Tom Bowles
Wednesday September 24th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Greg Biffle
Last Week: 3
Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle on top of the power rankings ... seriously? Wonder what the odds on that were in Vegas this month -- but the Roush Fenway veteran officially crashed the party with a win at the Monster Mile in Dover. Now 2-for-2 in the playoffs, Biffle hopes to take this upset to the next level over the next eight weeks, competing for a championship everyone thought would be giftwrapped for teammate Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, or Kyle Busch. Instead, Biffle's two hard-fought victories have brought him within 10 points of Edwards for the lead. "I feel like this has been coming for awhile," he said of his recent surge, which doesn't show signs of stopping anytime soon -- after all, he's the defending champ at Kansas this week.
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
Cousin Carl has cooled off a bit at the start of the playoffs, but two third place finishes have been just enough to slip him into the point lead by 10 over Biffle and Jimmie Johnson. More important for Edwards is how quickly main rival Kyle Busch has fallen off the radar; however, he refuses to take pleasure in anyone else's fall from grace. "It doesn't matter individually who's in what position," he said. "Before the Chase started, everybody was talking about how it's going to be Kyle and myself racing for the championship. I think this thing could be so different a month from now. Kyle could win all the races and be leading the points. It's too early to speculate [he's out of it]." Edwards also refused to blame crew chief Bob Osborne for a pit call that cost him at Dover; taking two tires on his final stop, Edwards proved no match for the four fresh Goodyears of teammates Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
3Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
After two top five finishes in the playoffs, Johnson's bid for his third straight title will reach a critical juncture at Kansas. With all the talk about Carl Edwards' success at intermediate tracks, it's actually Johnson who's showed the most strength there as of late. Winning at California at the end of August, Johnson now has two top fives in his last three starts at 1.5 to 2-mile "cookie cutter" tracks, coming up with an average finish of 6.3 in that span -- far better than Edwards' 13.0. And while Edwards has led just eight laps in four career starts at Kansas, Johnson has paced the field for 127, nearly winning in 2006 before being forced down pit road for a late race splash of gas. With one rival, Kyle Busch, already 200 points behind, the two-time champ is poised and ready to battle Edwards and Biffle for title number three.
4Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 5
Kevin Harvick
Harvick's consistency continued at Dover, as his sixth place finish marked the No. 29 team's eighth consecutive Top 10. "I really think we still have the momentum to win this thing," he said after the race, fired up after a recent string of strong performances. But while Biffle, Edwards, and Johnson ahead of him all spent significant time up front, Harvick led just one lap over the course of 400 miles -- only the third time he's done so since May. We've said it plenty of times in this space, and we'll say it again: in order to win this year's title, you need to win a race ... or two ... or three. Until Harvick breaks what's now a 63-race winless streak, it's hard to take him seriously as a 2008 title contender.
5Tony Stewart
Last Week: 5
Tony Stewart
Who would have guessed that two weeks into the playoffs, none of Joe Gibbs Racing's three teams would be higher than seventh in points? Right now, it's the soon-to-be-departed Stewart who represents JGR's last best hope for a title -- and even he's not looking so great. An average finish of ninth to start the playoffs has come packaged with just one lap led, as Stewart has failed to show the strength I expected during his final postseason run in the No. 20. "I felt like I was the weak link in the equation [Sunday]," Stewart said after placing 11th at the Monster Mile. "I lost about six or seven spots on restarts picking the wrong lane to go to, but we got all those back -- where we ended up was about where we deserved to be." If Smoke doesn't strike back at Kansas -- he had a winning car last year before being bitten by a rain delay that caused him to get caught in a wreck -- he also doesn't deserve to be labeled a title contender.
6Jeff Burton
Last Week: 9
Jeff Burton
Just when you were about to count the 40-year-old Burton out of the playoffs, his team is beginning to show signs of life. The AT&T Chevy has strung together three straight Top 10 finishes for the first time in months, jumping to fourth in the standings ahead of teammates Harvick and Clint Bowyer. The only problem is that five intermediate tracks still lie ahead, and Burton hasn't scored a top five finish at a 1.5 to 2-mile facility since -- get this -- Las Vegas in March. But even with the odds still stacked against him, the veteran is far from giving up. "We're only 20 percent into the Chase and anything can happen," he said. "We're going to continue to keep digging."
7Kyle Busch
Last Week: 4
Kyle Busch
There are no words to describe Busch's fall from grace other than the usual shock and awe. In the course of one event, Joe Gibbs Racing nearly doubled their total of one mechanical failure all season, with Busch's costly engine failure combined with Denny Hamlin's faulty rear end gear. But while Hamlin fell to 11th in the standings, it's Busch who was expected to win the title; instead, he's completed a drop from a 30 point lead to dead last in the Chase in just eight days. "We're out of the title hunt," Busch claimed after a second straight poor finish left him 210 points in arrears. "We're done." The problem in getting Busch to change his mentality is the same thing happened in the Chase two years ago: then driving the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports, Busch wrecked and then blew his engine en route to an average finish of 39th to start the playoffs. Where did he wind up at the end of '06? Dead last.
8Clint Bowyer
Last Week: NR
Clint Bowyer
The title of Chase Cinderella has tilted Greg Biffle's way, but Bowyer is still trying hard to make some 2008 playoff magic of his own. One week after a disappointing finish at Loudon, the No. 07 tied his career-best run at the Monster Mile by placing 8th. Now, the Kansas native is off to his home track, where he finished runner-up to Greg Biffle last year. Without a Top 5 at a 1.5-miler in 2008, a repeat performance would be key for Bowyer in proving he's still got a chance to reclaim the glass slipper.
9Jeff Gordon
Last Week: NR
Jeff Gordon
Oh, how far the mighty have fallen. A decade ago, we'd be saluting Jeff Gordon on a 13-win season in which he dominated the then-Winston Cup circuit. Now? We're forced to applaud if the DuPont Chevy simply finishes in the Top 10. After winning the pole at Dover, Gordon had high hopes to finally make some noise in the title Chase; but after slumping to 7th, he should be more concerned about scoring his first winless season since his rookie year of 1993. "When things don't go your way, you can't second guess yourself and everything you're doing," Gordon said Sunday when asked about Kyle Busch's troubles. "You've just got to regroup, get back together and not let it get you down." Why do I bring that up? Because after a depressing last few months, it's some advice the No. 24 team needs to use on themselves.
10Mark Martin
Last Week: NR
Mark Martin
Several aging veterans have tried the part-time driving route in recent years -- including former champions Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott -- but the 49-year-old Martin has proved the only one capable of making it work. A fourth place finish at Dover was Martin's fourth straight Top 10 in his last four starts driving DEI's No. 8 Chevrolet, leaving him 27th in the standings despite racing just 19 times this year. And just before the race's final caution, Martin looked poised to score his first win since 2005, closing in on leader Carl Edwards before that yellow flag cut his winning dreams just short. Prepping for a return to full-time action in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevy next year, Martin's been serving notice that at 50, he's still more than capable of dicing it up with the "young guns" dominating the Sprint Cup circuit.

Dropped Out: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (7), Denny Hamlin (8), Kurt Busch (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 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: Lynn Forte, High Point, NC:With all the focus on the Chasers, how about giving a shout to David Reutimann over at Michael Waltrip Racing? Since UPS announced they?re signing with David Ragan next year, it's Reutimann who?s scored more points on the race track instead.

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