Tom Bowles
Wednesday November 19th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
Entering Homestead with a 141-point cushion over Carl Edwards, Johnson's third straight Chase championship was never really in doubt. Despite starting 30th on Sunday, the Lowe's Chevrolet worked its way through the field with ease and stayed out of harm's way, even taking the lead at one point. Although he dropped to 15th at the finish following an extra splash of gas, that was still plenty good enough for Johnson to take home the title, tying Cale Yarborough's all-time NASCAR record from 1976 to '78. In five years of the Chase format, the No. 48 team has never finished lower than fifth in points.
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
He may have come up 69 points short, but you have to give Edwards credit for a late-season charge that gives him added momentum heading into 2009. After two straight weeks of problems at Talladega and Charlotte, the No. 99 team closed out their season with five straight top five finishes, including dramatic fuel mileage victories in two of the last three weeks. Running the final 66 laps on Sunday without making a pit stop, Edwards feathered the throttle just enough to make it to the checkered flag first. "My guys performed well enough to win a championship this season," Edwards said. "And considering how well Jimmie performed, I don't think that's a small feat. So, tonight was a lot of fun. I'm glad that we won the race so that we can go into the offseason knowing we won more races than anyone else in this series."
3Greg Biffle
Last Week: 3
Greg Biffle
Biffle left a little frustrated after Homestead, as for the second time in three weeks he saw Chase teammate Edwards wind up in Victory Lane. And just like at Texas, while the No. 99 team could stretch its gas to the finish, the No. 16 of Biffle couldn't even come close. Still, third in the Chase with two wins -- after entering the playoffs without a victory -- is nothing to hang your head over. "Yeah, you can't complain about that," he admitted. "The guys did a great job, and 3M stuck with us all season and are on board for three more years with a new contract -- so we're excited. We're gonna build on this No. 16 team and keep going."
4Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 5
Kevin Harvick
Entering the weekend with nothing to lose, Harvick played the fuel mileage game at Homestead in hopes of pulling an upset victory. And while he didn't wind up catching Edwards, a second place run did come with the consolation prize of a fourth place finish in the final standings. The best-performing Richard Childress Racing driver in the Chase, Harvick's playoff push was based on consistency rather than dominance up front, something that's going to need to change next season if he expects to take that next step and challenge for a title.
5Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 6
Jeff Gordon
After weeks of worry, it's now official: Gordon's consecutive years with a victory streak has come to an end at 14. Still, two consecutive top five finishes to end 2008 serve as proof the Rainbow Warrior didn't go down without a fight; and after fighting successfully to keep crew chief Steve Letarte, the Hendrick Motorsports veteran expects a bounce back to his winning ways next season. "We need to be better," Gordon admits. "There are just moments of greatness [during the race] but we just can't ever [seem to] pull it all together. That's what we're focusing on in the offseason, and I am really excited about 2009."
6Jamie McMurray
Last Week: 4
Jamie McMurray
Other than Edwards, the second hottest Roush driver heading into the offseason is ... Jamie McMurray? That's right. McMurray's been acting like a Chaser these last few weeks, with a third place finish at Homestead the crowning achievement of a late-season run that boosted him to 16th in the final standings from outside the Top 20. Not bad for a guy that started off the year so poorly, he needed to qualify for the March race at Martinsville on speed after the No. 26 team fell outside the Top 35 in owner points. "It's by far the best I've run in my career," McMurray said of the past month. "It just seems like every week you have a chance to win, so it's a lot of fun to get to run that well."
7Kyle Busch
Last Week: 4
Kyle Busch
An agonizing postseason for Busch finally came to a merciful conclusion with a 19th place finish at Homestead. Entering the playoffs as the number one seed, this man's collapse is easily the biggest surprise in the five-year history of the Chase. Starting as far as 80 points ahead of his rivals, Busch's playoff began with three straight finishes outside the Top 25, dropping the team from first to last and killing any chance he had at the championship. When all was said and done, the eight-time winner was shut out of Victory Lane over the final three months en route to finishing 10th, a whopping 498 points behind Jimmie Johnson.
8David Ragan
Last Week: 8
David Ragan
Having already clinched 13th in points last week at Phoenix, Ragan came into Homestead with nothing but winning on his mind. That meant during the race's final segment, he joined the small crowd of drivers looking to stretch their fuel tank to the finish. But unlike teammates Edwards and McMurray, Ragan couldn't go the distance, and his car ran out of gas heading to the white flag. But that still didn't keep the sophomore from completing more laps than anyone else on the Cup circuit this year. It's an impressive feat for a guy that wrecked so often when he debuted in 2006 that Tony Stewart labeled him a "dart without feathers." The Comeback Driver of the Year, look for this guy to be even better next year with prestigious new sponsor UPS on board.
9Clint Bowyer
Last Week: NR
Clint Bowyer
A quietly impressive Chase for Bowyer ended under the radar with a fifth-place finish at Homestead. Turns out that five was the magic number for Bowyer, indeed. The run allowed the Kansas native to climb to fifth in points, joining Jimmie Johnson as the only driver to finish 5th or better in each of the last two seasons. Considering that one day earlier, Bowyer clinched his first ever Nationwide Series title after holding off a late-season charge by Carl Edwards, and this guy should have left the Sunshine State feeling great. But Homestead instead proved bittersweet, as Bowyer will leave his team on the No. 07 for Richard Childress' new fourth car -- the No. 33 -- in 2009. "Kind of an emotional night, really," he admitted Sunday. "Gil (Martin, crew chief) and all the guys, we have had a lot of fun together and a lot of success."
10Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 6
Matt Kenseth
Taking the lead from teammate Carl Edwards with a handful of laps to go at Homestead, it looked like Kenseth was ready to defend last year's season-ending victory. But heading into the final 10 miles, the No. 17 car's fuel tank came up empty in a poor luck finish typical of how the season had gone. "It doesn't matter which way we roll [the dice]," he said afterwards. "If we would have run hard, we wouldn't have won, either. We just can't seem to get things to go our way. The No. 99 can't do anything wrong, and we can't do anything right." That gives the veteran a clear set of goals heading into the offseason. "We've got to get this team back to championship form," Kenseth added. "We're used to winning and running up front, and we haven't been doing that, so we've got to figure out how to fix that."

Dropped Out: Denny Hamlin (9)

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 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: Mark Robinson, Chicago:How about a shout out to A.J. Allmendinger? Since replacing Patrick Carpentier in the No. 10 for Gillett Evernham Motorsports, he?s been giving that team its best runs of the year. With the type of Fall this guy has had, someone should step up and put him in their car for 2009!

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