season.

So, with all that happened, here's a look at this week's power rankings:

Denny Hamlin
2012 wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 2
He followed his fourth-place finish at Daytona (where he led a race-high 57 laps) with a win at Phoenix, showing early signs that his partnership with crew chief Darian Grubb could be as good as expected. A positive sign for Hamlin fans is that he said he struggled during practice Friday but Grubb improved the car and did the same throughout Sunday's race. We'll see if that type of teamwork continues and Hamlin returns to his 2010 ways of winning.
Greg Biffle
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 2
Followed a strong Daytona (third-place finish) with another third and gave a lot of the credit to crew chief Matt Puccia, who took over that position last July. The strong start is a good sign for Biffle, especially since the Roush cars have won seven of the 14 races at Las Vegas, where the series heads this weekend.
Kevin Harvick
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 2
He led a race-high 88 laps at Phoenix and finished second despite running out of fuel. Car owner Richard Childress congratulated the No. 29 driver on his run after the race and Harvick responded on the radio: "It's going to be a good year." It's starting out that way.
Matt Kenseth
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 1
It was a tough day at Phoenix for the Daytona 500 champ. A four-tire pit stop late, when most took two tires, put Kenseth in the back and he couldn't overcome that in finishing 13th. Better things are expected at Las Vegas.
Brad Keselowski
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 1
His late-race battle with Jimmie Johnson proved entertaining. While he lost, he still managed to finish fifth. A week after he made the Power Rankings solely for gaining more than 100,000 Twitter followers when he tweeted during the red flag in the Daytona 500, it's Keselowski's on-track performance that earns him accolades this week.
Kyle Busch
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 1
A spirited battle for the lead with rival Kevin Harvick made the middle portion of the Phoenix race entertaining, but Busch couldn't keep up late and settled for a sixth-place finish. Add in his Budweiser Shootout victory and he's had a better start to the season than most.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 1
After his runner-up finish at Daytona, expectations were high at Phoenix, but Earnhardt and the team struggled, finishing 14th. Still not a horrible day but not a great day. Can he bounce back and duplicate the strong start he had last season?
Martin Truex Jr.
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 1
It has been a good start to the season for this team with a 12th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a seventh-place finish at Phoenix. The question is if this team can continue this.
Joey Logano/Mark Martin
2012 Wins: 0
Combined 2012 Top-10s: 4
It was Martin who told the world of Logano's talent years ago, so it's only fitting to put them together here. Plus, both have scored a ninth-place finish and a 10th-place finish in the season's opening two races. For Logano, it's a good start to a pressure-filled contract year. For Martin, who won the pole at Phoenix, he's showing that he can still get it done.
Marcos Ambrose
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 0
A 32nd-place finish at Phoenix doesn't seem to warrant a spot in the Power Rankings, but he earns the last spot for his honesty. Here's what he said after his race ended early: "We blew up. We are here trying to run for wins and run for championships and to trip over ourselves like that, it just isn't going to get it done." Honesty will only keep him in the Rankings this week. If he doesn't perform, he's out.

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