Brad Keselowski

NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Edwards wins by "running and hiding" at Talladega

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Carl Edwards No one driver wins the Chase at Talladega, but many lose it. Edwards did neither, which is a good thing for him. Expect top-10 runs from here on out.

2. Matt Kenseth Edwards’ teammate and the 2003 champ, Kenseth, sits just 14 points back in second. Both are good (Texas, Homestead) and weak (Martinsville) at the same tracks.

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<p> Carl Edwards survived the melee that is the final few laps at Talladega on Sunday to extend his points lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He also extended his lead over Matt Kenseth in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

8. Clint Bowyer  Four of his six Chase races have resulted in finishes of eighth or better, including, of course, the big win at ’Dega. It may be the last one he sees for a while since MWR isn’t known as a big-win operation.

9. Jeff Gordon  Gordon’s 27th at Talladega and the events that conspired to contribute to it may have been frustrating, but say this about him: He seemed to be the only Hendrick car that wanted to go to the front and race.

10. Kasey Kahne  Kahne’s average finish in the last six races is 7.1, including four straight runs of sixth or better. It’s a shame everything is coming together for this bunch as the season winds down.

11. Denny Hamlin  Back-to-back solid finishes with his favorite stop — Martinsville — up next.

12. Paul Menard  Leads all drivers on the circuit with a 10.2-place average finish on the plate tracks in 2011.

13. Greg Biffle  Winless thus far in 2011. That’s only happened once to the Biff in eight full-time Cup seasons.

14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  It ain’t getting any prettier, but I get hate mail if he’s not at least ranked in the top 15.

15. Joey Logano  The final results (24th) don’t back up the great run Logano had at ’Dega with a torn up car.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr.
 

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Clint Bowyer Wins Talladega

RCR finishes 1-2; Chase field narrows

by Matt Taliaferro

And then, there were five. So it seems. Maybe. The one thing that is beyond debate is Clint Bowyer’s continued strength on NASCAR’s plate tracks. Bowyer made a last-lap pass of teammate Jeff Burton in the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday to earn his first win of the 2011.

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<p> Clint Bowyer won the Good Sam Club 500 from Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

The Dynamic Duo Returns

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Jimmie Johnson  Haven’t we seen this movie before? Summer turns to fall and the 48 team shifts into another gear that no one else has, and that it seemed to be hiding all along.

2. Carl Edwards  Edwards’ tough-it-out third- and fifth-place finishes the last two weeks are the type of performances that championships are made of. Dare we call them “Johnson-esque?”

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<p> Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus lead the 48 team back into the title hunt — and to the top of Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings — after a dominating win in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.</p>
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Jimmie Johnson Wins in Kansas

Johnson Narrows Chase Gap

by Matt Taliaferro

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<p> Jimmie Johnson won in dominating fashion in the Hollywood Casino 400 from Kansas Speedway and closed in on the lead in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup.</p>

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Kansas Speedway

Previewing NASCAR's Hollywood Casino 400

by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush

Race: Hollywood Casino 400
Location: Kansas City, Kan.
TV: ESPN (2:00 p.m. EST)
June Winner: Brad Keselowski

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<p> Athlon Sports previews this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400 from Kansas Speedway.</p>

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Horsepower Rankings

Chase field narrows after Monster weekend at Dover

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Jimmie Johnson  Attention race fans: Do not count Jimmie Johnson out of the Chase until he is mathematically eliminated (which probably will not happen). Thank you. That is all.

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<p> Jimmie Johnson sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

6. Kevin Harvick  Clinging to the points lead thanks to his four regular season wins and top-12 finishes. Still, Harvick seems to be lacking some of the mojo that got him here. Maybe he should pick a fight with Kyle Busch.

7. Matt Kenseth  Running out of fuel in the Chase’s first race at Chicago may come back to haunt Kenseth, who had one of the best cars there. The result was a 21st, with fifth- and sixth-place runs since.

8. Kurt Busch   Busch throws his hat back into the championship hunt with an impressive — and somewhat unexpected — win in Dover over Johnson, who he described as his “arch-nemesis.”

