June 07, 2011
Kansas Power Rankings
Brad Keselowski coasts to the checkers. Dale Jr. is still winless. And what happened to Kurt Busch?

Sunday's fuel-mileage finish to the STP 400 wasn't nearly as exciting as an all-out sprint to the checkers, but it would be foolish to discount the significance of Cup's second consecutive race being decided on fuel conservation, especially when it comes to who may break into the Chase for the Championship.

The strategy has a way of equalizing the field, giving opportunities to drivers who may not have the raw speed and setup that would send them charging into Victory Lane. And with two wild-card spots up for grabs this season, races that reward pit strategy and fuel conservation could be just what some under-the-radar team needs to break into the Chase field.

Pocono's notoriously tricky 2.5-mile tri-oval is up next. Last year, Denny Hamlin fought off Kyle Busch and clinched his second-straight win at the track. Can he manage a three-peat and his first win of the season? He'll definitely be in the mix. He's learning to master the intricacies of the track and is well-versed in the fuel mileage game to move up the points standings and break into the top-10. In the meantime, he'll just have to settle for a spot in this week's power rankings.
Carl Edwards
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 10
A victory at his home track may have eluded Carl Edwards yet again, but a fifth-place finish Sunday at Kansas did little to dull the No. 99's shine. Edwards led 29 laps and was a fixture in the front of the field for much of the race, but as a sweltering afternoon wore on, he lost his edge -- and the lead. Maintaining a stronghold on the top spot in points, Edwards is nearly guaranteed a berth in the Chase and a chance to make another run at his first series title come November.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 7
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride seems to be the recurring theme for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after another runner-up finish. Fuel mileage once again played a role in Junior's day. Most drivers wish their biggest problem was notching back-to-back second-place finishes, but not Junior. His frustration with a string of near victories and a 106-race winless drought will eventually push him to Victory Lane.
Crew chief Steve Letarte has helped Dale Earnhardt Jr. find confidence in 2011.
Reuters/Brian Blanco
Kevin Harvick
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 7
Last week wasn't exactly Kevin Harvick's strongest (first non-top-10 finish in four races), but his three Cup wins have laid down a nice cushion for the No. 29 team to experiment with different setups over the next few weeks, without worrying about being bumped out of the Chase. More so than any other driver this season, Harvick has shown an uncanny ability to seal the deal at the end of closely contested races, a skill that could continue to play out well for him come the playoffs.
Matt Kenseth
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 6
Arguably one of NASCAR's most underrated drivers, Matt Kenseth has flexed his muscle this season. With two wins and six top-10s, he's in a great position to make his way into the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 8
By this time last year, Jimmie Johnson had three wins and four top-10s. My how things have changed.
Kurt Busch
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 7
Pole-sitter Kurt Busch started off strong and showed that a little ranting and raving over the team radio can go a long way. Busch led the majority of the race (152 laps), but an ill-timed pit stop for fuel pushed him to ninth place. Though some have been critical of Busch's four-letter laced tirades this season, his ability to light a fire under his crew could be exactly what the No. 22 team needs to get into the title hunt come Chase time.
Kyle Busch
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 7
It's sure been an eventful few weeks for Kyle Busch. First there was his Darlington skirmish with Kevin Harvick. Then he got busted going nearly three times over the speed limit on a road in North Carolina. And last week he found himself in a headlock courtesy of car owner Richard Childress. So why, after a rather uneventful run at Kansas, does Busch make this week's power rankings? Simple: His ability to distance himself from the drama is impressive.
Jeff Gordon
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 4
Fuel mileage may have cost him a top-3 finish, but Jeff Gordon was more than happy with his fourth-place showing at Kansas, and he should be considering the downtick his season took after a trip to Victory Lane at Phoenix. With one win under his belt and just 18 points out of the top-10, Gordon looks in good position to break into the Chase. But a second win would nearly secure him a spot and give him his first multi-win season in four years.
Denny Hamlin
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 5
Cup season hasn't been kind to Denny Hamlin. After dominating the regular season last year and coming within a few points of his first championship, Hamlin has struggled mightily and sits right outside the top-10, one point behind Ryan Newman. But if Kansas was any indication, Hamlin and his crew have finally found their rhythm and a set-up to match -- no blown engines, no pitting to replace carburetors this time around. Now all Hamlin can hope for is a little racing luck to carry him to the checkers.
Brad Keselowski
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 9
It had been a quiet season for reigning Nationwide Series champ Brad Keselowski. With his 19.7 average finish and just two top-10s, it wasn't looking promising that Kes would land in the 12-driver Chase field. But that may have changed with his impressive victory at Kansas. Leading just nine laps during the 400-mile race, Keselowski conserved fuel and coasted to a victory that could set him on the path to snagging a wild-card spot in the Chase.
Keselowski prevails at STP 400
Brad Keselowski took the lead with nine laps remaining to get the win Sunday at the STP 400 -- his second career Cup victory.

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