Thursday, July 8, 2010

NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 18

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Kevin Harvick — Harvick slipped by Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer with just under two laps to go, and held on to win the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Harvick survived multiple wrecks, including the lap 148 "Big One" that wrecked 19 cars, and, in his late race-winning pass, showed the same type of patience that earned Jimmie Johnson praise in Loudon last week. Harvick's second win of the season extended his Sprint Cup points lead, and now leads Jeff Gordon by 212.

"Calling me the best restrictor plate racer is a foregone conclusion," Harvick said. "That's a well-known fact that doesn't even need repeating. Call it a 'restrictor platitude.'"

"I've said all along that we're capable of winning the Sprint Cup. Taking our second win of the year backs that up. I promise you, the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy car will be there in the end. Unlike BP, this petroleum company will make good on its 'claims.'"

2. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson was racing near the front late in the Coke Zero 400, but, as often is the case at Daytona, fortunes change dramatically in the span of mere seconds. The No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet was shuffled back after losing the draft, then was totaled in the lap 148 "Big One," triggered when Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch made contact on the backstretch. Johnson finished 31st, and fell one spot in the point standings to third, 225 behind Kevin Harvick.

"On this track," Johnson said, "you can go from the front to the back faster than you can say 'NASCAR writers anoint a new Sprint Cup favorite on a weekly basis.' What's the fastest-moving vehicle at a NASCAR track? The bandwagon."

"Harvick may have enjoyed a fruitful Fourth of July, but when all is said and done, I'll be enjoying a successful 'Fifth' of Jimmie."

"The 'Big One' lived up to its name this year, collecting 19 cars. Maybe it should be called the 'Big One-Nine.' Contact between Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch really caused problems for everyone. That's two weeks in a row Busch may have cost me the win. Personally, I could do without Busch. It's unfortunate when you lose the draft at Daytona, but as far as the No. 2 Miller Lite car and its beer-pushing sponsor are concerned, I'd be happy to 'lose the draft.'"

3. Jeff Gordon — With three laps to go, Gordon took the lead at Daytona, passing Clint Bowyer. But with RCR teammate Kevin Harvick lined up behind Bowyer, Gordon's lead was short-lived, as Harvick pushed Bowyer to the front a lap later. Harvick ran by Bowyer in the green-white-checkered finish, and Gordon finished third, his fourth consecutive top-five finish, claiming the second slot in the point standings.

"It was a case of simply being outnumbered," Gordon said. "The RCR cars were working extremely good together, and when they lined up, they were fast. At Daytona, the words 'freight train' described RCR's teamwork. Last year, those same words described their speed."

4. Kurt Busch — Busch finished seventh in the Coke Zero 400, surviving major roles in two big wrecks to bring his banged up No. 2 Miller Lite Vortex Dodge home for his 11th top-10 result of the year. Afterwards, Busch faced the ire of a hot-headed Carl Edwards, who accused Busch of hitting Edwards' No. 99 Subway Ford as the two battled for position on the last lap.

"No, I wasn't at all interested in discussing the matter with Edwards after the race," Busch said. "I'm Kurt Busch, for goodness sake. I've learned the hard way that, all too often, 'face-to-face' meetings become 'hand-to-face' meetings."

5. Kyle Busch — Busch was leading on lap 103, two laps from a scheduled pit stop, when the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota suddenly turned right, clipping Juan Montoya's No. 42 Target Chevy and sending Busch hard into the outside wall. Busch finished 40th, and attributed the crash to old tires and an aerodynamic disturbance caused by the side draft from Montoya's car.

"I was involved in my share of wrecks at Daytona," Busch said. "I sent more cars to the garage than a rain postponement."

"You know me. I don't accept blame nearly as well as I accept praise. I really can't explain why my car turned right. Normally, when I say the No. 18 car 'drives itself,' it's a testament to its superb handling. Not in this case."

6. Denny Hamlin — Hamlin's primary car was wrecked in Friday's practice, the victim of a miscalculation by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. In a backup car, Hamlin was forced to start at the back of the field, but despite his starting position, darted through the field and took the lead on lap 75. Loose-handling conditions soon arose, and the No. 11 FedEx Toyota drifted backwards, eventually finishing 24th after suffering damage in lap 148's "Big One." He dropped one spot in the standings to fifth, 284 behind Kevin Harvick.

