Tom Bowles
Wednesday June 18th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
Busch may have racked up enough frequent flyer miles to send you and your family around the world these last few weeks, but it's clear racing three times on a weekend appears to be taking its toll. In the past two weeks, Busch has flown to Texas, Nashville, Kentucky, and back to Cup races in Pennsylvania and Michigan, respectively. But Busch is 0-for-6 in the win column during that time, and after crashing out at Kentucky and following that up with a ho-hum 13th place finish in the Cup race Sunday, the 23-year-old announced this week he's backing off from plans to go after the Nationwide Series championship. After two bad weeks, his point lead in Cup is down to just 32 over Jeff Burton.
 
2Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last Week: 4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The big on-track story this week continues to be Junior's 76-race winless streak coming to a close on Father's Day, another poignant reminder about the legend we lost (Dale Sr.) as much as his son's success. But it's the way Junior ended this streak that's important moving forward. The much-maligned relationship between he and crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. was aided by Eury's call to leave the No. 88 out on fuel mileage, and if it wasn't for them working together on that, there's no way the car would have made it to Victory Lane. That should help the two put aside their differences, although one question remains: was Junior in violation of rule 10-4-D in the rule book by passing the pace car not once, but several times in his mission to save as much fuel as possible during that final caution?
 
3Jeff Burton
Last Week: 2
Jeff Burton
One of Burton's biggest hurdles in going after his first Cup championship was cleared Wednesday, when Caterpillar announced they'll become his primary sponsor in 2009 and beyond. Now, the veteran won't have to face a Fall full of distractions as to who will replace outgoing financial backer AT&T, and can simply focus on getting his team in line and upping the consistency they've shown in recent weeks. That took a small hit with a 15th place run at Michigan, but Burton can still claim he's finished all but one lap of every race this season.
 
4Kasey Kahne
Last Week: 5
Kasey Kahne
The red paint scheme on his No. 9 Budweiser car is fully representative of Kahne's red-hot run through the Cup circuit over the past month. Coming home second behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Michigan, Kahne's fuel mileage held up to give him three finishes of second or better in his last four races. Tied for 13th in points before the streak began, Kahne's now 135 points ahead of the Chase cutoff and up to seventh, the only Dodge with a realistic shot of contending for the season title.
 
5Carl Edwards
Last Week: 3
Carl Edwards
At this time last year, Edwards ended a 52-race winless streak by taking home the victory in the Irish Hills of Michigan. This time around didn't go as well -- Edwards finished seventh in the race - but his sixth consecutive Top 10 finish showed how far the team has come in the last 12 months. Now 4th in the standings, Edwards remains the top Ford in the Roush Fenway stable heading into a race that reveals his biggest weakness: road course racing. "We recently tested Road Atlanta to get in some practice on a road course and I think it has helped," said Edwards as he looks to better his 21st place average finish at Infineon. "I don't come from that kind of racing background, but getting a few races under our belts has helped a lot."
 
6Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 5
Jimmie Johnson
It's rare that crew chief Chad Knaus has stood in the way of Johnson's success, but for the second straight week, one of his gambles kept the No. 48 from a solid finish. During a Lap 147 caution, Knaus kept his car off pit road in order to gain track position; but in the long green flag run that followed, Johnson had to pit earlier than the rest of the field and slumped to a sixth place finish. "This track always does something weird at the end and we do the opposite," said Johnson after the race. "It's just the way it works out." However, leading a race-high 65 laps has to be a promising sign for a team that's gotten to Victory Lane just once so far in 2008.
 
7Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 9
Matt Kenseth
Kenseth stepped it up a notch at Michigan, leading 41 laps and coming home 3rd for his best finish of 2008. The car had the speed to win, but as Kenseth would tell you himself, it was pit road that continues to be the problem for both him and the rest of the Roush Fenway organization. "I thought we just kind of got beat on the pit deal again," said Kenseth after watching Kahne and Junior finish ahead of him on fuel strategy. "[But] we had an official in front of our car when we did two and that cost us two spots leaving the pits, and that really hurt us. Then, we had a little miscue on our two-tire stop and that hurt us a little bit, too. Just didn't quite work out." On the bright side, Kenseth is now just 14 points from reentering the top 12 in points.
 
8Brian Vickers
Last Week: NR
Brian Vickers
Vickers was also none too happy about his fourth-place run after the race at Michigan. In his mind, it was a scoring error that cost him a chance to win; having passed Mark Martin before the caution came out, NASCAR disagreed and put him back behind the No. 8 for the green/white/checkered finish. The extra time needed to pass the slower car of Martin left Vickers too far back to challenge Junior and the Top 3, and he was forced to settle for a second consecutive top-5 finish. To NASCAR's credit, they apologized for the error and admitted their mistake to Vickers the day after -- but by that point, it was far too late.
 
9Greg Biffle
Last Week: 7
Greg Biffle
A writing buddy of mine joked around this week that Biffle would be the No. 1 driver at Roush this season if he never needed things like an engine, tires, or fuel. Mechanical failures and pit road miscues have continued to haunt the team all season long, and Michigan was no exception -- a pass through penalty for running over an air hose left Biffle 20th with a car capable of running up front. "The tire changer got his air hose hung up, I think," he said after the race. "We would've been fourth or fifth." That leaves Biffle eighth in points despite being the third or fourth-best car on the race track for the last six weeks.
 
10David Ragan
Last Week: NR
David Ragan
If the last few races are any indication, Ragan's preparing for a summer's worth of anxiety. For the past month or so, the sophomore driver's been either occupying the 12th and final slot in the Chase standings or sitting just outside the cut in 13th. On Sunday, he had the type of finish that should have gotten him over the hump -- Ragan had his first top 10 since Mother's Day, an eighth-place run -- but that was only enough to move him to within 10 points of the top 12. "We just kind of hung out all day," said Ragan, who may need to hang out in Victory Lane once in these next eleven weeks in order for him to leapfrog the one spot he needs to make the Chase.


Dropped Out: Jeff Gordon (8), Denny Hamlin (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: Kyle -- Boston, Mass.:Let's not forget about Mark Martin. With three less races, Mark has as many top 5s and top 10s as Kevin Harvick. Before Michigan, he has an average finish of 14.5 in 2008, which is seventh among all drivers.

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.