Wednesday, October 15, 2008

NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 31

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson led 67 laps in Charlotte, earning five valuable bonus points, but the No. 48 Chevrolet's handling faded late in the race. After battling Jeff Burton for the lead after the final restart, Johnson fell to sixth in the closing laps.

"We turned loose there at the end," says Johnson. "And speaking of 'turned loose,' who let Carl Edwards out of the asylum? The man has some anger issues he needs to sort out. Obviously, someone told him to 'get a grip.' Unfortunately, he took it just a bit too literally."

"There's five races to go, so it's getting down to the nitty-gritty. I don't know who's more nervous — me, or Cale Yarborough."

2. Jeff Burton — Burton led 58 laps, including the final 58, to win the Bank of America 500 in Charlotte for his second win of the year and first of the Chase. He jumped two spots in the point standings to second, and trails Jimmie Johnson by 69.

"A win is exactly what we needed," says Burton. "I think we served notice that the Richard Childress Racing garage is well-prepared for an assault on Jimmie Johnson's points lead. And, as the Kevin Harvick Nationwide team proved, the RCR garage is 'head'-locked and loaded for those times when a rival encroaches on our territory. I don't care how many sit-ups Edwards can do, you don't stroll into our garage without a posse of your own. I think Edwards learned his lesson. The next time he feels like writing, it should just be between he and his diary."

3. Greg Biffle — Biffle finished a quiet seventh in Charlotte, battling a loose race car for most of the race. He remained third in the points, 86 behind Jimmie Johnson.

"Luckily, I didn't get caught up in the aftermath of another bad Carl Edwards' decision," says Biffle. "Apparently, Carl's not satisfied being the least liked driver in the Roush Fenway garage. He had to go and make himself the least-liked in the Richard Childress garage. However, I do admire Carl's use of a handwritten note to Harvick. He could have gone the impersonal route and sent Harvick an e-mail. He didn't, and the rest is history. I'm not sure where Carl's handwritten note should end up — in the NASCAR museum, or on eBay."

4. Carl Edwards — Edwards suffered a miserable weekend in Charlotte, first scuffling with Kevin Harvick on Thursday, then experiencing electrical difficulties in Saturday's race that left him with a finish of 33rd. After leaving New Hampshire with the points lead, Edwards is now 168 behind Jimmie Johnson.

"I guess Kevin Harvick is right," says Edwards. "I am choking. I showed unwise aggression at Talladega and in the Harvick garage. I appears that Kevin and I won't be pen pals any longer."

5. Kevin Harvick — Harvick finished a pedestrian 13th in the Bank Of America 500, but otherwise found plenty of excitement in Charlotte. Harvick and Carl Edwards scuffled in Harvick's Nationwide garage on Thursday, the result of a broiling feud resulting from the big crash at Talladega caused by Edwards. Harvick had called Edwards a "pansy" for Edwards' Talladega race strategy, while Edwards left a sarcastic note in Harvick's plane.

"What kind of person leaves a note?" says Harvick. "Only a person who's a chicken, I tell ya.' And I've got no problem choking a chicken."

"That's two weeks in a row Edwards has damaged a Childress car. First, at Talladega, his spin wrecked the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy. Then, in Charlotte, he dented the No. 33 Nationwide car when I shoved him onto its hood. I should send him a bill."

6. Jeff Gordon — Gordon nailed the wall twice in the race's first six laps, and fell a lap down after repairs to remedy a tire rub. He steadily worked his way to the front and led laps 204-250, and, after giving up the lead to pit, never could return to the front and finished eighth. He remains eighth in the points, 245 out of first.

"When car meets wall," says Gordon, "there's going to be sparks. The same can be said when large egos, such as those of Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, collide. Harvick may be the greatest insult comic, feud instigator, and outspoken critic in NASCAR history. But when you haven't won a race all year, you've got to talk big."

"Edwards is a workout machine whose talents know no bounds. Unfortunately, neither does his temper."

7. Tony Stewart — Stewart led 42 laps in the Bank of America 500, and was on pace for at least a top-five result, but was penalized for speeding entering the pits on lap 260. Stewart fell a lap down, but soon rejoined the lead lap and finished 11th. He is seventh in the Cup point standings, 228 out of first.

"I'm shocked by what went down between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards," says Stewart. "Shocked that there wasn't even a punch thrown. In the Tony Stewart Handbook of Confrontation, rule No. 1 states that 'chokes, shoves, and headlocks are to always follow a punch.' Rule No. 2 states that there is no Tony Stewart Handbook of Confrontation."

8. Clint Bowyer — Bowyer held down the second position as the final caution flew with about 40 laps left in the Bank of America 500. The No. 07 Jack Daniels team opted for four tires, while most of the leaders took two tires or fuel only. The track position angle ultimately proved to be the wise choice, as Bowyer fell to 12th in the closing laps. He's now fifth in the points, 185 out of first.

"There was a lot accomplished by Richard Childress Racing this weekend" says Bowyer. "Jeff Burton made Jimmie Johnson a little nervous, Kevin Harvick made Carl Edwards a 'hood ornament,' and we made the wrong pit decision."

9. Kyle Busch — After a disastrous start to the Chase, Busch finally recorded a top-five finish with a fourth at Charlotte. He is now 326 out of the lead in the points, well out of contention, but still fully capable of an impact on who eventually becomes Cup champion.

"I'm winless in the Chase," says Busch. "So clearly, the No. 18 car doesn't strike fear into competitors. Especially in its hot pink incarnation."

10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — Earnhardt blew a right-side tire on lap 103, one lap before a scheduled pit stop, and slammed the wall hard. He took his severely damaged No. 88 Amp Chevrolet to the garage, and returned to finish 36th, 45 laps down.

"What's with all the pushing, shoving, headlocks, and choking?" says Earnhardt. "I'm not even talking about Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards; I'm talking about Earnhardt Nation taking out their frustrations on innocent bystanders after my crash. But while we're on the subject of the Harvick/Edwards incident, I ask everyone, what's the big deal? I've seen better fights in the ladies restroom at Whisky River."

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