Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2012 1:08PM ; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2012 2:47PM
Dustin Long
Dustin Long>NASCAR POWER RANKINGS

Jeff Gordon's gutsy drive secured Chase wild card and top ranking

Story Highlights

Jeff Gordon came from behind at Richmond to lock Chase wild card and No. 1 rank

Despite missing third straight win, Denny Hamlin made seventh straight Chase

Martin Truex Jr. ended streak of seven consecutive top-11 finishes by placing 21st

Richmond Power Rankings

It took until the final laps at Richmond, but the Chase field is settled. What a finish it was with Jeff Gordon's dramatic drive to squeeze into the Chase. Gordon's effort wasn't only rewarded with a wildcard spot but much more in this week's Power Rankings.

 
1
Jeff Gordon
2012 wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 12
Last week's rank: 8
Gordon makes the big jump to No. 1 based on how he and his team overcame problems at Richmond (they fell down a lap early), and then raced his way into the Chase. This was epic Gordon, who finished second, with a determined drive that knocked Kyle Busch out of title contention. The question is: can he keep hold of this spot? Several strong drivers are ready to take over if he falters.
 
2
Brad Keselowski
2012 Wins: 3
2012 Top-10s: 15
Last week's rank: 2
His seventh-place finish at Richmond was his ninth top-10 in the last 10 races -- nobody is entering the Chase hotter. Keselowski said, regarding the upcoming Chase, "We need to have that great average finish with some wins and laps led, and I feel like my team is capable of it. I'm really, really excited about those last 10."
 
3
Jimmie Johnson
2012 Wins: 3
2012 Top-10s: 17
Last week's rank: 3
Johnson finished 13th at Richmond. He's been up-and-down lately and failed to finish three of the last nine races (accidents at Daytona and Atlanta and a blown engine at Michigan), but also had three strong runs -- a win at Indy, a runner-up finish at Bristol and a third at Watkins Glen -- during that stretch. Despite some recent bad luck, the team seems poised for another championship run.
 
4
Denny Hamlin
2012 Wins: 4
2012 Top-10s: 13
Last week's rank: 1
Hamlin couldn't pull off his third consecutive win last weekend, placing 18th, but he did qualify for his seventh consecutive Chase (he's made the Chase every year he's run full time in the Cup). "I'll learn the lessons from previous years and apply them," he said about how he'll attack this year's Chase. "But, it's going to take wins. That's going to be the most important thing. To have wins, you got to have fast cars. So it's going to be important to make sure we keep on top of that."
 
5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 17
Last week's rank: 4
Consistency has been a hallmark all season for Earnhardt. He's had only three finishes outside the top 15 in the last 15 races -- two were because of late incidents at the road courses and the other was because of a mechanical issue at Pocono last month. "We've been running good all year," Earnhardt said. "We've just been going week-to-week. You go to each racetrack and work on your car in practice, run the race, try to use your head, finish as best you can."
 
6
Clint Bowyer
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top-10s: 15
Last week's rank: 9
Bowyer moves up the Rankings after his win at Richmond. He has five top-10 finishes in the last six races. When asked at Richmond what it would mean to win the championship, Bowyer said, "Jimmie [Johnson] seems like he has a blast doing it. I promise you I could throw a better party than him. Might not survive it, but we would have a lot of fun."
 
7
Matt Kenseth
2012 Wins: 1
2012 Top-10s: 16
Last week's rank: 7
Kenseth and his team needed that fifth-place finish. It was only his third top-10 result in his last eight starts, although he's run better in other races than he finished. Kenseth said, "We've had a couple decent weeks. I can't wait to go to Chicago and race there. We definitely know we need to win some races to have a shot at this thing."
 
8
Martin Truex Jr.
2012 Wins: 0
2012 Top-10s: 14
Last week's rank: 5
Truex finished 21st, snapping a streak of seven consecutive races where he finished no worse than 11th. Richmond marked the fourth consecutive race he's led laps, his longest streak this season. Truex said, "I'm going to be honest with you, the way our cars are running and as fast as we've been the last six or seven weeks, we're dangerous."
 
9
Greg Biffle
2012 Wins: 2
2012 Top-10s: 15
Last week's rank: 6
Ninth-place finish was Biffle's fifth top-10 in the last eight races. He heads into Chase looking for his first title, and hopes to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win a championship in the Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Cup series.
 
10
NASCAR Fans
Last week's rank: n/a
Kudos to all those fans who stayed at Richmond or stayed up to watch the race, which didn't finish until after 1 a.m. Eastern time because of rain delays. Not the best of circumstances but their hardiness was rewarded with a dramatic ending.
 
 

 
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