NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 35

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson turned his third consecutive second place finish, and now holds a fairly commanding 63-point lead with one race to go. Barring a disaster at Homestead, he will claim his first Nextel Cup championship.

"That's an awful lot of second places," says Johnson. "It would be heartbreaking if I built my points lead with second places then finished second in the Cup."

2. Kevin Harvick — Harvick won his fifth race of the year in dominant fashion in Phoenix, qualifying second and leading all but 50 laps. Harvick fought off Johnson down the stretch for the win, but trails Johnson by 90 points.

"Great!" says Harvick. "I picked up a whole 15 points on Jimmie. At that rate, I'll catch him by next November at Homestead."

3. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth lost more ground to Johnson with a disappointing 13th in Phoenix, characterized by the handling issues that have plagued the No. 17 team as of late. At one point during the race, Kenseth said over his radio that ne couldn't turn his car in a "30-acre field."

"What I meant to say was, 'Brian France couldn't turn this car in a parking lot without hitting a tree,'" says Kenseth.

4. Denny Hamlin — Hamlin finished third in the Checker Auto Parts 500 to remain alive in the championship hunt, barely. He, along with Kevin Harvick, is 90 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin's title hopes hinge on the hopes of abysmal performances at Homestead by Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick.

"I think winning the race myself would be easier than all of that happening," says Hamlin. "All I can do is drive and hope lightning strikes multiple times."

5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — Earnhardt finished ninth in Phoenix, and lost ground to points leader Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt fell to fifth in the points, where he trails Johnson by 115, and is the lowest-ranked competitor still with a mathematical shot at the title.

"I was never good at math," says Earnhardt, "so you'd really have to do some explaining to convince me we have a chance. DEI is DOA."

6. Jeff Gordon — Gordon started on the pole in Phoenix and finished fourth, leading three laps. Gordon and Carl Edwards engaged in some hard racing on the track, which lead to some spirited banter on the radio. The two met afterwards to settle their differences.

"Sure, we settled our differences," says Gordon. "Here's one difference: I'm in the Chase, he's not. Here's another: he wasn't invited to appear in the booth on Monday Night Football."

7. Mark Martin — Martin scored his best finish of the Chase, finishing sixth after leading 26 laps, a laps lead number bested by only Harvick and Johnson. Martin moved up a spot in the points to eighth, where he is 273 out of first.

"I'm just excited to lead anything," says Martin. "And it's nice to be referred to simply as the 'leader' and not as the 'leader among drivers 47 and older.'"

8. Jeff Burton — Burton finally made it back into the top 10 with a 10th in Phoenix, which kept him seventh in the points, 225 out of the lead. Previously, Burton had finished 13th or worse in his last three races.

"It happened about four weeks too late," says Burton, "but we finally got all four wheels working at the same time."

9. Kasey Kahne — Kahne finished seventh in the Checker's Auto Parts 500 and improved one place in the points to ninth, where he is 319 out of first. Barring a win by Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick at Homestead, Kahne will finish the season with the most wins, six.

"And barring a pole by Jeff Burton," says Kahne, "I will finish the season with the most poles, five. Six wins, five poles, and no championships. Sounds like a year Ryan Newman once had."

10. Kyle Busch — Busch was collected in a lap 272 incident when Tony Stewart bumped Jamie McMurray, causing McMurray to slam the wall. The No. 5 Hendrick Chevy suffered extensive damage, and finished 38th, which left him tenth in the points, 359 out of first.

"And just like Brian France," says Busch, "Tony got preferential treatment. Not even a reprimand. McMurray may be more forgiving than most, but I'm guessing Juan Pablo Montoya, making his Cup debut, won't be so accommodating should Stewart lay a bumper on him. After all, Montoya had to deal with Michael Schumacher."

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