Tom Bowles
Wednesday July 9th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle Busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
Busch put another notch on his rapidly expanding resume Saturday night, winning at Daytona for the first time in his career to cap a first half that's seen him visit Victory Lane six times. This might be the most impressive of the 23 year old's wins to date; after contact on the backstretch nearly sent him wrecking in front of half the field, Busch fell to 37th on Lap 82 and dropped out of touch with the lead draft. But timely yellow flags and consistent aggression allowed Busch to push his way back through the pack, and he snookered none other than restrictor plate master Jeff Gordon with less than five laps to go to retake the lead - and eventually, the win. On track for twelve victories in 2008, the modern era record of thirteen is also not out of reach for a kid that's had a career-defining year in the Cup Series.
 
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 3
Carl Edwards
All too often lately, Edwards has learned second place truly is the first loser. Three times now, he's finished runner-up in a Cup Series race this season -- and all of them have been to championship rival Kyle Busch. To add insult to injury, Edwards lost by mere inches when a caution on the final lap froze the field and left their side-by-side battle for the win to be decided by video cameras -- not the checkered flag. Turns out Busch had a nose in front before the yellow Edwards wishes would have never come. "Man, I'd have given anything to be able to run at least down to the end of the back straightaway," he said about the wreck in turn one behind him that caused the caution. "But that's the way it went, and Kyle did a great job."
 
3Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last Week: 5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For all the hype surrounding Junior's career of restrictor plate dominance, he's increasingly relying on past success to uphold his current reputation. Here's a fact that may surprise you: Junior hasn't won a restrictor plate race in Cup since Talladega in the fall of 2004. That's right: almost four years ago. It seems that time and again, come crunch time Junior's in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that's exactly what happened at Daytona. Leading a race-high 51 laps of 162, Earnhardt was in front with 30 laps to go until he got freight-trained by none other than teammate Jeff Gordon on a green-flag restart. Junior was 10th before he could blink, and was never able to find the drafting help he needed to work his way back up front for the finish.
 
4Jeff Burton
Last Week: 2
Jeff Burton
As Burton learned the hard way Saturday night, you can throw all the consistency in the world out the window when it comes to a restrictor plate race. Running in the lead pack much of the evening, Burton found himself an innocent victim with 20 laps to go once J.J. Yeley wiggled off Turn 4. The field checked up, and a multi-car accident ensued that left Burton packing with an early trip to the garage. In the process, his streak of completing all but one lap during the first 17 races of the season -- with no DNFs -- came to an abrupt end, as did his reign as bridesmaid in the championship Chase. Falling to third in the standings, it's the first time since Bristol in March Burton hasn't been first or second in the points.
 
5Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 7
Matt Kenseth
When the No. 17 car finishes in the top 5 at Daytona, you know Kenseth is in the midst of a hot streak. Long the Achilles' heel for one of NASCAR's best drivers, Kenseth's Daytona résumé is littered with wrecks, near-misses, and an average starting spot of just 23rd. But on Saturday night, the veteran put it all together to come home with his career-best finish at a restrictor plate track -- 3rd place -- a run that left Kenseth simply happy he survived. "It was crazy," he said of the wild finish that led to his seventh top 10 in his last eight races. "You never know what's going to happen on one of those green-white-checkers. You're pretty sure at a plate race with a green-white-checkered there's going to be a wreck, and you just hope that you're not in it."
 
6Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 4
Jimmie Johnson
Johnson had his worst run since Memorial Day on Saturday night, leading just four laps en route to a ho-hum finish of 23rd place. But when you look at his recent history at restrictor plate tracks, that's not a major surprise. Since being wrecked at Talladega in the final laps of '06 by teammate Brian Vickers -- a move that nearly cost Johnson his first title -- he's failed to win a plate race since. Daytona is where he's been particularly dreadful, with a high finish of just 10th over his last five starts. Look for this team to get back on track at Chicagoland, though -- Johnson has five top-10 finishes in six career starts there, and was running in second last year when a blown tire sent him into the wall to end that streak.
 
7Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 6
Jeff Gordon
If only Gordon could buy himself a break. After passing teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead on Lap 134, Gordon paced the next 21 laps and looked to be in position to end his pesky winless streak at 22. But just when you started dusting off another Daytona trophy for the Rainbow Warrior, Kyle Busch got a push from behind and snagged the lead just as the penultimate caution of the race came out. Gordon's chances for the win quickly evaporated on the ensuing restart, courtesy a little love tap from the front bumper of Carl Edwards. "We had such an awesome night going," said Gordon. "I'm just so excited about the way we ran ... but obviously disappointed about the way we finished. We had an awesome handling race car, a fast race car, and I should have just kept that eighteen behind me."
 
8Kurt Busch
Last Week: 9
Kurt Busch
If I'm Kurt Busch, I'd take the first flight back to his hometown of Las Vegas and put together a little gambling excursion. Because right now, Busch is the guy who has the rest of the craps table rising to their feet and asking him to roll the dice just one more time. Following up a win at New Hampshire with a fourth at the restrictor plate crapshoot known as Daytona, the No. 2 team has come out of nowhere to close to within 200 points of what was two weeks ago considered a near-impossible bid to make the Chase. "To finish with two top 5s in a row is a good twist of fate for our team," Busch says, "And we'll try to build on it."
 
9Brian Vickers
Last Week: NR
Brian Vickers
It's amazing in this day and age that we need to refer to a two-car operation as an underdog, but that's precisely how it feels for Vickers as he goes up against the multi-car giants of Hendrick, Gibbs, Childress and Roush. Coming home 11th at Daytona, it wasn't a perfect night for Team Red Bull, as contact with defending race winner Jamie McMurray caused a wreck that sent McMurray spinning through the infield. But as the checkered flag waved, Vickers held on for his sixth consecutive top-20 finish, keeping him 112 points behind 12th place Tony Stewart for the Chase. The more this team hangs around, the more dangerous they become -- with no preseason expectation to make the playoffs this year, it's a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
 
10Clint Bowyer
Last Week: NR
Clint Bowyer
It's been a whirlwind last few weeks for Bowyer, who was linked to the No. 5 Hendrick ride before he inked a three-year extension to remain with Richard Childress Racing. Now, Silly Season has shifted to the sponsorship front, as garage buzz has Bowyer's current sponsor Jack Daniel's packed up and shipped out in favor of UPS. But let's not forget this 29 year old is also in the middle of a bid for the Chase, and Bowyer's done a remarkable job keeping his head above the rumors and focusing on the racing at hand. Finishing 9th at Daytona was a crucial top-10 finish to fend off the likes of teammate Harvick, David Ragan, Vickers, and others looking to take his spot in the Top 12 away over the next eight weeks.


Dropped Out: Tony Stewart (8), Casey Mears (10)

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 their favorite and include their rant in the rankings each week!

This Week's Submission: Jennie Pond, Portland, OR:As of last week's race at Loudon, Martin Truex, Jr. has five straight top-20 finishes for DEI and had crept up to 14th in points. How was that not enough to make the top 10 in your Power Rankings?

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