NASCAR power rankings: Jimmie Johnson cements hold on No. 1

Jonathan Ferrey

Kevin Harvick makes a late push, while Jimmie Johnson further asserts himself as No. 1 in the NASCAR power rankings.

It had all the makings of a heavyweight fight between two worthy adversaries, clearly representing the two best teams of 2013. But instead of an epic showdown in Sunday's season finale, Matt Kenseth blinked first and Jimmie Johnson scored a decisive blow. And just like that what was a magnificent back-and-forth duel is now fait accompli.

1. Jimmie Johnson (Last week: 1)

A testament to both his skill and poise behind the wheel, Johnson deftly escaped a pair of near-crashes to finish third. He now heads to Homestead in an all too familiar position: with a cozy points lead in hand and on the cusp of another series title.

2. Matt Kenseth (LW: 2)

That offensive odor you smell is the giant egg the 20 team laid in the desert. From a car that had neither speed nor handling, to a crew that bumbled its way through a 25-second pit stop, to a crew chief who had no plan of action to fix what ailed his driver, there were absolutely no positives to take out of Phoenix.

3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4)

Would you expect anything less than a visit to the winner's circle for a team that prides itself on its ability to overcome adversity? For Harvick, Phoenix was his fourth win of the season, and the third time in four years he has scored three or more victories. And while he will likely find fulfillment at Stewart-Haas Racing, it does have to give him some pause to leave an organization where he's had so much recent success.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 3)

A loose wheel that necessitated a pit stop under green did him no favors and could have easily spelled doom. But Earnhardt was back on the lead lap in short order, and then raced his way to fourth. He now has tied a career-high for top-10 finishes (21), and sitting fifth, is poised for his best points finish since joining Hendrick Motorsports.

5. Kyle Busch (LW: 5)

Whatever malaise inflicted the No. 20 team appeared to rub off on Busch, who, like Kenseth, was unhappy with the handling of his Toyota. However, unlike his teammate, Busch's crew was able to solve the problem and he fought his way to seventh. And while that may not seem noteworthy, just a few years ago Phoenix would have been a race where Busch, with his car handling like a dump truck, would have mailed it in early.

6. Jeff Gordon (LW: 6)

The last restart did Gordon no favors as he backslid out of the top 10 to 14th. He's now assured of not reaching double digit top-five finishes on the year, which marks just the second time Gordon's failed to do so since 1995.

7. Brad Keselowski (LW: 8)

Having pointed out the supposed weakness of the 48 team, you have to hand it to the reigning champ, who found a way to interject himself in this year's title fight. Regardless of whether you agree with his brash style or not, there is no doubt Keselowski certainly keeps things interesting. Oh yeah, he led 27 laps Sunday and finished 11th.

8. Joey Logano (LW: 9)

Aside from the blown motor at Chicagoland, it's been a fairly solid Chase for Logano. He has four top-10s in nine races, and has come close to winning on a couple of occasions, including Sunday before track-position worked against him.

9. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7)

Although Bowyer looked strong at times Sunday, he was lacking the speed in the latter stages, got shuffled back due to strategy and finished 20th. So in other words, Phoenix was more or less his Chase in a microcosm.

10. Kurt Busch (LW: 14)

It wasn't flashy, but after weeks of nondescript results, a fifth-place finish has to make Busch feel good. And while there have been many surprises this season, one of the biggest is that the 78 team hasn't made it to Victory Lane, though it has come painstakingly close.

11. Greg Biffle (LW: 10)

There was a time that Biffle used to dominate at Homestead, winning three consecutive races from 2004-06. Yet since then, he has led all of two laps with just one top-five. You explain.

12. Kasey Kahne (LW: 15)

After a rough beginning to the Chase, Kahne has bounced back nicely in recent weeks. His second-place finish was his second consecutive top-five and the second time he's been runner-up in three weeks.

13. Ryan Newman (LW: 12)

The Chase is mirroring Newman's regular season: Plenty of solid results -- his 10th at Phoenix was his sixth top 10 of the playoffs -- mixed with a handful of finishes in the 30s -- he has two in nine races, which explains why he's not higher than ninth in points.

14. Carl Edwards (LW: 11)

Edwards was one mile away from notching his third win of the season. Instead, his fuel tank ran dry, he dropped to 21st -- his fourth straight finish of 12th or worse -- and as a result, he fell to last in the Chase standings.

15. Martin Truex Jr. (Unranked)

His eighth Sunday tied a Chase best for Truex, who understandably hasn't showed the form he exhibited throughout the regular season. On a related note, he has one more race left before his sweet discount on auto parts comes to an end, replaced by a killer deal on furniture.

More from SB Nation:

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Jimmie Johnson takes control of championship

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