Brant James
Tuesday June 29th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings

Jimmie Johnson has restored normalcy to the world in the weeks before his daughter's emergence into it. Little what's-her-name will not enter a world in which daddy hasn't won in months or in which interlopers like Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch dominate what was once Johnson territory. One can only assume she will cooperatively appear during the bye week after the July 10 race at Chicago, just in time for her first championship photo at Homestead. Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1Jimmie Johnson, future five-time series champion
Jimmie Johnson, future five-time series champion
Struggling, in relative terms, coming in at seventh in driver points and watching Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing set the pace just three weeks ago, Johnson has reasserted himself with consecutive victories. Reasserted himself in several important ways. His first victory on a road course was a major personal milestone at Sonoma, but his ability to capitalize when Marcos Ambrose stalled his car, saving fuel under caution in the final laps, may have re-fired the sputtering Johnson mojo machine -- or maybe his victory in the Prelude to the Dream is responsible. Then Johnson overcame a demoralizing and slow early pit stop on Sunday, put a late check on Kurt Busch and won at New Hampshire, which in nine races will commence the 10-race Chase, of which Johnson is lord and master. Second in points behind Kevin Harvick, he's tied with Hamlin for five wins in 17 races this season and therefore bound for the top, currently, when points are reset and burnished with wins bonuses. That coupled with one victory already at New Hampshire this season would put him squarely back into mind-plucking position against his 11 fellow championship hopefuls.
2Havin' at it, professionally
Havin' at it, professionally
Johnson was admittedly livid for a few laps after Kurt Busch's bump-and-run for the lead in the final laps on Sunday but disdained a more forceful, race-ruining retort when he finally caught the No. 2 Dodge. Busch was unamused to be included in the recent rough-driving storyline, remarking, that old-school short track moves, executed well by professionals are what drivers and fans alike claim to want. The series has been chocked with rude behavior either highlighted by or excused by the ever-tired "have at it" bromide attached to NASCAR's new relinquishment of its duties as a sanctioning body. Johnson and Busch's tilt was not an example of it. Two champions, skilled in fender diplomacy -- where push also sometimes comes to shove -- settled a race with a nudge and a message and both finished inside the top 3 instead of in a smoldering race car or the infield care center. If only ever driver had those levels of skill or tact.
3Kevin Harvick, points leader
Kevin Harvick, points leader
He's become the photobomber of the Sprint Cup series. During the last 10 laps, there's Harvick, no matter what poor qualifying effort, slow pit stop or brush with anonymous wrecker appeared to scuttled his race. With a win, seven top-5s and 12 top-10s, he's led the point standings for 12 of 17 weeks and is showing the consistency -- though not yet the finishing ability -- of a title contender.
4Jeff Burton's late-race implosions
Jeff Burton's late-race implosions
A cut tire in the final laps at Martinsville relegated him to a 20th-place finish. A bump from Kyle Busch and a cut tire in the Coca-Cola 600 sent him to a 25th-place finish. A wreck in the final laps at Sonoma last week cost him a top-10 finish. On Sunday at Loudon, crew chief Todd Berrier eschewed a late stop for tires with the rest of the leaders and saw the No. 31 spin on old ones -- collecting Kyle Busch -- after a restart with 14 laps left and dumping a car that had led 140 laps to a 12th- finish."That's pretty much been our year, right there," said Burton, who has led 10 of 17 races, is eighth in points but in winless in 58 races.
5Kasey Kahne's sunglasses
Kasey Kahne's sunglasses
Seriously, those things are huge. Is the future so bright -- the one beyond Richard Petty Motorsports and eventually with Hendrick Motorsports -- that he needs them so large? One expects him to lean back and grin, "Looks like University of Illinois." Sometimes, Kasey, you just have to ask "What the ..."
6Tony Stewart's summer campaign continues
Tony Stewart's summer campaign continues
He was a lap down at one point on Sunday but rallied for a runner-up finish, his fifth top-10 in six races and third top-5 in the last four. Crew chief Darian Grubb said before the race at Dover that the strains of ownership might be affecting his boss/driver's performance, but anticipated the heat and slick tracks of the upcoming summer schedule would go far in making things better. Stewart finished ninth, inside the top 10 that weekend for the first time in seven races, and has been rolling since.
7Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chase for the Championship prospects
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chase for the Championship prospects
His recent results have not been staggering -- seventh at Michigan, eighth at Loudon -- but Hendrick Motorsports' other driver has slowly begun to percolate toward the top 12 and a Chase berth as those above fail to fortify their positions. Now just three points out of the 12th spot with Daytona (two career wins), Chicago (1), Michigan (1), Bristol (1), Atlanta (1) and Richmond (3) among the nine venues left until the Chase, he has a chance to qualify for NASCAR's postseason for the second time since coming to Hendrick in 2008.
8Jeff Gordon Aggravation Society
Jeff Gordon Aggravation Society
Elliott Sadler, Clint Bowyer, Scott Speed, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. last week. Juan Pablo Montoya this week. While it's good to see Gordon swinging elbows and asserting the desire for some space these days, the gallery of angry men taking notes and plotting his undoing during the Chase is growing alarmingly large.
9Juan Pablo Montoya Angst Meter
Juan Pablo Montoya Angst Meter
He started in pole and was wrecked out by a suspiciously timed right turn by former teammate Reed Sorenson. Still, he seemed more perturbed with Gordon. Now 22nd in points and in increasing need of something spectacular to save his season, he's as likely to flame out and take several drivers with him, or channel that rage and in a few weeks to become the first driver to win Indycar and stock car races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Either way, it shouldn't be dull.
10The hole
The hole
The most famous pothole in racing history -- so much so it earned its own Twitter tag while consuming race cars and more than two hours of the Daytona 500 in February -- has reportedly been filled, sealed and de-fanged before the Cole Zero 400 on Saturday before a repaving at Daytona International Speedway. Will it work? This is one ornery, and hungry speed bump. And this is its last chance at immortality.

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.