Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 12

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson — One week after winning the All-Star Race, Johnson saw a top-five finish in the Coca-Cola 600 slip away after he drug his gas man down pit road. The subsequent stop-and-go penalty left him with an 11th-place finish.

"Usually," Johnson said, "when someone gets taken for a ride, it's NASCAR rules officials, and Chad Knaus is driving. This time, though, it was my fueler. And people thought I was 'tanking' in the All-Star Race."

2. Denny Hamlin — Hamlin finished second at Charlotte, posting his second runner-up result in the last three races. He is up one spot to third in the Sprint Cup point standings, 16 behind Greg Biffle.

"There was no catching Kasey Kahne," Hamlin said. "He took off like a bat out of hell. At least that's what Red Bull Racing said when Kahne's obligations with them were up.

"Now he's in the No. 5 car at Hendrick Motorsports. I expect him to be there a long time. Only a fool would give up that ride. And I know fools. In fact, I work with one."

3. Greg Biffle — Biffle led 204 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600, but slowed late as track conditions cooled and Kasey Kahne took over the race. Biffle still finished fourth, his seventh top-five of the year, and remained atop the point standings with a 10-point lead over Matt Kenseth.

"I've held the lead in the point standings for months," Biffle said. "Now,my supporters and my detractors are saying the same thing: 'Biffle's not going anywhere.'

"We were unstoppable in the early stages. Then, like Carl Edwards in last year's Chase, we couldn't get the job done in 'prime time.'"

4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — Earnhardt finished a solid sixth at Charlotte, earning his ninth top-10 result of the year. He is now fourth in the point standings, 18 behind points leader Greg Biffle.

"My winless streak has reached 141 races," Earnhardt said. "That means it's been almost four years since I've tasted champagne. Junior Nation fans are so loyal, they're still impressed with my performance, despite my lack of wins. They're amazed than anyone can go that long without alcohol.

"Regardless, I'm still the sport's most popular driver. That makes me NASCAR's 'Mr. Congeniality.' And, here at Hendrick Motorsports, home of 10 championships and 201 victories, most of which aren't mine, well, that makes me 'Mr. Congratulatory.'"

5. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth finished 10th at Charlotte, joining Roush Fenway teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, who finished fourth and ninth, respectively, in the top 10. Kenseth remained second in the point standings, only 10 behind Biffle.

"I finished 10th," Kenseth said, "yet I was a lap down. I've been called a 'non-factor' before, usually in physical confrontations with other drivers, but this takes the cake."

6. Kasey Kahne — Kahne won his third Coca-Cola 600, taking charge late and besting his closest pursuers easily to grasp his first win for Hendrick Motorsports. With top-nine finishes in his last six points races, Kahne is arguably the hottest driver in NASCAR.

"That one win was a long-time coming," Kahne said. "Mighty Kasey finally struck.

"The No. 5 team is hot now, with a win to go along with six consecutive top-10 finishes. I think it will behoove people at Hendrick to be a little more specific when they say 'It's 5-time.'"

7. Kyle Busch — Busch stayed hot with a third-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, and has now finished no worse than fourth in his last four points races. He improved one place to eighth in the Sprint Cup point standings, where he trails Greg Biffle by 62.

"You can talk about the 'old' Kyle Busch and the 'new' Kyle Busch," Busch said. "But really, what's changed? Competitors are still irritated by my driving — they just don't want to punch me for it. I think marriage has calmed me. I think it could do the same for my brother Kurt — if he had 12 wives.

"But a lot of people have noticed a difference, for the better, in me. Some of my rivals like to call it 'chump change.'"

8. Martin Truex, Jr. — Truex finished one lap down, in 12th place, at Charlotte, as handling issues exacerbated by changing track conditions spelled trouble. He dropped one spot in the point standings to sixth, 49 out of first.

"This was the fastest 600 in history," Truex said. "And that can't be good for television ratings, because it was the 'least-watched' race in history.

"But it's off to my favorite track, Dover, which is music to my ears, much like the sweet, soothing voice of Michael Waltrip."

9. Kevin Harvick — Harvick finished eighth in the Coca-Cola 600, scoring his sixth top-10 result of the year and second in a row. He is now seventh in the point standings, 55 out of first.

"We're by no means where we want to be," Harvick said, "but that's two-straight top-10 results. Slowly, but surely, we're getting there. Even my wife DeLana keeps insisting, 'Baby steps, Kevin. Baby steps.'"

10. Tony Stewart — Stewart was knocked off the lead lap when he collided with Brad Keselowski on pit road midway through Sunday's race. Stewart eventually finished 25th, three laps down.

"I'm in the pits," Stewart said, "and the next thing I know, I'm pointed in the wrong direction. Keselowski had an explanation for it, all right — it's called the 'Polish Pit Stop.'

"But I'm not one to point fingers, unless they're balled into a fist and hurled in the direction of an enemy."

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