Brant James
Tuesday May 4th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings
In this week's edition of our not-so-traditional power rankings, we take a look at Kyle Busch's changing approach, Carl Edwards' view from the front and more after a wild weekend at Richmond. (Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
After a pit stop with 32 laps left dropped him in the field, the 25-year-old branded himself a "new" driver for the methodical way he maneuvered back to the front to win Saturday at Richmond. As recently as Phoenix, he had come unhinged by such a similar development. After starting from the pole and leading 221 of the first 229 laps -- and sinking all but seven other cars a lap down -- the "old" Busch would have been prone to fits of rage, manic sulking or four-letter tirades over the team radio when faced with three late restarts and a car that faded in the middle of the race. Instead, he just went out and won the thing. The sport has been awaiting the convergence of the immense driving talent and the 20-something maturity that was supposed to make him a true championship contender. That convergence was supposed to happen last year, but Busch unraveled in the summer, missing the Chase despite winning four races. Crew chief Steve Addington absorbed part of the blame by being removed as crew chief late in the year. Busch went on to win a Nationwide Series title -- his first in a top-three NASCAR series -- but that hardly salved an abrasive season. Re-signed for the long haul at Joe Gibbs Racing and seemingly enjoying his relationship with new crew chief Dave Rogers, Busch might be a new man after all, at least mentally. Hopefully he'll let the "old" Kyle out to play every now and again, though. NASCAR needs personalities, and Busch seemed to revel when painted as the brash, bold villain, as long as he was a victorious, brash, bold villain.
2 Carl Edwards' laps-lead total
Carl Edwards' laps-led total
It's up to two. Bad news: it took the driver of the No. 99 Ford 10 races to see what the front of the pack looks like. Too bad there wasn't a caution so he could have milked it a little. Good news: He's on fire right now, compared to his first nine starts. Edwards' season-best, fifth-place finish on Saturday gave him top-10s in half of his starts this season, made him 11th in points and currently positions him within the Chase for the Championship boundary.
3Jeff Burton's big-picture thinking
Jeff Burton's big-picture thinking
He could have tried to force himself after Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon on the late restarts at Richmond, but he found a niche and dug in, maintained and finished fourth. Burton has been better than a ninth-place driver in points for part of the season, leading 140 laps but finishing 20th because of a late tire problem at Martinsville. He also kept pace with the leaders at Texas and Talladega. Other days he's scuttled. On a night when points mattered, he soaked them up and moved up three spots in the driver standings.
Jeff Gordon's resolution
The four-time Sprint Cup champion was increasingly agitated after being the last driver passed for the lead at Las Vegas, Martinsville and Phoenix. Another runner-up finish, his eighth since his last victory a year ago at Texas, seemed to dissolve in his belly a little easier on Saturday night, though. "If we keep doing this, those (wins) will come," Gordon said. "We've got to keep putting ourselves in position." Maybe it's becoming ... second nature. Or maybe he found comfort in a historic non-win. He tied Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time list with 59 second-place finishes. Next up, tying Dale Earnhardt's 70. Gordon may be celebrating that milestone before the Chase.
5Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Richmond decline
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Richmond decline
What happened? Earnhardt Jr. had three wins and seven top-5s in his first 14 races at Richmond, but he apparently forgot how to race there after collecting his last victory in the spring of 2006. He has one top-5 (fourth in the fall of 2008) and an average finish of 19.8 since. Earnhardt was never happy with his No. 88 Chevrolet and finished 32nd on Saturday after starting 25th.
6Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
The free-agent-to-be followed a win at Talladega by finishing a rousing third, snatching the points lead back from Jimmie Johnson. He's held that lead for half of the 10 races. Harvick seemed just as happy that departing sponsor Shell wasn't on his No. 29 Chevrolet.
7Calvin Borel
Calvin Borel
Most drivers can't win the big one with 800 horsepower under them and 250 laps to get it done. Calvin Borel has won the Kentucky Derby an unprecedented three times in four years with one horse under him and one 1.25-mile orbit to make his rail-riding magic happen. If there was Loop Data for jockeys, he'd be a top closer. Green flag passes? Dominant. Maybe Rick Hendrick should have considered Borel in the No. 5 car for 2012.
8Heath Calhoun
Heath Calhoun
The initial response to the Richmond International Raceway-Crown Royal naming gimmick is skepticism. This Calhoun, certainly, must have had the right father-in-law, college buddy or greased enough palms to have his name added to the annual RIR spring race. Wrong. A Purple Heart recipient after a 2003 rocket attack took both of his legs in Iraq and an accomplished Paralympic skier, Calhoun was chosen from a panel of five military finalists. Heath Calhoun presents the Daytona 500, anyone?
9 Arizona immigration law questions
Arizona immigration law questions
NASCAR, perhaps because of its self-propagated image as a sport of, for and by the people, has been used as one barometer of American society. There were NASCAR Dads who were viewed as a voting bloc and the sport was used to show how a struggling world economy was impacting the middle class. So naturally, the controversial Arizona immigration law was run through a NASCAR inspection bay this weekend, with Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya the first to be queried. His response: He doesn't care. In a life where livelihoods depend on sound relationships with powerful benefactors, drivers are unlikely to engage in social controversy. Drivers will go wherever the team owner says, who will go wherever the sponsor says. And they are all going to Phoenix this fall and beyond unless NASCAR as an organization decides to make a major social statement after the binding contracts for the 2010 race are fulfilled. And chances are, that's not happening either. The demographics don't support it.
10Saturday night racing
Saturday night racing
There's something inherently right with racing under the lights. The cars look better, they seem to sound better. Sunburn? Not a chance. Certainly, much of the appeal has to do with the fact that Richmond and Darlington -- and in the summer, Bristol -- are the closest things NASCAR has to nostalgic venues. Much has to do with a feel that is reminiscent of local short track racing. But just like those local short tracks, NASCAR continues to confront ominous signals about its short- and long-term health. Ratings for Richmond were down and tickets remain at Darlington.

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