NASCAR power rankings: Kentucky win vaults Kenseth to No. 1

Kevin C. Cox

Move aside Jimmie Johnson, there is a new No. 1 in this week's rankings.

Jimmie Johnson may hold a considerable lead in the Sprint Cup standings, but his once sizeable advantage no longer applies when it comes to the NASCAR power rankings.

After his fourth victory of the season at Kentucky, Matt Kenseth now leads all drivers in wins. While he may not have the same week-to-week consistency as Johnson, Kenseth's ability to close out races is too significant to ignore. This is especially true in light of Johnson's repeated lapses over the past month.

1. Matt Kenseth (Last week: 5)

Interestingly, all four of Kenseth's top five finishes this season have been wins. And in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, he is well on his way to resetting his previous best marks for wins (five) and laps led (1,132) in a season. It's safe to say he's gotten quite comfortable with his new team.

2. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1)

Remember when the 48 team seemingly won every race when it was in contention and continually forced other teams into making rudimentary mistakes? The shoe is on the other driving foot this season, as Johnson should have won four of the previous five races. But hasn't because of restart blunders (Dover, Kentucky) and pit strategy that didn't work out (Michigan). All that said, he still has three victories on the year and holds a cushy 38-point lead over second-place.

3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2)

A 10th at Kentucky extended Harvick's streak of top 10 finishes to seven, and had he not been caught in the pits when the caution came out during green-flag pit stops, he would have likely placed higher. If he doesn't get swept up into the "Big One," he should be among the contenders at Daytona.

4. Clint Bowyer (LW: 3)

Throughout practice the No. 15 car lagged on the speed charts so much so that Bowyer took to Twitter to express his bewilderment. "Tough ole day at the office. How's that saying go?? Gonna have to make chicken salad outta...," he wrote. Well, he must have found a good recipe, because something clicked in race conditions, as he had an average running position of sixth and ultimately finished third.

5. Kyle Busch (LW: 4)

Busch was expected to contend for victory on the track where he has dominated the last two years. But an early spin where he was lucky to escape unscathed forced the No. 18 team into scramble mode. He did rally back to finish fifth. It was his series-leading eighth top-five of the year.

6. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 8)

Truex followed up his win at Sonoma with a fine -- albeit quiet -- seventh at Kentucky. Although drivers are often at the mercy of those around them in restrictor-plate races, it's hard to think he'll be much of a factor at Daytona, where in 16 starts he has just one top-10 finish.

7. Carl Edwards (LW: 6)

A bit of a baffling outing by Edwards, who led 35 laps and was up front for a majority of the afternoon. But it all went by the wayside once he got shuffled back in traffic, as his Ford didn't handle the same. He finished 21st.

8. Kurt Busch (LW: 10)

Aside from turning Brad Keselowski and triggering a multi-car wreck, Kentucky was productive weekend for Busch. His sixth-place finish was his seventh top 10 of the season. And if you don't think that's significant, know that in 193 starts before Busch's arrival, the team had just eight top 10s collectively.

9. Greg Biffle (LW: 7)

A tough way for his run of top 10s to come to a halt, as Biffle couldn't do much about Brad Keselowski shooting up the track and directly into his path. There isn't much he could have done about that.

10. Joey Logano (LW: 12)

It was said in this space a week ago that Logano was the better bet to score a win before his more celebrated Penske Racing teammate. A fourth at Kentucky -- his sixth-straight finish of 11th or better -- would seem to solidify that belief.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 11)

Sometimes you make your own luck and other times you're a victim of circumstance. At Kentucky, Earnhardt fell into the latter category. How else can you explain a rogue tire hitting his car while he was comfortably in the lead? That he was able to still place 12th represents a nice comeback.

12. Jeff Gordon (LW: 13)

It took until the 17th race of the season for Gordon to finally score top 10s in consecutive weeks. Regardless, he's now just two markers away from being top 10 in points. He could make things a lot easier on himself if he can win a race or two over the next nine weeks.

13. Tony Stewart (LW: 9)

With finishes of 20th and 28th the last two weeks, is Tony Stewart backsliding toward mediocrity again? It's possible. What we do know is that Daytona is one of his better tracks and a win Saturday would give him a considerable edge to securing a Chase berth.

14. Kasey Kahne (LW: 14)

If this team could ever stop with the silly mistakes -- this week was a speeding penalty on pit road -- Kahne could easily have a couple of wins and be ranked far higher than 11th in points. But instead he enters the stretch drive to the Chase fighting for a wild card.

15. Brad Keselowski (LW: 15)

Based on recent performance, Keselowski isn't deserving of a spot in the power rankings. But with the pickings slim this week, the defending champ gets a reprieve. On a serious note, while the No. 2 team has continued to be even keeled during its recent slump, desperation might soon be setting in, as this group is still winless and currently wouldn't qualify for the Chase.

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