"I never thought Kyle's threats carried much weight," Hamlin said. "I was wrong, because after Friday's practice, I found myself saying to him, 'You're killing me.'"

"The jury is still out on whether the JGR contingent will challenge for the Sprint Cup championship. It's imperative that before we become a threat to others, Kyle and I have to learn not to be a threat to each other. Bless his heart, I think that's what Kyle had in mind at Daytona, because after picking up the pieces of the No. 18 and 11 cars, we all engaged in some 'team building' exercises."

7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — Earnhardt finished fourth at Daytona, only his second top-five result of the year, avoiding several crashes in an attrition-filled Coke Zero 400. Earnhardt improved two spots in the Sprint Cup point standings to 11th, and is 46 points ahead of Mark Martin in 13th. Earnhardt also won Friday's Subway Jalopena 250, taking the win in the No. 3 car with the blue and yellow Wrangler paint scheme made famous by his father.

"There was magic in that car," Earnhardt said. "I don't know if it was the 'genes' or the 'jeans,' but it was remarkably fast."

"It was nice to visit Victory Lane again. Now, we've set our sights on getting there in the No. 88 Amp Chevrolet. I don't want to say I'm desperate, but right now, I'd give an arm and a leg for a win. And there are legions of members of Junior Nation willing to make that sacrifice as well. Frighteningly enough, I'm speaking literally. I call those dedicated fans the 'Amp-utators.'"

8. Jeff Burton — Contact between Burton's No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy and Kurt Busch's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge triggered a huge pileup on lap 148, but Burton escaped major damage and went on to finish fifth at Daytona. Burton remained eighth in the point standings, and trails Kevin Harvick by 365.

"We endured our share of rough patches during the race," Burton said. "And speaking of 'rough patches,' there were no gaping holes in the Daytona surface. Whenever we're racing in Daytona, the subject of pot holes arises. At any other track, 'pot holes' would refer to inconsistencies in NASCAR's drug policy."

"I myself am in favor of expanded drug testing. Heck, I see nothing wrong with all race entrants submitting urine samples before qualifying every week. I call this the 'Field & Stream' drug policy."

9. Tony Stewart — Stewart had led twice for seven laps at Daytona before the No. 14 Burger King Chevy was collected in lap 148's "Big One," a wreck that affected 19 cars, including Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman's No. 39 Chevy. Stewart finished a disappointing 25th, but maintained the ninth position in the point standings, and is now 120 ahead of Mark Martin in 13th place.

"There were fireworks in Saturday night's race," Stewart said, "and we got burned. As the driver of the Burger King car, I'm royally pissed. And just look at Newman — he's not happy at all. Talk about the 'Rocket's red glare.'"

"I'm not really sure who caused the 'Big One,' Jeff Burton or Kurt Busch. Either way, it put an end to my run of four straight top-10 finishes. Still, the wreck shouldn't diminish my reputation as a driver who turns it on in the summer, nor should it harm Busch and Burton's distinction as 'fall' guys."

10. Kasey Kahne — Kahne posted his best-ever Daytona result, surviving a brush with the wall midway through the race to come home second behind Kevin Harvick. It was Kahne's second runner-up of the year, but his finish may have been overshadowed by A.J. Allmendinger's clash with Richard Petty in the Richard petty Motorsports garage area.

"That's two-straight explosions for RPM," Kahne said. "Last week at Loudon, my engine exploded. At Daytona, A.J. exploded. How dare he talk to 'The King' like that. I've heard of a 'nobody' turning into a 'somebody,' but this is a case of a 'nobody' turning on a 'somebody.'"

"I thought A.J. understood RPM protocol. You absolutely don't piss off Richard Petty. Talk about 'wee' 'The King.'"

"As for TNT's coverage of the incident, well, it was lacking. But let's give the network a little credit. They did have a camera pointed at the action. Unfortunately, the camera, like half the Daytona field, wasn't 'rolling.'"

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