By Matt Weaver – Charlotte, NC: Kasey Kahne scored a much-needed victory on Sunday at Pocono but Jimmie Johnson battled back to score a top-15 after a mid-race accident to take the top spot in the inaugural Popular Speed NASCAR Fast Fifteen Power Rankings.
1. Jimmie Johnson
A blown right front tire relegated championship leader Jimmie Johnson to 13th in the final rundown at Pocono. It’s most impressive that the No. 48 team was able to repair the car without losing a lap but the flipside is that Johnson failed to win another race in which he’s dominated — something that could bite him in the Chase for the Championship.
2. Kasey Kahne
His second victory of the season provides a near certainty that he will be in the Chase. It’s also a possible preview for the remainder of the season as some of his favorite tracks like Bristol, Atlanta and Charlotte remaining on the schedule.
3. Ryan Newman
The Rocket followed up his Brickyard 400 breakthrough with a fourth-place at Pocono. He’s now just nine points behind Martin Truex Jr. who currently occupies the second wild card spot.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In what’s become a typical day for NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. lingered near the front all day, scored a top-five but wasn’t quite able to pick up the victory that his enthusiastic fan base continues to demand.
5. Tony Stewart
It’s cliché but Tony Stewart really does perform at his best during the summer months. That trend has continued this year as he’s notched seven top-10s in his last 10 races. Unfortunately a broken right leg will end that momentum and likely his championship hopes as the driver appears poised to miss Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International.
6. Clint Bowyer
Pocono has never been kind to Clint Bowyer over the years with the Michael Waltrip Racing driver nearly matching his career average (15.06) with a 14th-place on Sunday. It doesn’t take away from his fantastic consistent season thus far and he’s due for victory lane with some of his better tracks ahead on the schedule.
7. Brad Keselowski
His Nationwide Series victory at Iowa, combined with a sixth-place at Pocono has the defending Sprint Cup champion back in the spotlight and has revived his championship hopes.
8. Jeff Gordon
Sunday provided mixed results for Jeff Gordon. On one hand, he let a much-needed win slip away on the final restart at Pocono but he has continued to reel off top-10s — five over his last six races and has fought his way back up to ninth in the championship standings.
9. Matt Kenseth
Sunday was just one of those days for the 2003 Cup Series champion, who was involved in two accidents and was caught speeding on pit road. It’s best to get those out of the way before the Chase.
10. Kurt Busch
The 2004 Sprint Cup champion continues to battle his way back towards the top-10 in the Furniture Row car but may have to turn some of these top-fives into victories over the next few weeks in order to make the Chase. You can’t help but wonder where Busch would be if not for mishaps at Loudon and Indianapolis.
11. Sam Hornish Jr.
If not for his Sprint Cup teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano winning two of the past three Nationwide Series events, Sam Hornish would be sitting at three wins and possibly leading the standings. Nevertheless, a second-place run at Iowa was important as it moved him into a second-place tie with Regan Smith with just 14 races remaining.
12. Kyle Busch
The younger Busch just couldn’t maintain track position on Sunday at Pocono and was bitten several times by the wrong strategy calls on pit road. It happens.
13. Kevin Harvick
Harvick made the most of a ‘meh’ day at Pocono, finishing 17th and on the lead lap. Better days lie ahead as his final Chase with RCR approaches.
14. Greg Biffle
The Biff scored a top-10 on a day where Roush-Fenway engines were a little off the pace. Biffle continues to make the most of his equipment, especially on days where it’s not capable of winning, which is one of the more underrated facets of his game.
15. Carl Edwards
See Greg Biffle. His teammate, Carl Edwards made the most of an off-day for Roush-Fenway and finished 11th.
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