NASCAR Power Rankings: Jimmie Johnson charges, while back injury hampers Jeff Gordon

Streeter Lecka

As Jimmie Johnson climbs up the rankings on the strength of his Charlotte win, teammate Jeff Gordon continues to reside in the No. 1 spot.

NASCAR's longest race has a history of producing surprising winners. Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and Casey Mears are among those whose maiden wins came in the Coca-Cola 600. But there was no newbie in Victory Lane Sunday, as it was an all too familiar face in the form of Jimmie Johnson celebrating his seventh win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The win broke a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most all-time at the 1.5-mile track.

1. Jeff Gordon (Last week: 1)

A problematic back was no deterrent for Gordon, who gutted through the pain to finish seventh and maintain his position atop the Sprint Cup standings. And why, despite being virtually guaranteed a spot in the Chase, did he feel compelled to drive when it may have been wiser to hand off to Regan Smith? According to Gordon, it was because he wanted his team to think he was tough. Seriously. If that's the case he could have just showed the video of his scrap with Jeff Burton from a few years ago.

2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3)

Through the early part of the season, mechanical breakdowns seemed to doom Harvick weekly. Now that parts are staying on his car and he's making it to the finish line, the emphasis turns to Harvick's pit crew, which again cost him Sunday. Not once but twice, bungled stops by the No. 4 team cost the driver dearly. He remarked afterward that he needed 700 miles to recoup all the time lost on pit road.

3. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 7)

After a dry spell that encompassed all of 13 races, the long national nightmare is over and the No. 48 is back in Victory Lane. As if anyone really thought Johnson would go an entire season without winning. And his streak has an excellent chance of continuing this weekend at Dover, a track where Johnson owns a record eight victories, including last fall when he led 243 of a possible 400 laps.

4. Joey Logano (LW: 2)

Intermediate tracks have been an area of strength for Logano this season, but the No. 22 team had a misstep at Charlotte. Then again, it shows just how far this group has come when finishing 12th is considered an "off week."

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 4)

Earnhardt's quest for his points-paying win on his home track continues after a vibration dropped him a couple of laps down and ended what had been a strong effort. Team owner Rick Hendrick said post-race he thought the vibration was related to something with the brakes, while Earnhardt tweeted Wednesday the cause of the problem was still being investigated.

6. Matt Kenseth (LW: 5)

A year ago at this time, Kenseth had three wins to his name. Now, with Johnson making his first visit of the season to the winner's circle Sunday, the attention turns to Kenseth. At second in points, he is the highest-ranked driver without a checkered flag to his name.

7. Carl Edwards (LW: 8)

A fourth on Sunday was Edwards' third top-10 finish in four weeks, and puts him a comfortable third in points. Further proof that, just as he did in 2011 when his contract was set to expire and his tenure with Roush Fenway Racing was the source of constant speculation, Edwards is adept at maintaining tunnel vision.

8. Kyle Busch (LW: 6)

A ninth-place finish Sunday stretches Busch's head-scratching winless streak at Charlotte to 0-for-21. As evidenced by the strong runs turned in by Busch and teammate Kenseth, one positive to come out of the weekend is that Joe Gibbs Racing seems to have made progress on its intermediate track program, which was lagging earlier this season.

9. Brad Keselowski (LW: 10)

The story of Keselowski's season continued at Charlotte, where he was once again in contention to win only for strategy to work against him. He finished 10th. But those are the gambles you can take when you've already got a win and a Chase berth all but secured.

10. Brian Vickers (LW: 11)

Aided by the fastest-performing pit crew of the race, Vickers logged his fifth top-10 of the year and resides eighth overall in points. Not bad for a Michael Waltrip Racing operation that went through a dramatic overhaul this past offseason including the departure of Rodney Childers, Vickers' crew chief for much of 2013.

11. Jamie McMurray (LW: Unranked)

It was a terrific two-week Charlotte stint for Jamie McMurray, who won the All-Star Race then followed that up with a fifth on Sunday. Now the question becomes whether the No. 1 team can use this as a catalyst. Can the team find the consistency it's lacked this season and get McMurray into the Chase for the first time in his career?

12. Kyle Larson (LW: 9)

NASCAR's longest race seemed a fit for Larson's driving style -- strong on long runs, an affinity for intermediate ovals and finding speed as the laps accumulate. But the Coke 600 was a struggle for the rookie, who couldn't back up his Nationwide win the day before and finished a quiet 18th Sunday.

13. Kasey Kahne (LW: 12)

The car was fast, but the execution was lacking, including Kahne missing his pit stall. Add everything together and Charlotte was essentially a microcosm of the No. 5 team's season.

14. Ryan Newman (LW: 14)

Ever steady but rarely spectacular this season, Newman just keeps doing enough each race to remain in the top 10 in points. However, in a playoff structure where winning is rewarded and consistency is secondary, Newman is going to have to do more if he is to qualify for the Chase for a second straight season.

15. Greg Biffle (LW: 13)

All the momentum Biffle had gathered with finishes of sixth, fifth and second in a four-week span has all but disappeared, with mediocre back-to-back outings at Kansas (16th) and Charlotte (21st).

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