9. Kyle Busch  A sixth at Dover helped his cause after subpar 22nd- and 11th-place showings. Leading laps is Kyle’s calling card, but he hasn’t done that since the onset of the Chase.

10. Ryan Newman   There’s quite a gap between ninth and 10th on the list. Newman is sliding down the rankings thanks to 25th- and 23rd-place runs which have deep-sixed his Chase chances.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  That third-place run to open the Chase is proving to be the fuel-mileage fluke we believed it to be.

12. Clint Bowyer  If he expects to run better at Michael Waltrip Racing next season he needs to think again.

13. AJ Allmendinger  Back to his seventh- to 12th-place ways after a couple of down weeks.

14. Denny Hamlin  Averaged an eighth-place finish in the three races prior to the Chase. Averaging a 26th-place finish in it.

15. Greg Biffle   If a non-Chaser is to win a Chase race, Biffle may be that guy at Kansas.

Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr.
 

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Two'fer Tony Stewart

Stewart wins second straight, assumes NASCAR Chase lead

by Matt Taliaferro

Most had written off Tony Stewart as a legitimate 2011 championship contender — including himself, if you believed his words in the midst of a 27th-, ninth- and 28th-place string just six weeks ago. After all, his No. 14 team was winless through NASCAR’s 26-race regular season, averaging a pedestrian 14.2-place finish with only three top 5s.

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<p> Tony Stewart won his second straight race to lead off NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup with a win in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.</p>

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Smokin' Start to the Chase

Tony Stewart wins first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway

by Matt Taliaferro

Just days ago, Tony Stewart called himself an underdog in the Chase for the Championship. Two weeks prior, he wondered aloud whether his No. 14 team even deserved a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. On Monday, Stewart proved he’s no underdog — and he surely belongs in the company of title contenders — as the two-time Cup champion kicked off the Sprint Cup Series’ Chase by saving enough fuel to outlast the field in the GEICO 400 from Chicagoland Speedway.

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<p> Tony Stewart captured his first win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season in the sport's first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway.</p>

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Marked Man

Juan Pablo Montoya's list of enemies growing by the week

by Tom Bowles

Kermit the Frog may have it tough being green, but in the muppet-like drama of NASCAR I’m betting it’s 1,000 times tougher to be driving the red No. 42 Target Chevy these days. Indeed, every driver appears to see a bulls-eye on Juan Pablo Montoya’s back, past the point of marriage counseling and consulting every lawyer possible to see if they can initiate stock car divorce.

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<p> The Juan Pablo Montoya-Clint Bowyer dust-up was the latest in a lengthy list for Montoya. Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles breaks down his on- and off-track run-ins with the stars of NASCAR.</p>

Kyle Busch  In the days before “New Kyle,” the old version would rant about literally everything that happened to him on-track. The July 2010 Coke Zero 400 was no exception, but this time Busch had evidence to back it up, claiming Montoya flat out wrecked him while battling for the lead at Daytona on Lap 104.

“The replay shows I turned right across the nose of the 42, so apparently I wanted to wreck myself,” he said. “Some people don’t understand what happens in these cars. With the old tires like that, I’ve got no grip, I’m barely hanging on sliding around as it is out there.”

Joey Logano  The typically mild-mannered “Sliced Bread” nearly sliced Montoya in half after the two made contact at Homestead last year. How bad did it get? Felix Sabates, Montoya’s co-owner, literally threatened J.D. Gibbs title contender Denny Hamlin would wind up wrecked if Logano didn’t cut it out. Apparently, the youngster (are you sensing a theme?) was upset about the way he was being raced, retaliating after the first incident so both men would end their day with time spent inside the garage.

“I gave him plenty of room,” Logano said. “I just felt like I got hooked. That’s two times with him this year. I don’t know what the deal is.”

Kevin Harvick  Two men, one shove-fest. There’s YouTube video proof.

