He drops out of the rankings this week after 2 poor showings. In the 2 races that are actually worth points, he's finished 16th and 22nd. I realize last week was the Daytona 500 where he has Earnhardtitis, but at Phoenix he finished 2 laps down and couldn't get anything to go right. Whether it's because he's investing too much time in Danica, no more Darian, or the Championship hangover, Smoke needs to get it in gear, because several drivers are already off to the races, and he's still stalled on pit lane at Daytona.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (did not race)
Tony Raines (did not race)
Terry Labonte (did not race)
Tony Stewart (finished 22nd, 2 laps down)
Dave Blaney (finished 23rd, 3 laps down)
Marcos Ambrose (engine failure, DNF-ed in 32nd)
NEW THIS WEEK:
Juan Pablo Montoya
ON THE GAS:
Martin Truex Jr.
ON THE BRAKES:
20. Clint Bowyer (-9):
Clint stays in by the skin of his teeth. You ever have one of those Murphy's Law days, where everything can and WILL go wrong? That was what happened to Clint at Phoenix. He had a tire go down and brought out a caution. He got a replacement, went back out on track, and the damage from the first wall pancake cut the tire down again. The second verse was harder than the first. Clint finished outside the top 30 and you know he was thrilled to see the checkered flag.
19. Paul Menard (-13):
Menard was another driver who was happy to see the race end at Phoenix. He was doing well early on, but finished the day 9 laps down and outside the top 30. He went crashing down the standings as well as this week's rankings. RCR is performing much better to start the year though, so here's hoping Menard is a new face that can stay in the rankings all year.
18. Jeff Burton (-13):
If this man has ANY luck at all, it's usually bad. Burton just can't catch a break. He was in contention for a great finish, and led some laps in this race. He was running near the front most of the afternoon, but with 21 laps to go the 31 started spewing smoke out the back, and Burton made that dreaded left turn into the garage after the engine went kablooey.
17. Kurt Busch (previously NR):
Busch is driving for an underfunded team this year even though he's supplied by Hendrick engines. This time, the elder Busch brother ran the entire race and led a couple laps, finishing 15th. It's not the greatest day, but for his new team it's enough to put him back into the lower end of this week's rankings.
16. Aric Almirola (previously NR):
Almirola may not have led a single lap, nor was he ever in contention to win, but he gave the King a 12th place finish in the historic #43. For never having any sort of success in the Cup Series, and Richard Petty's #43 never amounting to anything for well over a decade, this spot on the rankings is a call to Almirola for a solid day.
15. Juan Pablo Montoya (previously NR):
Would you look at that? Montoya didn't hit any jet dryers this week, kept the car in one piece, and low and behold came home just shy of the top 10 with an 11th place showing. He goes from last week's dishonorable mention to a new addition to this week's power rankings.
14. Bobby Labonte
"Bobbily Abonte," as our Debi's (JrCanuckFan) son used to affectionately call him, stays right where he was last week. He didn't have a great day, but it wasn't terrible either. He's better off than the big names who struggled either here or at Daytona. If you don't believe me, then consider this. Labonte's 16th place finished moved him up 3 spots and into the Chase, making him the only Chaser after 2 races without a top 10 finish.
13. Carl Edwards (-5):
12. Jeff Gordon (previously NR):
Welcome back, Kotter? No, but welcome back the #24 to the power rankings where you'd expect to see him every week. NASCAR's winningest active driver led at Phoenix and finished 8th. Look for him to start climbing up the rankings. Can you believe this is Gordon's TWENTIETH year in Cup?! I still can't!
11. Brad Keselowski (previously NR):
Keselowski also makes it back into this week's rankings in a big way. He was out front for a while and had a shot to win this race at one point. The Blue Deuce is back as Brad came home 5th at Phoenix. Last year's Chase Cinderella ain't Cinderella anymore.
Check page 2 for the top 10
10. Jimmie Johnson (previously NR):
Johnson came to Phoenix with a mission to stink up the show and win the race. Early on it looked like he was going to do just that. However, as the race went on, other drivers caught up to him by adjusting on their race cars. But at the end of the day, he still came home in 4th place. Boy did the 48 team ever need that after the disaster that was Speedweeks 2012!
9. Kyle Busch (+8):
Shrub finished 6th at Phoenix, a much better outcome than the Daytona 500 for him. He led, and was always a threat to win until the very end when 2 guys ran away from the field. I have to give Kyle credit, that suspension and sponsor loss at the end of last year has seemed to wake him up, at least for the start of 2012.
8. Mark Martin (+2):
The Old Man and Sliced Bread finished 9th and 10th at Daytona. This week, they did it again, but in reverse. Martin finished 9th after winning the pole. He's showing that he's still capable of running up front and winning races. Don't be surprised if later this year, we have to say "Harry Gant, move over."
7. Joey Logano (+2):
This boy keeps improving. Now in his 4th full season in the Cup Series, Joey is able to finally pull his own beer bottle in the Bud Shootout, and is also starting off the season very consistently. I wouldn't be one bit shocked to see him win a race or two this year that goes the full distance.
6. Martin Truex Jr. (+6):
Truex is quietly off to a very good start. He was out front again at Phoenix, and had a very solid day, finishing 7th for Michael Waltrip. Aside from Bowyer's miserable day, MWR has started off very well in the first 2 races. Truex hasn't won since the 8th grade picnic, but could get back to victory lane at some point this year.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-3):
Junior and Kenseth finished right behind each other once again at Phoenix. But this time it wasn't 1-2, it was 13-14. He said he felt he had a 15th place car...pretty much spot on. Hey Junior, can I have the winning numbers for Tuesday's Mega Million?
4. Matt Kenseth (-3):
Kenseth did lead at Phoenix, but never had a car capable of winning. As a result of finishing 13th and 14th, he and Junior fell to 4th and 5th in the standings this week. As a result of that 3 position drop, they drop 3 spots in this week's rankings to 4th and 5th...I wish ranking the drivers was always this easy.
3. Kevin Harvick (+4):
He almost had it. Happy couldn't help but laugh when he was taking his helmet off on pit road. It was almost Mr. "Where did he come from" once again, but instead if was Mr. "Where did he go." He tried, oh did he try, but that gas tank just needed one more ounce of fuel. Harvick ran out coming to the white flag, but he still managed to have such a huge lead over everyone else that he held on to 2nd place.
2. Greg Biffle (+1):
2 races, 2 3rd place finishes, and 2nd in points. You can't be much more consistent than that to start the season. The Biff has started off exceptionally well, and if he keeps this up, he'll not only be a contender for some wins, he'll be a legitimate threat in the Chase. It's a long season, but it's good to see a guy you know is good back at the top.
1. Denny Hamlin (+3):
The only way to eclipse Biffle atop the rankings after 2 weeks? Lead the most laps at Daytona and finish 4th, and win at Phoenix after Harvick tried like hell to get there. That's what Hamlin did, and he finds himself the points leader after 2 races.
Can Hamlin make it 2 in a row? Will the Roushketeers reclaim their throne at Vegas? Can Tony Stewart get back into the rankings where we all know he belongs? We'll find out those answers from Lady Luck this weekend!
Until next time I'm Bryan Kramer for The Blitzburgh Pit Stop saying Lady Luck, PLEASE let the dice stay hot in Vegas!
BK over and out