Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 15 After the 2011 GEICO 400 at Chicagoland

The Chase is officially underway and after opening for the first time in Chicagoland, the Windy City blew the standings for a loop. Tony Stewart, for the third time in his career, scored his first win of the season when the schedule stopped in Chicago. As several of his wins have been over the last few years, Stewart landed this one by stretching his fuel at the end, outlasting most of his rivals who ran out coasting to the checkered.

That long list of names, including Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch – although Busch technically ran out on the penultimate lap – now has to lick their wounds quickly, recovering from their misery while mourning the points that might have been. Kevin Harvick had no such concerns; he was second across the line, taking over the points lead outright while Dale Earnhardt Jr. opened the Chase in strong form, winding up third.

Such a crazy ending had our pollsters working overtime this week. After finishing 24th thanks to an empty gas tank, will Gordon – a trendy title favorite – be able to hold onto the top spot in our rankings? How far up the standings was Stewart able to climb thanks to his victory? And did Earnhardt make it back into the top 10 in the poll after scoring his first top-five finish in three months?

Read this week’s Power Rankings to find out if your driver made his gas last on the extra day of racing in Chicago or if he’s still sitting on the track, waiting for the tow truck to bring him home.

FRONTSTRETCH TOP-15 POWER RANKINGS: SEPTEMBER 21, 2011
Rank Driver (First-Place Votes) Votes Last Week
1 Carl Edwards (3) 116 3
Fourth place is a good start for the Chase, but it was hardly a typical intermediate effort for a guy who backflips on these tracks in his sleep.
2 Kevin Harvick (3) 113 5
Now that he has Clint Bowyer’s crew again is he going to blame someone else when things don’t go as planned?
3 Jimmie Johnson 101 4
In typical No. 48 fashion, almost everyone else who runs out of gas ends up in the 20s while Johnson comes home 10th.
4 Tony Stewart 95 11
Third win at Chicago and all of them have been the first win of the season for Smoke. Talk about a quirky stat.
5 Kurt Busch 94 7
Interesting stat mentioned by ESPN the other day: Kurt has finished in the top 10 on every 1.5-mile track this year.
6 Brad Keselowski 90 6
Nerves led to a rare verbal meltdown on the radio Monday; crew chief Paul Wolfe had a rare botched strategy call. But when all was said and done, Lady Luck still cut this team a lucky break … someone get this team to a craps table, pronto.
T-7 Kyle Busch 77 2
Now everyone waits to see if new Kyle can get right back in the title Chase or if old Kyle is going to derail his efforts once again.
T-7 Ryan Newman 77 9
Ran out of gas but there were so many other superstars on empty hardly anyone noticed. It’s just like every day he walks through the office at Hendrick … maybe one day the secretary will figure out his name, right? She knows who Dale Jr. is.
T-9 Jeff Gordon 76 1
Thought his struggles at 1.5-mile tracks were over by winning at Atlanta? Think again.
T-9 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 76 13
Playing with house money in a Chase with zero expectations. Suddenly, anything is possible … and Steve Letarte, if he pulls this off should win crew chief of the decade.
11 Matt Kenseth 71 8
Got penalized for JJ Yeley pushing him on the final lap, but at least he got some extra practice for Talladega next month.
12 Clint Bowyer 43 NR
Realized this week a 20-race deal with 5-hour Energy doesn’t quite add up to 36. Good thing the beancounters at Michael Waltrip Racing did before signing on the dotted line. Man, that timely note by a David Reutimann sure came in handy.
13 Mark Martin 41 NR
Looks like the 2012 Hendrick Motorsports test is going well so far, huh? Martin won’t be a part of it, at the end of the day but I’m sure there’s some lovely parting gifts at GoDaddy headquarters from Danica Patrick.
14 Denny Hamlin 30 10
For those who had any doubt that Hamlin was out of the Chase for this year, well, Monday removed all doubt.
15 David Ragan 28 14
For what it’s worth: more top-five finishes than anyone in front of him in the standings who is not in the Chase. Is that worth enough to UPS?
Dropped Out: AJ Allmendinger (12), Jamie McMurray (15)
Others Receiving Votes: Martin Truex Jr. (24), Greg Biffle (23), AJ Allmendinger (21), Kasey Kahne (21), Juan Pablo Montoya (12), Regan Smith (10), Brian Vickers (9), Jeff Burton (5), Joey Logano (3), Marcos Ambrose (2), Mike Bliss (2)
Writer Voters Include: Phil Allaway, Tom Bowles, Bryan Davis Keith, Tony Lumbis, Vito Pugliese, Mike Neff and Garrett Horton

About the author

Frontstretch.com

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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