“It just seems like he runs over somebody every week,” Harvick said that day, and he should know, as these two have made contact several times over Montoya’s five years in Cup, averaging to about once a season. Perhaps RCR’s most heated intra-Cup rivalry until …

Clint Bowyer  See Atlanta. Tuesday. And a Cheerios car that looks like mush.

Ryan Newman  The No. 1 anti-Montoya suspect. These two tangled both on the track and off this spring, after a series of Richmond incidents inciting a meeting in the NASCAR hauler where Newman supposedly socked Montoya. It was a prizefight no one would actually confirm happened, even though when reached for comment it was the Colombian who said, “Newman punches like a girl.”

Frankly, these two have had it out for each other ever since Montoya’s Homestead Cup debut went up in flames after they tangled in 2006. It got so bad this time around, the “suckerpunch victim” threatened legal action unless NASCAR dished out one of those “secret fines” to his Stewart-Haas Racing rival.

Jimmie Johnson  Where do we begin? The latest tiff between the two occurred in July, when contact up in New Hampshire sent Johnson spinning and forced the No. 48 into hyper-aggressive mode simply to claw back up to fifth by the finish.

“The No. 42 — I don’t think of the three times he’s wrecked me it’s been intentional,” said Johnson. “But he’s out of mulligans. I’ve had enough of, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, and you’re spun out.’ It’s happened way too often.”

Apparently, that’s the case with everyone. So far, we’ve listed 10 drivers, nearly a quarter of the Sprint Cup field each week, with whom a Montoya feud has gone public — and that’s not including the private scrapes even the media can’t get hold of each week. Even those drivers some might classify as underdogs — like Regan Smith, who was a Montoya victim in May 2010 at Charlotte — have developed a grudge. But how could you now when the Colombian responds to an accident like he did after that one?

“It's just hard when you have guys that don't belong there running there,” Montoya said of Smith, who has now won just as many races (one) on the Cup level during the past two seasons. “He never gave me any room … I wanted to run the middle and he just turned down. That's what happens when you start by a lottery and not by performance, and he just doesn't have any [talent]."

The irony of it all is that it’s Montoya’s performance that has suffered the most. All of the drivers on this list, save Logano and Smith, have more career victories while more than half will make the Chase this season. Compare that to an ugly track record for Earnhardt-Ganassi’s top team, which will miss the playoffs for the second straight year and fourth time in five, currently sitting 21st in points and armed with just two top-5 finishes in 25 starts. But don’t expect Montoya himself to take the blame for that, as his crew chief Brian Pattie was axed in July after playing “anger management” on top of the pit box for three seasons.

Bowyer may have stepped over the line in calling Montoya names. But when will Montoya utter the two most important words all these drivers want to hear?

An “I’m sorry” would go a long way, right? But I guess the first problem with that is you actually have to believe that something was your fault.

Agree with Tom? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Tom on Twitter @NASCARBowles

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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Mustache and mullet jokes need not apply

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Jimmie Johnson  Two runner-up finishes in the last three races but no wins since Talladega in April. It’s almost Chase time, though, and Johnson finds himself leading the pack (albeit in a controlled four-wheel drift) as September begins. Surprise, surprise.

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<p> Tropical Depression Lee, meet Jeff Gordon. Gordon won the day in Atlanta, but Jimmie Johnson — who finished second in a four-wheel drift — still sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

9. Kurt Busch  Like the little girl with the curl, Kurt can be very, very good or very, very bad. Problem is, that doesn’t translate into Chase success.

10. Kevin Harvick  After back-to-back 22nd-place finishes, Harvick and the boys rebound with a respectable seventh at AMS. Still, something is amiss here.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He’ll probably make the Chase, but at this rate that’s about all you can expect.

12. Tony Stewart  Finally broke out of a nasty slump with a big third-place showing at Atlanta. More should follow. Should.

13. Martin Truex Jr.   He keeps showing flashes of brilliance but just can’t finish like the big boys.

14. AJ Allmendinger  Somehow ranks 13th in the standings. Probably because that’s about where he finishes each week.

15. Clint Bowyer  If you were at work, YouTube his comments about Juan Pablo Montoya. Classic.

Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Paul Menard

 

Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro

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