Brant James
Tuesday August 17th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings

Here comes Kevin Harvick in the beer wagon. Here comes the Ford fleet. Denny Hamlin may be back and Jimmie Johnson is due to recover that multi-title gloss any time now. This race to the Chase is getting more interesting by the week. Have a comment? Send to siwriters@simail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/brantjames

1Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Clinched a Chase for the Championship spot with his third win of the season at Michigan on Sunday. He also managed to clinch one of the most ubiquitous sponsors in sports on Tuesday when Richard Childress Racing announced Budweiser would become his main sponsor on the No. 29 Chevrolet in 2011. That's a pretty robust week by any measure, but the points leader hardly seems done, given the resurgent performance of he, his teammates and an Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines program that is currently the class of the Sprint Cup garage.
 
2Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards
He ended a maddening string of inconsistencies and underperformance with a sixth-place finish at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, and since then, he's been on the move up. Edwards, who was 12th in points before the annual July 4 weekend race, is seventh now after producing four top-5s in six races since -- his worst finish was seventh at Indianapolis. He managed a third at Michigan in front of Jack Roush, who made his first track appearance since being severely injured in a private plane crash. Edwards has still not won since the final race of the 2008 season, but teammate Greg Biffle has recently, so there is reason to believe his rush could continue.
 
3Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
The four-time series champion remains second in points, but without a victory, will soon shuffle back into the crowd for the Chase. He led 219 laps at Las Vegas, 92 at Martinsville, 124 at Texas, 144 at Richmond and 110 at Darlington and got two runner-up finishes from it. Now he's not running up front as much -- not at all in the last two races -- since finishing 23rd at Indianapolis. He was running inside the top 10 on Sunday, only to suffer a flat tire with 47 laps left.
 
4Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
The defending four-time series champion keeps slogging toward the Chase, when the switch will, in theory, be flipped and the No. 48 Chevrolet will race off for Homestead. Johnson isn't worried about his current situation -- fifth in points after finishing 12th at Michigan -- in part because, he said, the team has been experimenting. There also seems to be certain clarity in knowing he's raced a charmed life the last four years, high performance or not. That he will be re-seeded at the top with his five wins is not so much of a comfort, given the vagaries of the Chase, he said.
 
5Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle
Another waving blue oval flag that Ford and Roush Fenway might finally have emerged from the wilderness after a woeful 2009 and start to this season, the former trucks and Nationwide Series champion has a win (Pocono), third- and fourth-place finishes the last four races.
 
6Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin
Once the irresistible force of early summer, Hamlin has become the inconsistent occasional force of near-fall. A second-place run at Michigan makes things feel a little better, but they would have felt a whole lot better had he been able to hold off Harvick in the final 11 laps and record what would have been a series-leading sixth win of the season. But maybe there is genuine momentum, anyway. His 37th-place finish at Watkins Glen last week was born of an accident, not of his doing. Before that was a top-5 at Pocono.
 
7Jeff Burton
Jeff Burton
A 24th-place finish at Michigan momentarily blunted what had been a solid drive into the Chase with five straight top-10s.
 
8Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer
Snatched the final Chase spot, at least temporarily, on Sunday. Now he's fending off Mark Martin -- he leads by 35 points -- well, fending off might not be the correct term after finishing 15th, 32nd and 13th the past weeks, but it's his right now.
 
9Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
A fifth-place finish at Dover was his first top-5 in 11 races. He keeps peddling, holding on to a Chase spot, but hasn't been able to replicate the grinding consistency that made him the 2003 Sprint Cup champion.
 
10Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
The 2004 series champion continues to suffer a distressing run-up to the Chase, tempering what had been a high level of performance and equally high expectations. Busch, the victim of a crash at Pocono, suffered a rare blown engine at Michigan, registering a second DNF in three weeks. Busch said he thought he had the conservative engine in the Penske stable, but it lasted just 30 of 200 laps. The runner-up finish at Watkins Glen is put in darker perspective now that Busch has finished 26th or worse in three of his last five races and plummeted to 10th in points. He's still comfortably in the Chase envelope, but can't feel very comfortable about anything else right now.

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