Tom Bowles
Wednesday June 11th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
One bad week can't cost you the No. 1 spot in these power rankings after the season Kyle Busch has had -- but the guy didn't make it easy on me. This weekend was all about Busch's much-hyped "triple-header" -- he attempted three different races in three different places in each of NASCAR's top three series. But the results weren't nearly what the 23-year-old had hoped for. He finished second in his truck on Friday, 20th in the Nationwide Series event on Saturday, and then dead last in the Cup race at Pocono. The poor run at the 2.5-mile triangle came courtesy a costly mistake: Busch was racing the No. 26 of Jamie McMurray when he came up the track and made contact, sending his No. 18 Toyota hard into the wall. Busch's spotter was partially to blame for the wreck, but so was the driver. Busch's costly practice crash forced him to start from the rear, and he paid the price while having to race through traffic.
 
2Jeff Burton
Last Week: 2
Jeff Burton
While his main rival Busch is busy making headlines, Burton keeps busy finishing races, and that's been more than good enough as of late. NASCAR's Mr. Consistency cashed in on a top-5 finish at Pocono -- his best run since finishing third at Martinsville the end of March -- and now finds himself 21 points away from jumping to the top spot in the championship Chase. "There were times when we were the fastest car on the track, and that is a good sign," said Burton. "We came here and experimented with some stuff and think we can move forward with it."
 
3Carl Edwards
Last Week: 3
Carl Edwards
It was the pits for Edwards at Pocono -- literally -- as a flat tire under caution sent the No. 99 a setback it never fully recovered from. It was the left rear that went down on lap 180, sending Edwards all the way back to 34th place after an extra pit stop to fix the problem. He raced hard after that, but a possible top-5 run was taken away by bad luck. "We went from 34th to ninth," an exasperated Edwards said after the race. "I'm not real good at math, but that's a lot of cars [we passed]." The flat tire was the final straw for a driver already frustrated with his team's performance on pit road. "We have just got to a better job on pit road," he said. "We lose an average of about three spots every time. It's just unnecessary."
 
4Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last Week: 4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior's fourth-place finish at Pocono was a bit deceiving, as he really didn't have a great handling car for much of the race. However, for all the criticism Junior had of crew chief Tony Eury Jr.'s adjustments on the radio, he can't deny the car was in the right place at the right time when it counted. Eury's pit strategy gave the No. 88 track position, and the car on its last run was just strong enough to eke out fourth at a place where passing was at a premium. But with the winless streak now at 76 races, you can sense Junior's frustration beginning to shine through.
 
5Kasey Kahne
Last Week: 8
Kasey Kahne
Unlike what I said last week, it looks like the fan vote momentum actually does extend past Lowe's after all. One week after wrecking at Dover, Kahne was back to his winning ways on Sunday, leading a race-high 64 laps while cruising to his second victory in his last three starts. This one didn't come easy, though; crew chief Kenny Francis called off a four-tire pit stop a little too late, and Kahne had to come back down pit road a second time to replace the lugnuts on the left side tires. That mistake sent the No. 9 car back to 38th position early in the race, but with a car that good, you weren't going to keep Kahne down for long. "I knew how strong the car was," said the five-year veteran, who never lost confidence behind the cockpit as he worked his way up through the field with ease.
 
6Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 5
Jimmie Johnson
Johnson was dominant early at Pocono, leading 59 of the first 85 laps -- but as we say so often in racing, it's not where you start but where you finish that counts. Unfortunately for the No. 48 team, they faded to sixth over the race's second half after crew chief Chad Knaus' call to put the car on a different fuel strategy cost them track position when the race's long green flag runs didn't fall exactly the way they thought. "I knew Chad was up to something, but that last caution really hurt us," said Johnson. "That was a working man's sixth place today. We worked really hard -- but we should have been at least in the top 3." Johnson's now got just one win over the first 14 races of '08, his worst slump in that department since his sophomore season of '03.
 
7Greg Biffle
Last Week: 6
Greg Biffle
If Biffle learned anything this weekend, it's how to be a little careful down pit road. A costly speeding penalty broke the momentum of the No. 16 team during their final green flag pit stop, who saw an almost-certain Top 5 finish fade into 15th by the checkered flag. "I don't know what happened," said Biffle after the race. "I guess I broke out that last [pit] box a half a mile an hour [too fast]. I guess I was right on the maximum [speed], and then I just gave it the gas a millisecond before I was across the line." It was too late in the race in the race at that point for the No. 16 team to recover, and Biffle dropped from 5th to 7th in points after this run.
 
8Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 7
Jeff Gordon
Gordon isn't struggling as badly as people think, but Sunday's race at Pocono did remind us the No. 24 still isn't where it needs to be. Last year, the four-time champ was the master of pit strategy, getting out front just before the rains came to score an upset victory over Ryan Newman. This year, the Rainbow Warrior was just, well, upset over the way his car handled all day long; and when the team had a chance to stay out on old tires during the race's final caution on lap 179, crew chief Steve LeTarte took the No. 24 in the wrong direction in order to give the car fresh rubber. "When that last yellow came out; some of those guys stayed out, but my job is to be the realist," said LeTarte. "And realistically, we didn't have a car good enough to stay out. We had to get tires, take our lumps, and get our cars better [for the future]." Gordon wound up 14th, slipping a spot to 8th in the standings.
 
9Matt Kenseth
Last Week: NR
Matt Kenseth
Ever so quietly, Kenseth has been busy whipping his season back into shape. A seventh place finish at Pocono marks his fourth top-10 finish in a row, leaving him just 34 points out of a Chase spot that seemed unattainable the way the No. 17 car was running one month ago. "We decided before we came up here that we were going to build a new car and try something," said Kenseth's crew chief Chip Bolin. "Everybody pretty much busted their butt there in the month of May to get it built so we could bring it up here and test it, and I think everybody's hard work paid off. I don't think we've ever run that strong at Pocono." Bolin is right; 7th marks Kenseth's second best finish at the track since his championship season of '03.
 
10Denny Hamlin
Last Week: NR
Denny Hamlin
One week after Hamlin put the brakes on his momentum with his failure to use the brake pedal at Dover -- leading to his involvement in a multi-car wreck -- he had no problem pressing the accelerator at Pocono. Easily the driver's strongest track on the circuit, his third place run marked his fourth top-5 finish in five career starts at the Tricky Triangle. While his other two teammates struggled to finishes outside the top 30, Hamlin held the banner for Joe Gibbs Racing high, with perhaps the only car that could have challenged Kahne if he had better track position on the race's final restart.


Dropped Out: Tony Stewart (9), David Ragan (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: Joe Murphy -- St. Louis, Mo.:Where's the love for Kevin Harvick? Sure, he hasn't finished in the Top 10 in a few races ... but he's still solidly in the Top 10 in points.

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.