Power Rankings- Talladega


Apr 25, 2014; Richmond, VA, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon (24) during practice for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no reason to dismiss Joey Logano as a legitimate championship contender following Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway.  In his sixth year on the NSCS circuit the tall and lanky kid known as sliced bread has finally risen to the top.   Logano survived a wild finish at the end of Saturday night’s short track showdown to claim his second win of the 2014 season beating out Jeff Gordon for second time in as many weeks.  The victory is a milestone of sorts for Joey Logano who claimed his first multiple win season of his young career. The Team Penske driver is on pace to have a career year in 2014. Through the first nine races of the season he’s already recorded three more top five finishes than he did at this time one year ago.  In addition to Joey Logano’s second victory of the season, his teammate Brad Keselowski scored an important momentum building top five finish at Richmond. It was the former champions first top five finish since Las Vegas in March.

Although he came up short in his bid to capture win number one on the season, Jeff Gordon continues to turn back the clock, clearly defying the aging process with another stellar outing. Leading some of his critics to question why they ever doubted the four time champion’s ability to remain an elite driver at age 42?   Usual suspects Kyle Busch & Matt Kenseth both posted solid top five finishes for Joe Gibbs racing keeping the teams recent strangle hold of Richmond nicely intact.  AJ Allmendinger & Martin Truex Jr scored top ten finishes proving smaller single car operations can still hang with the sports deep pocket giants.

Clint Bowyer created some new nightmarish memories at Richmond a track he’s probably growing less and less fond of with each passing visit.  When the dust settled Marcos Ambrose saw fit to get all up Casey Mears’s wheelhouse. Now it’s on to Talladega where more wild and crazy action is the norm.  Until then, friends here’s this week’s Power Rankings.

  1. Jeff Gordon- Jeff Gordon really has to stop hanging out with Doctor Emmett Brown because one could argue the #24 Chevrolet has transformed into the DeLorean. Off to his best start in nearly three season Gordon remains atop the point standings despite the fact he’s yet to return to the winner’s circle in 2014.  You know I always thought Jeff Gordon was Michael J Fox’s doppelganger.  Hello, McFly?

Gordon is a six-time Talladega winner, but hasn’t won there since sweeping both races at the track in 2007.

2.    Joey Logano- Admittedly I was particularly skeptical of Roger Penske’s decision to hire Joey Logano prior to the start of last season.   He didn’t exactly come off to me as a Penske guy, but I will be the first to say Mr. Penske’s proved me completely wrong.  Logano has gone from drawing comparison to Casey Atwood to a legitimate championship threat at the ripe old age of 24.

Logano earned 4 top 10 finishes in his first five career Talladega starts, but since then has finished not better than 16th in his last five Talladega starts.

3.   Matt Kenseth-    In a season where winning races has overshadowed consistency, Matt Kenseth arbitrarily continues to follow the credo consistency wins championships. Now all Kenseth needs to do is roll off victories in a consistent fashion.

Matt Kenseth claimed his only victory at Talladega in the fall of 2012.

4.  Kyle Busch-   Get this. There are peeps out there convinced Kyle Busch’s once promising career has already peaked. He’s 29 years old, he owns 29 NSCS victories in 338 career starts.  Seriously some peeps just don’t understand our sport.  Kyle Busch over the hill? Absolutely absurd.

Busch won the 2008 spring race at Talladega.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – The surname Earnhardt is synonyms with restrictor plate racing. Luckily for junior nation their driver’s surname is Earnhardt. Little E goes for win number 6 at Dega on Sunday afternoon.  It’s been 10 years since Junior lasted tasted victory at the track his pops made famous.

6. Brad Keselowski- Scoring an important top 5 finish last week at Richmond hopefully goes along way for the former champion to sail the ship right for the rest of 2014. Coincidentally Talladega is next on the schedule, the very same place he scored career win number one in dramatic fashion.

7. Carl Edwards-   Carl Edwards has never won a NSCS race at Talladega. Nevertheless in 2009 he created a Talladega moment that turned out be more epic than the actual race winners victory celebration. Just don’t remind Brad Keselowski he may say otherwise.

8.  Ryan Newman-  Back to back  top ten finishes launch the rocket man back into the top ten in the standings following a one week hiatus.  Interestingly enough, Ryan Newman sits higher in the standing than his former employer and his other three drivers. Cha Ching!

Newman’s finished in the top ten in 2 of the last three Talladega races.

9. Jimmie Johnson- I am marvelled at the NASCAR communities reaction to Jimmie Johnson’s nine race winless streak to start the season.  They conjure up conspiracy theories when he’s downright dominant, now are we really complaining about him not winning races? Come on peeps what do you really want? Your killing me!

Johnson is a two-time Talladega winner. Wining both races in the spring of 2006 & 2011.

10. Kevin Harvick- Kevin Harvick has benefited the most from NASCAR’s restructured points system. It’s rare to find a guy with 2 wins sitting twentieth in the standings, but that’s where he’s at nine races into his first season with supreme juggernaut Stewart Haas Racing.

11.  Brian Vickers- This weekend Brian Vickers returns to Talladega for the first time in nearly three years.  Currently t win his
first race of the 2014 season.  Talladega was the site of his first career victory way back in 2006 when he drove for Hendrick Motorsports.

12. Greg Biffle-   Like any driver who’s in a contact year, Greg Biffle is constantly hounded by questions reading his future. And just all the others he loves to respond back with cheeky answers, like the proverbial “Were working hard to finalize a deal, and when we do you’ll be the first to know” Unless somebody on Twitter leaks it out first.

13. Kyle Larson- Kyle Larson’s vibrant nature is rubbing off on some of his competitors. On Saturday night we saw Larson’s first career on track quarrel with another driver. And of all people he mixes it up with, None other than Clint Bowyer, a driver who’s certainly no stranger to controversy at Richmond.  Larson’s dramatic rebound from that incident tells us his talents measure far beyond his twenty-one years.

14. AJ Allmendinger – Certain drivers thrive on playing the role of career underdog. You could say AJ Allmendinger is one of those drivers. For the third time in his career the dinger is doing more with less.  Honestly did anyone predict he would earn two top ten finishes in the first nine races for JTG Daugherty Racing? It’s ok if you didn’t that’s what makes his story truly remarkable.

15. Austin Dillon- In his first visit to Talladega last October Austin Dillon all but won his first career NSCS race subbing for Tony Stewart. This time he returns to Talladega driving a car that bears the same number as one of Talladega’s storied legends.  You could see this as foreshadowing?

16. Denny Hamlin- What’s wrong with Denny Hamlin? Like the rest of you asking the same question, I got nothing.

17. Jamie McMurray- The master of the Talladega upset is going for his third on Sunday afternoon. In a season that’s started slowly for Chip Ganassi’s other driver a win would be much appreciated.

18. Marcos Ambrose-   If this driving thing doesn’t work out for Marcos Ambrose in the long run perhaps he should consider a career in MMA. He laid one hell of a haymaker on Casey Mears Saturday night.

19. Kasey Kahne –   Kahne’s abysmal string of races this season only makes Jimmie Johnson feel better. He’s not the only Hendrick Motorsports driver chasing his own tail. Kahne’s good run at Richmond signifies there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

20. Tony Stewart- See Denny Hamlin above. Only replace Hamlin with Stewart. For what it’s worth he already has three wins as an owner this season.

Photo courtesy of Peter Casey- USA TODAY Sports