Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 15 After the 2011 Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

There are some 20-plus racetracks on the Sprint Cup schedule, but only one that has been on the docket since its very first season in 1949: Martinsville Speedway. NASCAR’s oldest facility has only improved with age, and with a Chase that’s featured some snoozers in recent weeks it was a welcome sigh of relief to replace that with sizzling competition.

A wild event came packaged with a hair-raising finish: Tony Stewart used a pass from the outside on a late-race restart to grab the top spot and held on to win the race in a three-lap sprint to the finish. Jimmie Johnson, unfortunately, lost a comfortable lead due to that last caution and ultimately lost the race to Stewart.

Kyle Busch led the most laps in the race but was a victim of someone else’s problems that ended up costing him several laps and any real chance he had at the championship. In the meantime, Carl Edwards looked like he was dragging an anchor behind his car for most of the race, but somehow pulled out a miraculous finish of ninth to maintain the point lead. Most likely, it’s a two-man race between he and Stewart heading to the final three races of 2011.

Did Edwards’s dramatic rebound to a top-10 finish allow him to hang on to the top spot in the Power Rankings? How much did Stewart’s third win of the Chase boost him up in the poll? And after Matt Kenseth’s bad luck, courtesy of a flat tire and a silver can of Red Bull, how far down was his Power Rankings slide? Read this week’s Power Rankings to find out where your driver stands with less than 20 days left in NASCAR’s 2011 season.

Rank Driver (First-Place Votes) Votes Last Week
1 Tony Stewart (3) 115 3
For the first time in a long time, where there’s Smoke, there’s fire. Those comments about kicking other drivers’ butts and setting up a boxing ring could only come from the Stewart of old, the 2002 version that knocked recorders out of photographers’ hands but also specialized in winning two titles. Goody Two Shoes vs. Crazy Old Man? That equals Must-Watch TV Entertainment going forward.
2 Carl Edwards (3) 114 1
Hey Rocky, watch me pull a top 10 out of my hat. Nothing up my sleeve … Presto!
3 Kevin Harvick 102 4
Take away that Talladega tragedy and this team would be clicking on all cylinders. But how many times have we said that for Chase bids that fell by the wayside?
4 Brad Keselowski 93 5
In an instant, one silly nudge by Denny Hamlin turned his title chances from “terrific” to “tragic.”
5 Jimmie Johnson 92 8
It took seven races for Chad Knaus to jump on board with the Crew Chief Theory of 2011: track position. And even then, he couldn’t bear to look and figured he cost poor Jimmie the race. No, Chad, you didn’t; this Chase, you cost him the title instead.
6 Matt Kenseth 85 2
Red Bull lost itself a customer Sunday. Maybe they can make it up to Kenseth by sponsoring his car in 2012?
7 Denny Hamlin 78 10
Believe it or not, has strung together three straight top-10 finishes and still can’t jump any higher than 11th place. Lucky for Hamlin, Mike Ford believes in giving 110% even as a lame duck.
8 Jeff Gordon 77 12
Looked like the good ol’ days at Martinsville for part of the race on Sunday; considering how they’ve run as of late, that’s progress.
9 Jeff Burton 61 NR
Back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time since the Dillon brothers were born. OK, maybe not that long but true story: Burton was racing Cup when Austin and Ty were still in diapers.
10 Ryan Newman 51 13
Gets a few bonus points for acquiring 2012 sponsorship this week. There’s hundreds of talented drivers out there that wish they could be so lucky, including about a dozen on the Cup level.
T-11 Kasey Kahne 46 7
Got down a lap early and spent the rest of the race making sure people didn’t confuse him with Brian Vickers.
T-11 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 46 15
A couple of AMPs right before the race might not be the best idea.
13 Kurt Busch 45 11
Busch used to be money on short tracks. Now, he’s a target.
14 Kyle Busch 43 6
Another season of no title through no doing of his own.
15 Clint Bowyer 41 14
If only Clint had figured out this whole free agency thing earlier, heck, his team might have made the Chase!
Dropped Out: Marcos Ambrose (9)
Others Receiving Votes: Martin Truex Jr. (39), Greg Biffle (30), AJ Allmendinger (27), Marcos Ambrose (20), Regan Smith (13), Casey Mears (11), Travis Kvapil (8), Dave Blaney (6), Joey Logano (5), Paul Menard (4), Brian Vickers (4), David Ragan (2), Ken Schrader (2)
Writer Voters Include: Phil Allaway, Tom Bowles, Bryan Davis Keith, Tony Lumbis, Mike Neff and Garrett Horton


About the author

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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