NASCAR power rankings: Jimmie Johnson escapes Talladega, tightens grip on top spot

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Sorting through this week’s NASCAR power rankings after a relatively tame -- albeit still enthralling -- race at Talladega.

Races at Talladega are supposed to be the epitome of chaotic, with last-lap passes for the lead and multiple multi-car wrecks involving double-digit cars. Yet there was none of that Sunday. Instead, there were "only" three cautions -- none for any accidents involving more than two cars -- and zero lead changes in the final 15 laps.

Nevertheless, the Camping World RV Sales 500 (say that fast three times) still gave us plenty to dissect in this week's NASCAR power rankings.

1. Jimmie Johnson (Last week: 1)

Led the most laps, escaped with his car in one piece and, most importantly, Johnson ascended into the points lead thanks to a 13th-place finish that could have easily been better. All in all, it has to be considered a successful weekend at NASCAR's most daunting track.

2. Matt Kenseth (LW: 2)

Tried desperately in the waning laps to mount a charge to the front, but without a willing partner Kenseth finished 20th. And with that, for the first time since the Chase began, the points lead he has held is no longer there.

3. Kyle Busch (LW: 4)

Busch rallied back from being a lap down to finish fifth and in doing so, gained 11 points in the championship. The problem, however, is that with only four races remaining, he's still 26 points back and needs misfortune to strike Johnson and Kenseth sometime over the next four weeks if he is to have a shot at claiming the title. And that's going to be a tall order.

4. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3)

As he customarily does, Harvick utilized the strategy of running in the back to avoid trouble, which worked. However, what didn't materialize was a late charge, as a slow final pit stop and a lack of passing hindered Harvick's efforts, and the best he could do was finish 11th. And like Busch, his championship hopes are dependent not just on how he performs, but bad luck befalling others.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 8)

Another restrictor-plate race and yet another runner-up for Earnhardt, who last won a plate race in 2004. And in the 36 combined races at Daytona and Talladega since, he has recorded five second-place finishes.

6. Jeff Gordon (LW: 5)

With just four races remaining, Gordon is staring at the real possibility of posting his third winless season in the last six years if he can't find Victory Lane at Martinsville. Not too long ago, that would have sounded absolutely ridiculous, but now it doesn't seem as baffling as it once was.

7. Carl Edwards (LW: 6)

One of the few drivers who attempted to pass in the latter stages, Edwards was leading with less than 20 laps to go. Alas, he got shuffled back and fell to 17th.

8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 9)

An expected contender, Bowyer made his presence felt around the middle portions but then fell back. Although he placed 10th, it does feel like an opportunity lost for the 15 team. The good news is that Martinsville, where Bowyer finished second in the spring and led 154 laps last fall, is up next, .

9. Kurt Busch (LW: 7)

With an 18th-place run Sunday, Busch's streak of never having won a plate race continues, and he is now 0-for-52 in his career at Daytona and Talladega. But surprisingly, though, Busch is not the only prominent driver without a plate win on his résumé, as the same can be said for Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.

10. Ryan Newman (LW: 13)

Considering Newman's utter disdain for plate racing, and his susceptibility to getting wrecked at Talladega, leaving with a top-10 (10th) Sunday has to feel like a minor victory.

11. Jamie McMurray (LW: 15)

Earnhardt, Harvick and Tony Stewart may be regarded as the sport's best plate racers, but that distinction may be a bit of a misnomer. The numbers suggest McMurray, who leads all drivers in plate wins (four) since 2007, is in fact the best when it comes to winning at Daytona or Talladega.

12. Joey Logano (LW: 11)

Like others mired back in the pack, Logano tried in vain to get to the front. But similar to everyone else, there was little he could do with the leaders glued to the upper groove and the bottom lane considerably slower.

13. Brad Keselowski (LW: 10)

A pit road speeding penalty derailed Keselowski at Talladega, as he never got the necessary caution to get back on the lead lap. And just like that, the momentum from his win at Charlotte came to a quick halt.

14. Kasey Kahne (LW: 12)

When you lag at the rear of the field, the risk you run is losing the draft. This is what happened to Kahne, who consequently fell a lap down and never recovered. And thus, what has been a mostly forgettable Chase for the No. 5 team continues.

15. Greg Biffle (LW: 14)

Post-race Biffle said he was content with finishing 11th and that missing the wreck was "all I really care about." So if he's fine with his standing, then who's to argue?

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

RPM fires crew chief after failed drug test

Jimmie Johnson grabs points lead from Matt Kenseth

Jamie McMurray wins at Talladega

The good times, hard life and shocking death of Dick Trickle

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