NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 36

Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson was crowned champion after a safe ninth-place finish at Homestead, which left him with a comfortable 56-point lead over Matt Kenseth to end the year. Johnson overcame a few scares, including a piece of debris that hit his grill, and a loose lug nut on a pit stop on lap 190, to secure his first Nextel Cup championship.

"Cheap champagne never tasted so good," says Johnson. "And it tastes even better out of this gas catch can."

2. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth finished ahead of Jimmie Johnson, coming home sixth to Johnson's ninth, but that wasn't enough to catch him. Instead, Kenseth remained in second in the points, 56 behind Johnson.

"Jimmie deserves this," says Kenseth. "He did what he had to do. And it didn't hurt his confidence by me saying all week that I didn't have a chance to catch him."

3. Denny Hamlin — Hamlin finished third in the Ford 400 and finished third in the points, breaking a tie with Kevin Harvick, who finished fifth. Hamlin, the only rookie ever to make the Chase, finished 68 points behind Johnson.

"That's probably one spot higher than the Redskins, coached by my car owner, Joe Gibbs, will finish in the NFC East," says Hamlin. "I think with Joe's full support, I could have won this thing."

4. Kevin Harvick — Harvick closed with a fifth in Florida, his 15th top-five of the year, but was unable to complete the double of winning the Busch series title and Nextel Cup in the same year. He finished fourth in the final Cup standings, and dominated the Busch series, winning the crown by 824 over Carl Edwards.

"I can't wait for next year," says Harvick, "to go for the double again. And, by the time NBC runs their next commercial segment, it will be next year."

5. Dale Earnahrdt, Jr. — Earnhardt led 47 laps and survived a brush with the wall to finish 15th at Homestead to close out his season fifth in the points, 147 out of first.

"At least Budweiser's still the king of beers," says Earnhardt, "One of these days, I'm going to win a Cup title, and you'll see the biggest merchandising bonanza in the history of sports. Just think: 'Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Nextel Cup champion dinnerware.'"

6. Jeff Gordon — Gordon finished 24th in Florida, one lap off the pace, to finish the year sixth in the points, 219 out of first. Gordon is, however, the car owner of new Nextel Cup champ Jimmie Johnson.

"Hey, Jimmie rode in on my coattails," says Gordon, "and now, I'm riding out on his."

7. Jeff Burton — Burton finished 14th in the Ford 400, and maintained the seventh position in the points, 247 behind Johnson.

"Sure, I'm disappointed," says Burton, "but never have I been so moved by a pre-race prayer. Miss Florida USA touch me with her spontaneous, heartfelt words, straight off of index cards."

8. Kasey Kahne — Kahne led the most laps, 90, but fell short in his quest for his seventh victory of the year. He finished fourth to move up one place in the points to eighth, 292 out of first.

"I look forward to next year," says Kahne. "I'll be a year wiser, a year more experienced, and a year older, although I probably won't look a year older."

9. Mark Martin — In his final drive for Jack Roush, Martin finished 18th, and fell one spot to ninth in the points. Next year, Martin will run a partial schedule in a car owned by Bobby Ginn.

"Do you remember when the Terminator said 'I'll be back?'" says Martin. "Sure enough, he was, for two sequels. That's just like my retirement plan."

10. Kyle Busch — Busch led 28 laps early, but was wiped out by a crash and finished 38th. It was the Hendrick driver's fourth finish of 35th or worse. As a result, he finished last in the points, 448 behind Johnson.

"But I think we did win the team title," says Busch, "thanks to a great anchor leg from Jimmie."

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