Thursday, August 9, 2007

NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 21

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jeff Gordon — To borrow a tennis analogy, Gordon "held serve" in the Pennsylvania 500, finishing fifth for his ninth consecutive top-10, and 19th on the year. Gordon has only three results out of the top 10, although two of those are an 11th and a 12th, which certainly don't qualify as "bad" races. The other was a 41st in Charlotte, where he was taken out early in a crash.

"Unlike someone else named 'Gordon,' I don't cause a 'racket' when I lose," says Gordon, Jeff. "Robby really gave the fans at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve a bad example of American sportsmanship. What kind of buffoon celebrates and does burn-outs after a race he didn't even win? And I'm sure Canadian fans weren't too happy to see him drinking champagne out of the Stanley Cup, either. But, in true American fashion, they're making a movie about it all. It's called Villeneuve Nights: The Ballad of Gordon, Robby."

2. Denny Hamlin — Hamlin couldn't match his 2006 success at Pocono, in which he swept both Cup races, but his 2007 results were certainly more than adequate. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Chevrolet followed his second in June's rain-shortened Pocono 500 with a third in the Pennsylvania 500.

"Look, if I can't win the race," says Hamlin, "I pull for one of my teammates to win. That one being J.J. Yeley."

3. Tony Stewart — Stewart's two-race winning streak ended in Pennsylvania, but he still finished a solid sixth to remain at number five in the points, 487 out of first. After wins at Chicago and Indianapolis, Stewart's bid for three in a row had about as much of a chance as Stewart giving an interview to ESPN without getting pissed off.

"Nothing against ESPN," says Stewart, case of Schlitz in hand and profanities at the ready, "but if you've got nothing good to say, don't say anything at all. That's why I'll say nothing if they ask me my opinion of soon-to-be new teammate, Kyle Busch."

4. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson rebounded from a run of two races in which he finished 37th or worse with a fifth at Pocono, which propelled him up two places to seventh in the points.

"It's nice to finally see the finish line," says Johnson, "but even nicer to see the finish line without losing an eyebrow or two. Chicago and Indianapolis weren't too good to me, but luckily, I've got four wins to fall back on. What's really cool is I could finish twelfth in the points and still start the Chase tied for first with Jeff Gordon, as long as he stays on four wins. That's a scenario NASCAR probably overlooked when they revised the Chase points system. They should know better: the Chase system, just like inspections, is all about the details."

5. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth suffered handling and grip issues late in Sunday's race that kept him out of the top 10 for only the seventh time this year. He finished the day 14th, and remained third in the points.

"Sure, that's nothing to cheer about," says Kenseth, "but this is: I've just signed a deal to star in a new movie with Chris Tucker, the Pennsylvania 500 grand marshall and motor-mouthed actor. It's the story of a fast-talking cop, Tucker, and his bland partner, me, who has little to say that anyone cares about. The picture will be called Roush Hour."

6. Kurt Busch — Busch was unstoppable at Pocono, leading a record 175 laps on the way to his first win since winning at Bristol last spring. A day after his 29th birthday, Busch passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with 47 laps left, and also overtook Earnhardt for the all-important 12th place in the points, seven points ahead of 13th.

"It certainly was a great way to celebrate my birthday," says Busch, "although sharing a victory lap with Robbie Gordon was very awkward."

7. Jeff Burton — Burton and crew couldn't quite tame an ill-handling car at Pocono, but he still battled his way to an 11th-place finish in the Pennsylvania 500. Like teammate Kevin Harvick, Burton also raced in Saturday's Busch race in Montreal, won by Harvick.

"Talk about two different races," says Burton. "First, in Montreal, on a road course, we give the Canadian fans a heck of a show, plus a great finish, complete with two winners and Robby Gordon's international debut of his comedy routine. Then, in Pennsylvania, the race turns into an extended Kurt Busch test session, with very few lead changes and nary a hint of any antics from Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, or any other unstable NASCAR star. I think those hosers up north got the better show."

8. Kyle Busch — Busch finished 12th in the Pennsylvania 500, the last of four Hendrick drivers in the top 12, and also the last of two Busch brothers in the top 12. Busch held on to eighth in the points, 625 out of first. On Monday, it was announced that Busch will join Joe Gibbs Racing, taking over J.J. Yeley's ride.

"What a week for athletes going places you'd never expect," says Busch. "There's former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and not the Eight Ball Hall of Fame. There's Pacman Jones entering the wrestling ring. I'm assuming he'll be a bad guy. And there's me joining Joe Gibbs Racing where I'm supposed to have a working relationship with Tony Stewart. Fat chance."

9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — Earnhardt's most successful weekend on the track ended with a second at Pocono, as Kurt Busch's Miller Lite Dodge was too much for Earnhardt's Budweiser Chevy and the rest of the field. Earnhardt started on the pole, but Busch was strong from the start and won in unrelenting fashion, leading 175 laps to Earnhardt's eight. The result flip-flopped Busch's and Earnhardt's positions in the points: Busch takes over the 12th position, while Junior falls one place to 13th.

"It was a beer drinkers paradise," says Earnhardt. "Budweiser versus Miller Lite. The King of Beers versus that beer that puts its name on cars driven by Kurt Busch and Rusty Wallace, on purpose. If I were Bud, I would have pulled sponsorship from me, too. Anyway, it had to be a grueling race for Miller drinkers playing the drinking game in which they have to drink everytime their beer leads a lap."

10. Kevin Harvick — Harvick finished a modest 17th in the Pennsylvania 500, but his Sunday drive paled in comparison to the excitement and controversy in Saturday's NAPA Auto Parts 200 in Montreal, won by Harvick. In that race, Robbie Gordon claimed victory after a confusing chain of events, including Gordon's refusal to obey NASCAR's order to pull off the track, and Gordon's celebrating victory despite Harvick's official win.

"Gordon's not a big fan of mine," says Harvick, "so you can imagine my surprise when I saw him celebrating my victory. I was quite flattered. Normally, Robby's a sore loser, so I have to applaud the maturity he showed after suffering that tough loss. I expect him to be nothing short of a gentleman at Watkins Glen. Win or lose, I expect him to be in the winner's circle showing his support."

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