Brant James
Friday June 25th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings

Road racing is not boring. To the contrary, the Sprint Cup race at Infineon Raceway on Sunday was exhilarating, and not just because of the cliffhanger ending and gut-wrenching stall of would-be first-time winner Marcos Ambrose. Racing was close-quarters, aggressive and interesting. Maybe it is time to add more of these courses to the schedule. Road America? Mid-Ohio? Maybe a nice Talladega-Barber Motorsports Park back-to-back weekender? Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1The horseshoe return
The horseshoe returns
Kevin Harvick said Jimmie Johnson must have had a "golden horseshoe" tucked in his pocket after wins at Fontana, Calif., and Las Vegas this season, but that handy lucky charm seems to have fallen out after Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing began to dominate. Johnson, who had never won on a road course but had steadily improved, drove a masterful race to put himself in position for a spectacular bout of good fortune on Sunday, but there will not be a luckier break in his career. His competitors should hope that little bit of Ambrose sputtering isn't enough to jump-start a slightly sputtering bid for a record fifth-straight championship. For now, he jumped four spots to fifth in points.
2Soul-crushing mistakes
Soul-crushing mistakes
Race leader Sterling Marlin tugged on his bent fender in the final five laps during a red flag in the 2002 Daytona 500, was sent to the end of the lead lap and ceded victory to Ward Burton. Mark Martin headed to Victory Lane a lap early under caution in a 1994 Nationwide Series race at Bristol, handing a win to David Green. Race leader Nigel Mansell, leading by almost 50 seconds, slowed to wave at the fans along the route of the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix Formula One race on the last lap, stalled his car (Williams said he suffered a gear box failure, while convention says he either allowed his revs to drop too low or accidentally switched off the engine) near the finish line and was passed for the win by Nelson Piquet, who waved as he went past. Marcos Ambrose was not the first or the last to commit, as Martin described it at the time, "the stupidest thing I've ever done." But Marlin had won the Daytona 500 twice before. Martin is the all-time Nationwide wins leader and a successful Sprint Cup veteran. Mansell was an established winner who won F1 and CART titles in the next two seasons. Marcos Ambrose had a four-time defending series champion covered in the final laps and squandered his first NASCAR victory by turning off his engine in an attempt to save fuel. He is talented, affable and may have a long and successful NASCAR career ahead of him. This one is going to sting for a long, long time. "In a million years," Ambrose said in a post-race television interview, "it wouldn't happen again." That's a long time, too.
3Judgment calls
Judgment calls
The complex nature of racing fills the sport with judgment calls for the sanctioning body to adjudicate and be pilloried over. When Ambrose's No. 47 Toyota rolled to a stop on Sunday, failing to maintain a reasonable speed, NASCAR officials were put in position to make a race-deciding ruling and made it quickly and correctly.
4 Kevin Harvick, points leader
Kevin Harvick, points leader
Always there, like that tattoo you don't remember getting on spring break. He finished third on Sunday to maintain the points lead for the 11th of 16 weeks this season.
5Jeff Gordon, projectile
Jeff Gordon, projectile
The five-time Sonoma-winner was seemingly running into everything on Sunday, or at least Scott Speed, Clint Bowyer, Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. would assert as much. Gordon's run-in with Truex Jr., well that one's going to leave a mark, an emotional one.
6Martin Truex Jr.'s pique
Martin Truex Jr.'s pique
Steamed, steamed was the driver of the scuffed No. 56 Toyota after being spun by Gordon. Truex Jr. vowed revenge though Gordon apologized profusely on television. It will be interesting to see how well Truex Jr. fakes his way through accepting the apology before enacting his vengeance.
7Danica Patrick's return
Danica Patrick's return
The IZOD IndyCar Series driver begins her NASCAR summer internship with the Nationwide race on Saturday at New Hampshire. Her orientation was difficult in the spring -- an average finish of 34th in three starts -- but her recent open wheel successes -- sixth at Indianapolis, second at Texas -- and buzz-worthiness will be a fine elixir for the normal summer doldrums."First and foremost she's a brand all to herself, and not only to traditional fans, but non-traditional fans," said NHMS general manager Jerry Gappens. "She gives you an intro to a new demographic, perhaps an intro to someone who's never been to a race, maybe buy a ticket to come out and see how a woman can do driving a stock car against all-male competition. She has an incredible brand. Her people have done an incredible job with that."And it appears Gappens will get to promote Patrick in an IndyCar race also.
8Reaping what one sows
Reaping what one sows
After winning consecutive races and proclaiming a late debris caution at Michigan -- where he'd led by as much as nine seconds -- was all part of the "show business" aspect of the sport, Denny Hamlin saw what happens when the hero becomes a tragic figure. More likely, it was about preparation. Hamlin's team de-emphasized road course testing as compared to several of his potential championship competitors and while the likes of Johnson, Harvick and Tony Stewart finished well, Hamlin foundered. He had an early collision with Boris Said, he ran into cars here, they ran into him there, his hood became a red herring, he finished 34th. How will he respond? Tune in next week.
9Robby Gordon
Robby Gordon
The veteran driver/owner has become a bit of a punch line/punching bag, what with his spate of NASCAR penalties, penchant for igniting the ire of his peers and struggles to remain viable in a treacherous business. But give the 41-year-old, for all his faults, credit for hanging in there in a treacherous business, brandishing the willingness to drive what he wants when he wants -- turning his Sprint Cup car over to Ted Musgrave, who failed to qualify, at Pocono so he could race truck in the Mexican desert -- and doing well what he does well. Gordon finished second on Sunday at Sonoma, his best finish in five years.
10Denny Hamlin's internal sonar
Denny Hamlin's internal sonar
A broken hinge piece sent the hood of the No. 11 Toyota flying up against its windshield midway through the race, but Hamlin looked like Luke Skywalker navigating the Death Star trench with the assistance of the Force to return to pit road for a fix. Already deep in the pack and no threat to win for a third consecutive week, Hamlin eventually finished poorly, but showed how dangerous he could be if the series were to run at night ... at a track with no lights.

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