Brant James
Tuesday June 15th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings

Denny Hamlin is unstoppable, debris cautions be damned. The 29-year-old Virginian and NASCAR's greatest hope of stopping Jimmie Johnson's domination of the Sprint Cup, continued his long march through the regular season with a victory at Michigan on Sunday. Hamlin is already the Sprint Cup wins leader with five trips to Victory Lane, but is he limbering up that surgically repaired knee for the Chase or wearing out his lead foot? Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin
And so the drumbeat toward the Chase for the Championship continues. Hamlin, who was given the mantle of Jimmie Johnson's top challenger, is handling the pressure well, winning for the second consecutive week, this time at Michigan. The victory marked a series- and career-best fifth win this season for the driver. Hamlin has carried momentum through a solid finish to 2009 better than Carl Edwards did when he was anointed as Johnson's dynasty buster last season and has gone winless since 2008. Hamlin's not just winning. He's dominating, leading four times for 123 of 200 laps on Sunday. Late-race cautions failed to stop him at Pocono or Michigan and he contends his No. 11 Toyotas, though stout, are not quite where he and crew chief Mike Ford want them. Scary thought.
2Show Business
Show Business
Why would Hamlin go and suggest NASCAR issue a debris caution with 20 laps left, as he was running off to a nine-second lead? Was it to improve the product for the fans? Neither NASCAR nor its drivers really need a credibility gap right now, not with fans and sponsors making tough decisions about their loyalties and dollars. If NASCAR was scripted, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have won a Cup title by now -- unless the series is setting up one doozy of surprise ending. Besides, Hamlin should be happy with the plotline right now.
Evil Japanese monolith surpasses Chevrolet for the Cup lead in victories this season (7-6) in the cradle of the staggered American automotive industry. Heartless. Just heartless.
4Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing
With seven wins in the last 10 Sprint Cup races, Kyle Busch (pictured) second in points and Hamlin third, the Toyota flagship is dictating terms in the regular season.
5Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
In his last five races he has a win, two third-place finishes and a sixth to bump him to fourth in points. Busch's two victories validate him as a contender. Team owner Roger Penske is so pleased he probably wouldn't mind if the 2004 series champion called him "dude" again.
6Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Consecutive top-5 finishes have put the two-time Sprint Cup champion back inside the Chase boundary (11th) after a shaky start to the season. Stewart traditionally thrives when the weather warms and the tracks get slick, so he should be in a solid position to defend one of those precious 12 playoff berths.
7Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson, multitasker
While many of his Sprint Cup counterparts -- several of whom where groomed on dirt tracks like Eldora (Ohio) Speedway -- tested and preened their Late Models before the annual "Prelude to the Dream" on Wednesday, Johnson just showed up, absorbed a few pointers from Clint Bowyer, then went out and won his heat and the main from wire to wire. Bowyer finished second overall, but never had a shot at Johnson, who seemed amused by his first win in the charity showcase of top-tier drivers.
8Gentlemen, start your engines
Gentlemen, start your engines
Kevin James uttered perhaps the greatest version of the command to start engines at the 2007 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Fans with a sense of humor loved it, but many were unamused. His duet at Michigan with Adam Sandler was not nearly as good, but is eliciting just as much negative reaction. And that's stupid. It's not the National Anthem, not even the Invocation, which is often spiked with shameless sponsor references. Be mad about that, if you have a need to be outraged. In a sport that offers celebrities the opportunity to, in essence, yell "Play Ball" as a promotional vehicle, there should be a lot of leeway. Lighten up.
9Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Mr. Points Leader maintains the top spot despite finishing 19th at Michigan.
10Red Bull conflict resolution counseling
Red Bull conflict resolution counseling
Everyone understands that edgy Red Bull lifestyle -- how else could we reconcile Flugtag? -- but the boys need to be a little more accommodating on the race track. First Mark Webber and teammate Sebastien Vettel engaged in a little unyielding edginess and wrecked each other in the Formula One Turkish Grand Prix two weeks ago. On Sunday, Sprint Cup teammates Casey Mears and Scott Speed were contesting the same back-marking real estate when Mears appeared to lose control of the No. 83 Toyota and wrecked the No. 82. Speed was not happy. Here's hoping a couple of 8.3-ouncers and a tandem base jump can help Mears and Speed put it all behind them.

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