Little shakeup in Sprint Cup top 10 after Kansas, but lots of movement from 15th on back

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Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway saw little change in the Sprint Cup standings for most of the drivers who came into the race in the top 15 in the rankings.

But there was some significant changes from 15th to 35th, for sure.

While that may not seem overly important, au contraire. While race winner Jeff Gordon became the ninth different winner thus far in 2014, there are still seven places that need to be filled out for the expanded 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup format later this season.

And with 15 races remaining in the run-up to the Chase, it’s clear that those drivers who have gotten off to a poor start in 2014 are now playing catch-up in an effort to make the Chase if the final field includes entrants who will not have won a race by then.

Among the top 10 in the Cup standings, race winner Jeff Gordon opened up a 15-point lead over Matt Kenseth, who remains one of five drivers in that same top 10 without a win thus far in 2014.

The other four winless top 10 drivers are Jimmie Johnson (7th), Ryan Newman (8th), Greg Biffle (9th) and Brian Vickers (10th).

And of all drivers in the top 10, only three changed positions in the rankings, and those changes were minimal, at best.

Edwards dropped from a tie for fourth to fifth, while Newman climbed one spot, essentially switching the eighth and ninth spots with Greg Biffle.

The biggest changes in the Sprint Cup standings occurred from 12th on back.

Kyle Larson moved up one spot, from 13th to 12th, while Kansas runner-up Kevin Harvick climbed four spots to 15th.

Also climbing four positions and making himself close to being eligible for the Chase despite any wins was Kansas third-place finisher Kasey Kahne, who not only earned his best finish of the season, he also jumped from 20th to 16th in the overall standings.

But after Kahne, 14 drivers between 17th and 35th dropped at least one place in the standings, while only two drivers increased their rankings.

Let’s deal with the latter first: Aric Almirola climbed from 23rd to 21st, and in perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises of the weekend, Danica Patrick’s career-best seventh-place finish Saturday allowed her to climb from 29th to 27th.

As for the decliners:

* AJ Allmendinger, dropped two spots from 15th to 17th.

* Paul Menard dropped from 17th to 18th

* Marcos Ambrose took a big hit, dropping three positions from 16th to 19th.

* Clint Bowyer is still seeking his first career win at his “home track” of Kansas after Saturday’s race. Even worse, Bowyer dropped from 18th to 20th in the standings.

* Tony Stewart dropped from a tie for 21st to 22nd.

* Casey Mears went from a tie for 21st to 23rd.

* Even though he has one win this season, Kurt Busch continued to struggle, dropping from 27th to 28th.

* Justin Allgaier went from 28th to 29th, Michael Annett climbed from 31st to 30th, David Gilliland dropped from 30th to 31st, Cole Whitt climbed from 33rd to 32nd, Alex Bowman dropped two spots to 34th and David Ragan also dropped two spots, from 33rd to 35th.

Also of note: While only 106 points separates points leader Gordon from 19th-ranked Ambrose, the dropoff becomes much more significant from there.

Stewart is now 126 points behind Gordon, Patrick is 181 points back, Kurt Busch is 183 points in arrears and every driver from Annett (30th) on back is more than 200 points behind Gordon.

Even with 15 races still remaining to make the Chase, it’s not too much of a reach to suggest that those drivers that are more than 200 points back are pretty close to being eliminated from Chase contention already.

The only way they’d likely change that is to win two or more races, but given what they’ve shown so far – with the exception of the elder Busch brother – the odds of those trailing drivers making a 180-degree turnaround seem more unlikely with each coming race.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Dakar Rally champs: Walkner (Bikes), Sainz (Cars), Nikolaev (Trucks), Casale (Quads), Varela (UTV)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET and Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

For most of the 545 entrants into this year’s 40th Dakar Rally, just four words remain: Wait ‘til next year.

That’s right, the 14-stage, 15-day Rally, which began January 6 in Lima, Peru, carried through Bolivia and concluded Saturday in Cordoba, Argentina.

Overall class winners were:

  • BIKES: Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  • CARS: Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  • TRUCKS: Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev
  • QUADS: Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  • SxS UTV: Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela

Here’s how the Rally finished both in Stage 14 and, more importantly, the overall final standings:

BIKES

One year after finishing second, Austrian Matthias Walkner did one better by capturing his first-ever Rally championship in the motorcycle class.

Walkner, 31, finished eighth in Saturday’s Stage 14, but it was good enough to earn him the title by more than 16 minutes ahead of Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, who won Saturday’s final stage.

