By Matt Weaver – The Bristol Night Race produced its standard excitement and another close finish as Matt Kenseth just barely clipped a hard-charging Kasey Kahne on the final lap in thunder valley.
A massive crash near the midway point also shook up the race to the chase and our weekly Fast 15 Power Rankings. The list, which includes a change at the top, can be found below:
1. Kasey Kahne (LW: 4)
He didn’t earn the Bristol sweep but Kasey Kahne did score a runner-up finish and eased back into eighth in the championship standings. Remaining in the top-10 and picking up another victory could cement his status as a marquee title chaser.
2. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1)
Superman has been hit with a midseason bout of kryptonite. But like superhero stories of lore, Five-Time is likely to rebound in time for the finale (the Chase for the Championship).
3. Clint Bowyer (LW: 2)
The Michael Waltrip Racing ace got crashed while leading the Bristol Night Race — by a lapped car no less — and still finished 14th, locking himself into the Chase. He’s now looking to finish the job and score victories over the next two weeks at Atlanta and Richmond.
4. Matt Kenseth (LW: 11)
The 2003 champion broke his midseason slump right in time for the Chase for the Championship. Rival contenders beware. His Bristol victory could be the first of many over the next few weeks.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 13)
Bristol was the story of Earnhardt’s season thus far. The No. 88 team was fast enough, scored a top-10 and lead some laps. However, they were largely out of sight and out of mind for the finish.
6. Joey Logano (LW: 8)
Sliced Bread had a quiet top-five on Saturday at Bristol. He was there all night but wasn’t flashy about. But that’s perfectly fine when fighting for a Chase spot.
7. Greg Biffle (LW: 15)
Meh. A ninth-place at Bristol via survival was admirable but wasn’t enough to get him out of the Chase bubble conversation, only 19 points ahead of 10th-place with just one win.
8. Kyle Busch (LW: 10)
It was a mixed results weekend for Rowdy Busch. He won the Truck and Nationwide Series events, was fast inside his Sprint Cup car but crashed in qualifying. This made him start dead last, crash again and still manage to finish in 11th. That response to adversity will serve him well once the playoffs begin.
9. Carl Edwards (LW: 3)
A silent contender for much of the afternoon, Carl Edwards suffered a mechanical issue on a mid-race restart and finished 39th. His playoff chances are secure so he’s searching for additional wins at this point.
10. Jeff Gordon (LW: NR)
Disappointed somewhat by a seventh-place finish on Saturday night, Jeff Gordon was still pleased to score a top-10 on a night where so many of his Chase bubble rivals struggled. He’s now just 11 points out of the top-10 with two races remaining.
11. Kurt Busch (LW: 6)
A series of disasters at Bristol (tire issues and a 31st place finish) was softened by the official announcement that he would be joining Stewart-Haas Racing next season. He still has to focus on making the Chase in 2013 where he is 13th in the standings.
12. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7)
A month’s worth of momentum was negated by just one bad race, dropping the defending Sprint Cup champion back outside of the top-10 in points.
13. Kevin Harvick (LW: 5)
On a night where it was hard to pass, The Closer just couldn’t make up ground at Bristol and crew chief Gil Martin was unable to find a strategy to get him much-needed track position. His day ended with a mid-race crash and he finished 34th.
14. Juan Pablo Montoya (LW: NR)
A podium finish at Bristol confirmed his worth at the Sprint Cup level as well as his talents as a wheelman to any potential suitors at IndyCar or the United SportsCar league too.
15. Sam Hornish (LW: 9)
A testy day at Bristol saw Sam Hornish finish 12th, causing his championship lead to decrease to six over Austin Dillon.