Tom Bowles
Tuesday November 11th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
Looks like Texas was a false alarm after all. One week after opening the championship door for Carl Edwards, Johnson closed it just as quickly with a dominating performance at Phoenix to all but secure his third Cup title. After winning the pole on Friday, Johnson was still concerned about his car's performance after Saturday's final practice -- so much so that he called Chad Knaus incessantly to the point that Knaus asked to be left alone. Well, turns out that after leading 217 of 313 laps, his crew chief had plenty of reasons to be trusted. "Chad and the guys, I can't thank them enough for their hard work and finding what we needed," Johnson said. "And then trying to convince me that it was going to be OK." If Johnson runs just 36th at Homestead, he'll be more than just OK -- he'll be your 2008 Sprint Cup champion.
 
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
Say what you want about Edwards, but the man doesn't go down without a fight. After a tough start to the weekend led to the 15th-fastest time in qualifying, the No. 99 car never gave up at Phoenix -- even as the No. 48 pulled away. Scratching and clawing for all he could get, Edwards nabbed a fourth-place finish by race's end, his fourth consecutive top-five finish after disaster struck last month at Talladega and Charlotte. But a 141-point deficit is too much to overcome in a career year that's destined to fall just short. "If [Jimmie Johnson] has some real terrible luck in Homestead, we still have a chance," said the eight-time winner. "But -- it's just too big of a spread right now."
 
3Greg Biffle
Last Week: 3
Greg Biffle
This year's version of Chase Cinderella, Biffle's done a remarkable job of peaking at the right time. After winning the first two playoff races, he emerged as a darkhorse title contender with the veteran knowledge needed to carry out his threat. But ever since the Talladega wreck in October, the No. 16 team has been fighting to simply keep pace with the field. A transmission change last weekend forced Biffle to start from the rear and use pit strategy and two-tire stops to gain the track position needed. In the end, an 11th place finish was all he could muster.
 
4Kyle Busch
Last Week: 5
Kyle Busch
Before the Chase began, who would have thought the man trying to break the modern era win record would go through the playoffs winless instead? That's what happened to Busch, whose regular season momentum was snapped by three awful finishes that dropped him from first to last in the standings. Since then, the No. 18 has recovered quite nicely, with four Top 10s in the last five races to build a foundation for 2009. But when you're dealing with a man who's won more races this year in NASCAR's top three divisions (21) than anyone else in history, an eighth at Phoenix just doesn't give him the same type of satisfaction. "We battled tight-loose all day and never really got it right," he said of his run. "We've got a lot of work to do."
 
5Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 6
Kyle Busch
Here's a little nugget for you: of the 12 Chase contenders, Harvick is the only one yet to score a top-five finish in these playoffs. That tells you all you need to know about a season that's been consistent but far from exceptional for the No. 29 bunch. With a seventh at Phoenix, Harvick moved up two spots to fifth in the standings, a definite overachievement for a program that's failed to win since the 2007 Daytona 500. At least the guy's having more luck in the other series, winning his third career Truck race Friday night in the 150-miler held at Phoenix.
 
6Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 4
Jeff Gordon
While teammate Johnson basks in the limelight of the title Chase, Gordon's just busy trying to keep pace. Once again, a promising run for the DuPont Chevrolet ended in the garage when the engine on the No. 24 Chevy blew with less than 100 laps to go. "This is just the kind of year we've had, you know," Gordon said. "Every time we get the car running good, something happens." It's the sixth time this team has failed to finish, a stark contrast from Gordon's six visits to Victory Lane in 2007. Instead, barring a miracle at Homestead, he'll go winless in a season for the first time since 1993.
 
7Jamie McMurray
Last Week: 10
Jamie McMurray
The forgotten man on Roush's five-car team, McMurray's spent the last nine weeks making his presence felt. In perhaps the best performance of any non-Chaser, the driver of the No. 26 Ford has three top-five finishes in the last five races to boost himself up to 16th in points. With one more strong run this weekend, McMurray actually has a chance to finish the year in the Top 15, something that was deemed unthinkable when his team actually fell out of the Top 35 in owner points early on in 2008. "It's been fun," he said after Phoenix, where he had perhaps the only car capable of challenging Johnson for the win before coming home third. "To end this year strong is super-important, because you're going to start the next season hopefully where you've left off."
 
8David Ragan
Last Week: 8
David Ragan
After weeks of beating Kasey Kahne hand over foot, Ragan officially clinched 13th in points with a 10th-place run on Sunday. And while the sophomore's Chase bid was doomed by a Richmond wreck, his spirits have hardly been dashed during the playoffs. In fact, the driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford has finished 13th or better in his last seven starts. "It seemed like every run we picked up a spot and a spot there, and then at the end of the race our car was as good as it had been all day," he said. "We didn't have the best car but we put in a good effort, and the results show." With the No. 6 car's solid history at Homestead, don't be surprised if Ragan's a contender for an upset win to close out the 2008 season on Sunday.
 
9Denny Hamlin
Last Week: NR
Denny Hamlin
This Chase has been a struggle for Hamlin, who's looking to make some subtle changes to his Fed Ex team in the offseason. However, with an upcoming shift in the JGR camp -- Joey Logano in, Tony Stewart out -- it's likely Hamlin won't get everything he asks for in 2009, despite two straight disappointing playoff appearances. At least there's been a bright side to the No. 11 as of late. Hamlin's third top-five in the last four races pulled him up to ninth in points after Phoenix. Looking for a spot on the stage in New York, he needs one more solid run to avoid back-to-back 12th place finishes in the Chase.
 
10Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 6
Matt Kenseth
He may have finished 15th at Phoenix, but that could be tempered from penalties associated with a last-lap crash of A.J. Allmendinger. Replays showed that the No. 17 car punted the No. 10 down the straightaway heading to the start/finish line in apparent retaliation for a wreck 'Dinger had caused just a few laps earlier. That crash robbed Kenseth of an apparent Top 10 finish. As a result, the '03 champ broke character and took out his frustrations on the track. And that was wrong; for while the 'Dinger made a rather obvious mistake, there was no reason to hit back when both cars could have finished the race in relatively decent shape. It just goes to show you the frustration behind what?s becoming the first winless season for Kenseth since 2001.


Dropped Out: Jeff Burton (6)

Fan submission of the week: Don't see your driver in the power rankings? Want to make a case for why we're missing the boat? E-mail Tom Bowles at tbowles81@yahoo.com and tell us why your driver should be included. We'll pick one lucky fan who sticks up for his or her favorite and include their rant in the rankings each week!

This Week's Submission: Don Meegan, Las Vegas, NV:I can't believe you dropped Tony Stewart off the power rankings. He has not had a great year, but has been consistent! Stewart has had to battle a really bad Toyota all season long and listen to the next coming of the Home Depot God, Joey Logano, who is a great Nationwide racer but needs a booster seat to drive a Cup car. Home Depot must be wondering where those lost sponsorship dollars are going to get made up from next year -- not from Logano Home Depot T-shirts! At least give Stewart the respect he deserves.

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