The Chase is officially underway and after opening for the first time in Chicagoland, the Windy City blew the standings for a loop. Tony Stewart, for the third time in his career, scored his first win of the season when the schedule stopped in Chicago. As several of his wins have been over the last few years, Stewart landed this one by stretching his fuel at the end, outlasting most of his rivals who ran out coasting to the checkered. That long list of names, including Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch – although Busch technically ran out on the penultimate lap – now has to lick their wounds quickly, recovering from their misery while mourning the points that might have been. Kevin Harvick had no such concerns; he was second across the line, taking over the points lead outright while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. opened the Chase in strong form, winding up third.
Such a crazy ending had our pollsters working overtime this week. After finishing 24th thanks to an empty gas tank, will Gordon – a trendy title favorite – be able to hold onto the top spot in our rankings? How far up the standings was Stewart able to climb thanks to his victory? And did Earnhardt Jr. make it back into the top 10 in the poll after scoring his first top-5 finish in three months? Read this week’s Top 15 Power Rankings to find out if your driver made his gas last on the extra day of racing in Chicago, or if he’s still sitting on the track, waiting for the tow truck to bring him home.
|*FRONTSTRETCH TOP 15 POWER RANKINGS: SEPTEMBER 21st*|
|*Rank*||*Driver (First Place Votes)*||*Votes*||*Last Week*|
|*1*||*Carl Edwards (3)*||116||3|
|Fourth place is a good start for the Chase, but it was hardly a typical intermediate effort for a guy who backflips on these tracks in his sleep.|
|*2*||*Kevin Harvick (3)*||113||5|
|Now that he has Bowyer’s crew again is he going to blame someone else when things don’t go as planned?|
|In typical No. 48 fashion, almost everyone else who runs out of gas ends up in the 20s while Johnson comes home 10th.|
|Third win at Chicago and all of them have been the first win of the season for Smoke. Talk about a quirky stat.|
|Interesting stat mentioned by ESPN the other day: Kurt has finished in the top 10 on every 1.5-mile track this year.|
|Nerves led to a rare verbal meltdown on the radio Monday; crew chief Paul Wolfe had a rare botched strategy call. But when all was said and done, Lady Luck still cut this team a lucky break … someone get this team to a craps table, pronto.|
|*T – 7*||*Kyle Busch*||77||2|
|Now everyone waits to see if new Kyle can get right back in the title Chase or if old Kyle is going to derail his efforts once again.|
|*T – 7*||*Ryan Newman*||77||9|
|Ran out of gas but there were so many other superstars on empty hardly anyone noticed. It’s just like every day he walks through the office at Hendrick… maybe one day the secretary will figure out his name, right? She knows who Dale Jr. is.|
|*T – 9*||*Jeff Gordon*||76||1|
|Thought his struggles at 1.5-mile tracks were over by winning at Atlanta? Think again.|
|*T – 9*||*Dale Earnhardt, Jr.*||76||13|
|Playing with house money in a Chase with zero expectations. Suddenly, anything is possible… and Steve Letarte, if he pulls this off should win crew chief of the decade.|
|Got penalized for J.J. Yeley pushing him on the final lap, but at least he got some extra practice for Talladega next month.|
|Realized this week a 20-race deal with 5-Hour Energy doesn’t quite add up to 36. Good thing the beancounters at Michael Waltrip Racing did before signing on the dotted line… man, that timely note by a D. Reutimann sure came in handy.|
|Looks like the 2012 Hendrick Motorsports test is going well so far, huh? Martin won’t be a part of it, at the end of the day but I’m sure there’s some lovely parting gifts at GoDaddy headquarters from Danica.|
|For those who had any doubt that Hamlin was out of the Chase for this year, well, Monday removed all doubt.|
|For what it’s worth: more top-5 finishes than anyone in front of him in the standings who is not in the Chase. Is that worth enough to UPS?|
|*Dropped Out*: A.J. Allmendinger (12), Jamie McMurray (15).|
|*Others Receiving Votes:* Martin Truex, Jr. (24), Greg Biffle (23), A.J. Allmendinger (21), Kasey Kahne (21), Juan Pablo Montoya (12), Regan Smith (10), Brian Vickers (9), Jeff Burton (5), Joey Logano (3), Marcos Ambrose (2)
Mike Bliss (2).
|*Writer Voters Include:* Phillip Allaway, Tom Bowles, Bryan Keith, Tony Lumbis, Vito Pugliese, Mike Neff and Garrett Horton.|
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