Wednesday March 2nd, 2005

NASCAR Power Rankings
RankLW Driver
After finishing third at California last weekend, Busch has now collected 11 Top-10 finishes in the last 12 races. In other words, he's currently the most consistent driver on the circuit -- and the driver to beat. Look for him to pad his points lead a week from Sunday when the Cup drivers visit Las Vegas, Busch's hometown track.
JJ would have won the Auto Parts 500 last Sunday if it would have been called the Auto Parts 501. But he still came home in second behind winner Greg Biffle, which means he's now finished in the Top 5 in each of his last seven starts.
Gordon started Sunday's race in 28th position and, after 200 laps, had worked his way up to second. But then engine problems forced him into the garage and he finished 30th. Don't expect many more performances like this from Gordon in '05.
Before the Auto Parts 500 Biffle, told anyone who'd listen that he was going to take the checkered flag, and he did. Biffle has now won two of the last three Cup races, which proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he'll be a serious threat to qualify for the Chase.
Martin's farewell tour is off to a solid start. He followed up his seventh-place finish at Daytona with a third-place finish at Fontana. Make no mistake: Martin will be a major player all season long.
As some drivers who performed well last season continue to surprisingly struggle -- we're talking about you Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne ?- Sadler remains steady. He didn't have a great car last Sunday, but thanks to a heady two-tire pit stop late in the race, Sadler gained track position and was able to notch an eighth-place finish. This, race fans, is how you qualify the Chase.
How good is Stewart? Last Sunday his Home Depot Chevy was so tight for the majority of the race that most drivers would have planted it in the wall. But Stewart was able to wrestle the car down and grab a 17th-place finish. Was this a headline-maker? No. But it's these kinds of performances that make many believe Stewart is the most talented American driver racing today.
For someone who blew three tires and finished 32nd in the Auto Parts 500, Junior's been in high spirits this week. The reason? If not for the freakish occurrence of the blown tires, Little E felt that he had a top-five car. So, Earnhardt fans, don't fret -- at least not yet.
Newman started ninth and finished ninth last Sunday. Some in the garage think that Newman is poised to go on a tear and win two or three races in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned.
Wallace is hanging in there. He's collected two top-10 finishes in two races; last year it took him six races to get two Top 10s. Wallace's '05 season is developing into a nice story, but I just don't see it having a fairy-tale ending -- meaning, he won't qualify for the Chase.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.