Brant James
Tuesday October 19th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings

The decathlon that is the Chase for the Championship is halfway complete. Jimmie Johnson is sharpening his javelin skills and marching toward another gold medal and Denny Hamlin better bring his game face to the discus throw. Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
Halfway home and fully in command, Johnson admitted that he "saw my hard work for the year and dreams of being a five-time champion go away" when his No. 48 Chevrolet skidded through a corner on Lap 34 of 334 on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He avoided making contact with anything metal or concrete and used a series of long green flag runs to improve the car and his position. As far back as 36th after the spin, he passed eventual race winner Jamie McMurray to lead on Lap 189 and settled for a third-place result. With a win, a second-place and two thirds in the first five Chase races, Johnson's summer stagger appears a distant memory, yielding to the typical fall excellence that has made him a champion four times consecutively and a runner-up by eight points in 2004.
2Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin
He claims he's not yet hit the "go button," which is encouraging, mysterious and perhaps a little foreboding considering his career-best fourth-place finish at Charlotte and second-place standing in driver points, 41 behind Johnson. It also begs the question, "Why haven't you hit that 'go button' yet, Denny?" The answer should come on Sunday in Martinsville, Va., where the state native has won twice consecutively and three of the last five. But Johnson has won five of the last eight there, making this tussle especially interesting. "I feel like there's still more left with our team," Hamlin said. "I'm minimizing my risk right now and I feel like if I'm going to have a shot to win this thing when we get to Homestead, I've got to minimize those risks. I can't be sticking it three-wide on restarts and things like that. People do and I don't. I take a little more conservative approach and it cost me five points here and there every couple races, but the main thing is that I'm not racing my way out of this thing these first five races."
3Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
The last logical member of the 2010 title hopeful pool, unless/until Martinsville and Talladega (Oct. 31) unleash greater-than-usual chaos. After a blistering rebuke of his team's performance during the race, his statistical overachievement on Saturday -- finishing eighth with his first top 10 there since 2003 -- keeps him in third place in the driver standings, 77 points behind Johnson and 36 behind Hamlin. "I think for us it was damage control," Harvick said. "For me coming here, I know we probably had a lot better race car than eighth place tonight. For me, this is just a struggle. I struggle getting the feel that I want. To come out of here with an eighth feels like a victory."
4Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
An early throttle issue threatened to scuttle a burgeoning run to the front, but following some primal scream therapy on his radio, Busch recovered to lead until McMurray passed him on a restart with 21 laps left. Busch went on to finish second, and lead a race-high 217 laps. But all he got for his effort was 10 points gained on Johnson, making him fourth in the standings. His title hopes hammered by a blown engine and 35th-place finish at Fontana, Busch will have to string together not only several similar performances, but some victories to regain a spot in the lead pack. "I don't know what the caution was for," Busch said of the final yellow flag period. "Apparently there was a mouse that ran across the race track or something. And the restart, just trying to get going there, Jamie got a good restart, and I don't know if he got pushed from Jimmie or not, but he had a good run, good momentum getting into turn one. Then I got there and my car pushed up to the race track and got to the plate and he was already gone, nothing I could do. Couldn't even stay to his outside."
5Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Fourth in points, though mathematically viable, the four-time champion seems all but done. For the second consecutive week, a potentially points-rich finish was muted by a pit road speeding penalty and a start from the pole yielded just a 23rd-place finish.
6Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle
Sprint Cup's everyman responded to a blown engine and 41st-place finish at California with a fifth-place finish at Charlotte. A winner at Kansas two weeks ago, he's displaying his customary late-season resilience. If only he set up his final push better.
7Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
With a 21st-place finish on Saturday, he has three finishes of 20th or worse in the Chase.
8Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards
He displayed true promise with his performance at the end of the regular season, but Edwards seems to have crested despite two top-10s. Edwards has led 10 laps in the Chase and appears hurtling toward a second full winless season.
9Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer
What must be a bitter-tasting Chase is almost concluded. A heartening second-place finish at Fontana was followed by a 17th-place result at Charlotte. Oh, to have those 150 points back ...
10Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
The 2003 series champion produced his best finish in this Chase (sixth), his second top 10 in three races ... and none of it really matters. His Chase has been as ordinary as the rest of his season since beginning it with five top-10s and three top-5s.

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