Tom Bowles
Tuesday August 12th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle Busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
So much for NASCAR's point leader "slumping." Coming off two finishes outside the Top 10 for only the third time all year, Busch turned things around at Watkins Glen with a convincing win over teammate and road racing expert Tony Stewart. "We were able to get off the corners real well, and we were able to get the car wooed up really good with braking," Busch explained as the key to snagging his series-high eighth win. "That's what it takes here -- you have to be able to stop and you have to be able to go." And with that, Busch's dream season continues to go at a breakneck pace. Entering the season without a Top 5 finish on either of NASCAR's two road courses -- his average finish was just 18th -- Busch has now swept the two Cup road races this season.
 
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
One week after making a statement at Pocono, Edwards looked decidedly human at the Glen. Ninth in the Cup race wasn't bad, but it had to be frustrating to see his main rival bounce back ahead of him -- adding another 10 point Chase bonus to the deficit "Cousin Carl" is now guaranteed to face heading into the playoffs. To make matters worse, Edwards damaged his hopes for a second straight Nationwide Series title the day before, locking up his brakes in a wreck that took him and championship leader Clint Bowyer out of contention while running solidly in the Top 5. This Sunday's race at Michigan -- a stronghold for Roush Fenway Racing -- can't come soon enough.
 
3Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 3
Jimmie Johnson
With a solid Top 10 performance at Watkins Glen following up a near-win at the Nationwide Series race the day before, Johnson made a statement that his road course skills are much improved. There's just one problem: that's not going to help him in the playoffs, as there's exactly zero right turns planned within that 10-race schedule on ovals. Still, Johnson's fourth consecutive Top 10 finish was a huge confidence builder, as the team recovered from a flat tire mid-race to catch a caution that put it back on the same pit sequence as everyone else. With the series returning to Michigan --where Johnson led a race-high 65 laps before fading to sixth in June -- look for him to collect another win before his quest for a third straight title begins.
 
4Tony Stewart
Last Week: 8
Tony Stewart
While Busch, Edwards and Johnson have separated themselves from the pack, Stewart's positioning himself perfectly to play the role of Chase spoiler. Summer's usually sizzling for this 10-year veteran, and Smoke's second straight runner-up finish shows things are heating up in the No. 20 camp. My colleague Lars Anderson and I could have a spirited debate as to the mental state of Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli. Anderson wrote in the mag their relationship is strained, but I'm of the opinion things are heading in the right direction. Both men were seen laughing and joking all weekend at the Glen, and seem to have a "nothing to lose" attitude developing now that they know their decade-long partnership will end after Homestead in November. That should make all Chase contenders a little nervous now that Stewart's looking like a playoff lock -- he's seventh in the standings, 138 ahead of 13th place Clint Bowyer with four races left.
 
5Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Last Week: 4
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Earnhardt's surprising 2008 performance at Hendrick has occurred despite continued miscommunication between E and crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. Those problems cropped up again Sunday when poor pit strategy robbed Junior of what could have been his best finish on a road course since moving up to the Cup Series in 2000. Leading 33 laps, Junior was out front when Eury asked the No. 88 to stay out once he entered his fuel window with 30 laps left. That's a crucial mistake on a road course, and when a caution came out on Lap 64, Junior was a lonely man heading down pit road -- giving up all his track position. "I really didn't know what the strategy was and what Tony Jr. and the guys were really trying to make happen up there, but I know it didn't work out for us," Junior said after finishing a disappointing 22nd.
 
6Kevin Harvick
Last Week: NR
Kevin Harvick
While Richard Childress Racing has struggled all summer -- Jeff Burton just fell out of our power rankings this week for the first time all season -- Harvick's been the lone bright spot in the No. 29 Shell Chevrolet. Pushed to the brink of missing the Chase, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner's fought back with three Top 10 finishes in the last four races to push his way back into the Top 12. "It was a great points day for us but just as important, it just continues to show how strong our team is," he said after coming home sixth. "We started out loose and wheel hopping, but Todd [Berrier, crew chief] made good pit calls and we kept getting the car better as the race went on. All in all, we rallied from a car that wasn't quite right to a good car at the end."
 
7Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 10
Matt Kenseth
If the 2003 Cup champ has a weakness, it's road courses; in 18 career starts, he has yet to score a Top 5 finish at either Infineon or Watkins Glen. But with the pressure on following two straight weeks of bad luck, Kenseth dug deep and pushed home a credible 12th place finish to put himself back in the Chase over RCR's Clint Bowyer. "We didn't really run that great," said the unexcitable Kenseth. "We had a real average car, and we had a real above average strategy and pit crew, so those guys got me the good finish, really." One other bonus for Kenseth on Sunday; one year after a history-making incident at the Glen, he didn't have any fans ask for his autograph on the race track!
 
8Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 5
Jeff Gordon
How bad was this weekend for Gordon, who has been long considered the Cup Series' best road racer? His 29th-place finish was the worst for him on this type of track since Infineon in June 2005. That's also the last year the four-time title-winner missed the Chase for the Championship. And while the chances are slimmer of a repeat failure this year, the team can't be happy about the way it has performed these last few weeks. Never a factor, Gordon struggled from the start with his car's handling, and clearly looks perturbed about the setup of his Chevrolets -- especially with teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson running circles around him in the points. Could Steve LeTarte's job be on the line? That's hard to imagine, but the next three months could make things tough on him if Gordon drops out of title contention.
 
9Kasey Kahne
Last Week: 7
Kasey Kahne
Let's put it this way: the Allstate girls would never be such stalkerish fans of Kahne's if he had to turn left AND right every week. The No. 9 Dodge struggled home 14th at the Glen, which actually had to feel like a victory for Kahne: it's his career-best finish on a road course in Cup. "That's the best I could do today," he said, admitting he was in points conservation mode all day long. "The hardest part is having people dive bombing you [for position]. If you battle hard with them, you take a chance on losing a lot of points. I had that in the back of my mind." Expect winning to jump back on his mind this week in Michigan. In June, Kahne had the fastest car only to lose to Earnhardt, Jr.'s fuel mileage in the closing laps.
 
10 A.J. Allmendinger
Last Week: NR
A.J. Allmendinger
How about an attaboy for Team Red Bull's second driver? After four Top 20 finishes, the 'Dinger will be breathing a sigh of relief this weekend at Michigan after locking his team into the field with an 11th place finish at the Glen. Team Red Bull hasn't yet picked up his option for 2009, but Allmendinger's making that an inevitability with a solid surge in performance that's coincided with the arrival of crew chief Jimmy Elledge. Now, the No. 84 is in the Top 35 in owner points for the first time in its short history, and Allmendinger can rest easy Thursday night for the first time in nearly a year and a half.


Dropped Out: David Ragan (6), Jeff Burton (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 his or her favorite and include their rant in the rankings each week!

This Week's Submission: Randy Jones, Talladega, AL:Martin Truex, Jr. is keeping DEI afloat with eight Top 20 finishes in 10 races. Yeah, he's not a Chase contender anymore ? but he deserves to be listed in your Top 10.

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