It was also a big day for KTM, the brand of bike Walkner rode throughout the Rally, as the company captured its 17th consecutive Rally title.

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Honda, 1:26:41

2 Australia’s Toby Price, KTM, 1:27:35

3 France’s Antoine Meo, KTM, 1:29:30

4 Spain’s Daniel Oliveras Carreras, KTM, 1:30:06

5 France’s Johnny Aubert, Gas Gas, 1:31:00

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Austria’s Matthias Walkner — CHAMPION

2 Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 16:53 behind

3 Australia’s Toby Price, 23:01 behind

4 France’s Antoine Meo, 47:28 behind

5 Spain’s Gerard Farres, 1:01:04 behind

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CARS

South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers captured Stage 14, but it wasn’t close enough to unseat overall Rally winner Carlos Sainz of Spain.

Sainz had built a big lead and just had to maintain with defense, needing to finish just ninth in the final stage to take home his second consecutive Rally crown.

France’s Stephane Peterhansel finished second and Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah finished third to wrap up the final stage, but while both were strong challengers throughout the Rally, they were unable to overtake Sainz when they needed to do so the most.

As for American riders, Ricky Brabec had consistently finished most stages in the top 10 to top 20, including two stage finishes early on as high as fourth place.

But a poor run Saturday relegated him to a disappointing overall finish of 39th in the Rally.

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers, Toyota, 1:26:29

2 France’s Stephane Peterhansel, Peugeot, 1:27:09

3 Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 1:17:10

4 Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez, Toyota, 1:27:12

5 Netherlands’ Peter van Merkstelin, 1:28:35

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Spain’s Carlos Sainz — CHAMPION

2 Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 43:40 behind

3 South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers 1:16:41 behind

4 France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 1:25:29

5 Poland’s Jakub Przygonski 2:45:24

AMERICAN RIDERS – Stage 14 finishes

13 Shane Esposito, KTM, 1:38:13

14 Mark Samuels, Honda, 1:38:22

25 Andrew Short, Husqvarna, 1:41:21

39 Ricky Brabec, Honda, 1:47:15

57 Bill Conger, Husqvarna, 1:53:38

AMERICAN RIDERS – FINAL OVERALL FINISHES

17 Andrew Short

21 Mark Samuels

25 Shane Esposito

39 Ricky Brabec

66 Bill Conger

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TRUCKS

While the Netherlands’ Ton van Genugten was one of the stronger performers in the latter stages of the Rally, including winning Saturday’s final stage, he could finish no higher than eighth in the overall standings.

Frankly, no one could do much in the final stages to unseat eventual champ Eduard Nikolaev of Russia, who obliterated his nearest competitors in the last few stages.

Nikolaev won the overall Trucks class by nearly a four hour advantage over Belarus’s Siarhel Vlazovich and nearly a 5 ½ hour edge over Russian teammate Ayrat Mardeev.

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Netherlands’ Ton van Genugten, Iveco, 1:39:47

2 Czech Republic’s Martin Macik, Liaz, 1:39:58

3 Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov, Kamaz, 1:43:22

4 Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, Kamaz, 1:44:04

5 Netherlands’ Gert Huznik, Renault, 1:44:42

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev — CHAMPION

2 Belarus’s Siarhel Viazovich, 3:57:17 behind

3 Russia’s Ayrat Mardeev, 5:22:34 behind

4 Kazakhstan’s Artur Ardavichus, 6:38:22 behind

5 Czech Republic’s Martin Macik, 7:58:45 behind

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QUADS

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Chile’s Ignacio Casale, Yamaha, 1:43:25

2 Paraguay’s Nelson Sanabria Galeano, Yamaha, 1:44:46

3 Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, Yamaha, 1:45:01

4 France’s Alex Dutrie, Yamaha, 1:45:08

5 Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, Yamaha, 1:46:27

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Chile’s Ignacio Casale – CHAMPION

2 Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:38:52 behind

3 Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:08:14

4 Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:30:00

5 Peru’s Alexis Hernandez, 4:38:53

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SxS UTV

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, Can-Am, 1:45:55

2 Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 1:53:59

3 France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 1:58:08

4 France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 2:01:12

5 Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 2:01:18

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela – CHAMPION

2 France’s Patricie Garrouste, 57:37 behind

3 France’s Claude Fournier, 10:09:25

4 Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 10:13:20

5 Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, 27:54:15

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MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 13 wrapup

MORE: Stage 12 wrapup

MORE: Stage 11 wrapup

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup