Posted: Tuesday September 4, 2012 12:49PM ; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2012 2:47PM
Dustin Long
Dustin Long>NASCAR POWER RANKINGS

Hamlin launched to No. 1 in Power Rankings after second straight win

Story Highlights

Denny Hamlin's second consecutive victory this season lifts him to No. 1 spot

Jeff Gordon needed a win, but his runner's up finish brought him back to the ranks

Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer both clinched Chase spots -- a first for MWR

Atlanta Power Rankings

Denny Hamlin is making it harder to overlook him as a title contender after winning at Atlanta for his series-high fourth victory of the season and his second in a row. Hamlin's surge catapulted him atop of the Power Rankings just a week after he was ranked eighth. Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, who've been consistent leaders this season, are among those poised to take the top spot if Hamlin falters.

 
1
Denny Hamlin
2012 wins: 4
2012 Top-10s: 13
Last week's rank: 8
Hamlin became first driver to score back-to-back victories this season, which helped him make the leap to No. 1 this week. Now, the question is: can he stay there? He's not had more than two consecutive top-10 finishes all season, but that could change with Richmond -- where he's won the September race two of the last three years -- on the schedule this week.
 
2
Brad Keselowski
2012 Wins: 3
2012 Top-10s: 14
Last week's rank: 2
Had it not been for Hamlin winning his second consecutive race, Keselowski would have moved to No. 1 this week. He stays in the second spot after placing third at Atlanta for his eighth top-10 finish in the last nine races; his only blemish in that streak was a 30th-place finish at Bristol.
 
3
Jimmie Johnson
2012 Wins: 3
2012 Top-10s: 17
Last week's rank: 1
Johnson finished 34th Sunday, marking only the second time this season he's placed outside the top 15 in a non-restrictor-plate race. He has not finished better than 35th in any of the three plate races this season. He also apologized via Twitter for the incident that collected Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish.
 
4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 17
Last week's rank: 3
Earnhardt struggled for a good part of the race but when the checkered flag flew, he was seventh. Earnhardt credited crew chief Steve Letarte: "[He] is really experienced and did a lot of crafty stuff on the strategy to get us our laps back and get us back into position, and that's about the only thing I think we can take away from that. The surface is real slick. There's not another surface like this. We don't run this kind of set-up at most of the other 1.5-mile tracks; so I'm not too worried about how we ran."
 
5
Martin Truex Jr.
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 14
Last week's rank: 9
Truex was set to score his first Cup victory since 2007 when the caution flag waved while he was leading in the final laps. "Just my luck," Truex lamented on the radio after Jamie McMurray's crash. Truex lost the lead on pit road and then couldn't challenge Hamlin on the final restart and finished fourth. Still, Truex scored his seventh consecutive finish of 11th or better. The team still has some steps to take but they're headed in the right direction going into the Chase.
 
6
Greg Biffle
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top-10s: 14
Last week's rank: 4
Biffle had a tough night at Atlanta; he finished 15th and wasn't much of a factor. "We were just way off," he said afterward. In his last five races, Biffle's had one win, two top-10s and three finishes of 15th or worse.
 
7
Matt Kenseth
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 15
Last week's rank: 7
Ninth-place finish Sunday night marked his second top-10 finish in the last seven races. Kenseth said, "There were times when we found the right balance, but we were just slow."
 
8
Jeff Gordon
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 11
Last week's rank: n/a
Gordon really needed a win to help his chances of earning a wildcard for the Chase, but finished second on Sunday. Afterward Gordon said he should have been more aggressive. "I don't know, I guess I'm just getting soft in my old age," he said. "I'm too nice because, I don't know, 15 years ago I would have just moved him right up the racetrack. I don't know why I didn't do that. I thought I could get to his quarter panel and slow him down and stay there. But I got there, I just carried too much speed into [turn] three and it pushed up the racetrack."
 
9
Clint Bowyer
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 14
Last week's rank: 6
Battery issues caused him to lose three laps on pit road Sunday and he finished 27th -- only the second time he's finished worse than 16th in the last 17 races. Still, his finish was good enough to clinch a Chase spot.
 
10
Michael Waltrip
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 38
Last week's rank: n/a
The co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing got to celebrate Sunday night as both Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer clinched spots in the Chase. It marks the first time MWR has qualified for NASCAR's version of the playoffs.
 
 

 
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