Tom Bowles
Tuesday May 20th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle Busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
It finally took some faulty parts and pieces to stop Busch dead in his tracks this week. Starting on the pole for the All-Star Race, the 23-year old was threatening to run away and hide, dominating the first 38 laps with ease until a broken rocker arm eventually sidelined him for the night. But if Joe Gibbs Racing gets that engine going - it was labeled experimental, built in-house by chief engine builder Mark Cronquist for the team's three cars -- the rest of the field better watch out. Sources say Busch's No. 18 car was pulling 20 horsepower more than the regular engine usually supplied by Toyota Racing Development before it blew up.
 
2Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last Week: 3
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Many thought Junior's recent tendency to win in non-points events -- he's 2 for 2 so far this year -- would carry over into the All-Star Race. But the luck that followed the No. 88 to wins in the Bud Shootout and Daytona's Gatorade Duel 150 just didn't transfer over into Saturday night. A decision to take on four fresh tires for the race's final segment left Junior mired deep in traffic, and 25 laps simply wasn't enough for him to work through all the cars in front of him. An 8th place finish was far below both the team's and Junior's expectations; but hey, at least the car looked nice! The team's special Citizen Soldier tribute mimicked the paint scheme used by legendary driver Buddy Baker to win the 1980 Daytona 500.
 
3Jeff Burton
Last Week: 2
Jeff Burton
After a series of ho-hum performances cost him the point lead, Burton's team continues to search for answers. Sure, Burton's No. 31 car brushed the wall Saturday night; but so did rookie Sam Hornish Jr., and he ended the night in 7th place. Burton's car wasn't so resilient, as the handling got so bad at times, Burton fell to dead last at one point. In the end, the No. 31 car came home 20th, failing to showcase the strength the RCR team showed at other intermediate tracks this season. It's also the team's worst finish in any race this year -- and if they don't make some major fixes, they'll be duplicating it in the Coca-Cola 600 next week.
 
4Carl Edwards
Last Week: 6
Carl Edwards
As he has for most intermediate tracks this season, Carl Edwards came into Lowe's the man to beat for the All-Star Race. In fact, track president Humpy Wheeler was so confident he made Edwards his pick to take home the trophy, a yearly tradition that's been accurate more times than not (he'd picked nine of the last eighteen All-Star winners). If the race ended after segment two of four, Wheeler would have been right on the money; Edwards took control of the race after rival Kyle Busch was sidelined with mechanical failure. But the final sets of tires never seemed to mesh with the No. 99 car, and he fell back through the field in the race's second half. Edwards had to settle for an uncharacteristic 10th-place finish that left the team scratching its head as to what went wrong.
 
5Denny Hamlin
Last Week: 4
Denny Hamlin
Hamlin's car was never as dominant as teammate Kyle Busch's at Lowe's. However, some late race pit strategy by crew chief Mike Ford put the team in position to win. The team took no tires on the car's final pit stop, giving Hamlin the track position he needed to restart up front and give him a chance. For a few laps, he diced it up with Kasey Kahne for the top spot, looking to pull off what would have been a stunning upset after spending the first 75 laps of the race running buried in the middle of the pack. But just as things looked good for Hamlin, the engine in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota went sour, dropping the team to 23rd in the final rundown. "We came out here with our guns loaded," said Hamlin. "Unfortunately our gun went off a little bit before the end of the race."
 
6Tony Stewart
Last Week: 8
Tony Stewart
To finish first, you must first finish: that's a motto Stewart and his No. 20 team took to heart after being involved in a second lap wreck at Darlington. The only Gibbs Racing car to avoid engine failure in the All-Star Race, the team was lucky enough to discover their problem in practice before the green flag dropped. Unfortunately, the resulting engine change caused them to give up their spot on the grid, starting shotgun on the field for the 100-lap main event. With the race split into four 25-lap segments, Stewart's car didn't come to life quickly enough for him to make it all the way up front. However, a slow and steady climb was enough to put him 5th in the final rundown, giving the team momentum for the Coca-Cola 600 next week. "Nothing trick and fancy with us tonight," said Stewart after the race. "We drove ourselves to fifth place. I'm really happy with this finish."
 
7Jimmie Johnson
Last Week:7
Jimmie Johnson
Johnson used to own racing at Lowe's Motor Speedway, winning four straight points races in 2004 and '05. But since winning the All-Star Race the following year, the No. 48 has been shut out of Victory Lane at this track, struggling to find the combination that took them to so much earlier success. This year seems to be no exception, as Johnson spent most of the night running in the back half of the top 10 instead of leading the pack. However, late race pit strategy by Chad Knaus put Johnson towards the front for the final restart -- and although he had faded to 4th by the finish, that left the driver of the No. 48 optimistic for next Sunday. "Track position is everything," Johnson said. "We didn't make any adjustment and picked up a half a second in speed [in the final segment]. I really think we learned a lot tonight about our car, even if we didn't win."
 
8Clint Bowyer
Last Week: 5
Clint Bowyer
Bowyer joined Burton as part of the RCR trio that looked more like snails than their usual speedy selves on Saturday night. For whatever reason, the No. 07 car could never get going in any of the race's four 25-lap segments. Finishing a disappointing 18th place, at least Bowyer could take solace in the fact he made the cut this year -- it was his first appearance in the All-Star event in his third full season of competition.
 
9Greg Biffle
Last Week: NR
Greg Biffle
One week after throwing his crew under the bus following a 43rd place finish at Darlington, both Biffle and team were out for redemption in the All-Star Race. A contender all night long, the No. 16 waited patiently while faster drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards burned out early in the event, then capitalized to win segment three of four and set himself up to win the million dollar prize. But choosing two tires on his final stop proved to be Biffle's undoing; on the ensuing restart, he got stuck in traffic and seemed to use his car up before he got to new leader Kasey Kahne. Forced to settle for second, it was still a solid run for a program that was under extensive scrutiny just seven days earlier.
 
10Kasey Kahne
Last Week: NR
Kasey Kahne
After Saturday night's Sprint Showdown preliminary event, Kahne looked to be as close to winning the All-Star Race as I am to stepping in a Sprint Cup car and driving one. After finishing fifth, he failed to make the top two cutoff for transferring into the main event; but that's where the fans provided the ultimate save. A special "fan vote" exemption allowed Kahne to start the race 24th on the grid, and he made the most of his opportunity. Steadily working his way through the pack, some late race pit strategy to take no tires on his final stop gave him the track position needed to allow his No. 9 Dodge to pull away from the pack. Kahne's first win since Lowe's in October '06, he now hopes the non-points victory will catapult him to a win in the 600 -- with his legion of fans supporting him every step of the way.


Dropped Out: David Ragan (9), Kevin Harvick (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: (proof that I actually listen) Tim Holbrook, Unknown City and State:I personally would have Junior as the No. 2 (instead of No. 3). He has been very consistent week in and week out, and that is more important than winning.

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