Tom Bowles
Tuesday August 19th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle Busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
Busch missed out on an opportunity to pad his lead in the Chase at Michigan, failing to pass Carl Edwards on a series of final restarts after the No. 99 beat the No. 18 off pit road. That led to the points leader finishing right behind his major rival in second place -- giving him enough of a reason to worry with the playoffs looming. "Carl is right there, has been all year," Busch said. "He's been the guy that we've got to race on these mile-and-a-half, two-mile race tracks." With five of those tracks in the Chase, the 40-point playoff gap between the two is close enough that Edwards could easily mount a charge.
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
No question about it, Sunday's race at Michigan was a must-win for Edwards -- and he came through. Three times already this season, Cousin Carl had come home runner-up to Busch, but didn't have a 1-2 finish between them where he was the man coming out on top. At Michigan, Edwards' pit crew changed all that, getting the No. 99 out in front of Busch on Lap 183 to give them the track position needed to hold off the No. 18. Afterwards, the fifth-year driver's confidence was sky high as he realized that if his intermediate program holds up, he might have at least a chance of catching Busch. "My psyche and mentality is pretty much fixed on I'm the greatest race car driver that ever lived," he said as to whether he can close the gap. "If you don't believe that, you don't belong in a race car."
3Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 3
Jimmie Johnson
Johnson's 17th-place finish Sunday was the best for four-car Hendrick Motorsports in what was a nightmare weekend for that organization. After leading 12 laps, Johnson fell back a bit midway through the race and found himself three-wide with fellow superstars Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon on a green flag restart. It's not often you're going to see a mistake in that sandwich -- but one happened nonetheless. Stewart got loose off the wall, made contact with Johnson, and pushed the No. 48 down into the No. 24 of Gordon. Both those drivers wound up with cut tires, and while Gordon got the worst of the deal (he caused a yellow flag when his tire blew a few laps later), Johnson had problems as well. Making a pit stop to fix his damage, he fell a lap off the pace, and it was an uphill battle to simply get that lap back and finish in the top 20.
4Tony Stewart
Last Week: 4
Tony Stewart
While Stewart may have lost two fans named Jimmie and Jeff after some mid-race contact, the rest of his camp has to be thinking that something special's going on in the No. 20 camp. Stewart did what he had to do on Sunday, finishing 12th in the midst of others' struggles to all but lock in a spot in the Chase. Another big hurdle for Smoke was cleared on Friday, when Ryan Newman was named as the second driver for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. With that out of the way, Stewart can focus on playing the role of spoiler in 2008; and as we mentioned last week, he has nothing to lose in his bid for a third title in six years.
5Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 7
Matt Kenseth
Once Mark Martin left Roush Racing at the end of '06, Kenseth inherited the role of Charlie Brown within the organization -- and he's been playing it up to the hilt. Interviewed after his fifth place finish on Sunday, Kenseth sounded like a man on suicide watch instead of one making a late-season charge. "It was a struggle, to say the least," he said of his best finish since Daytona in July. "We were way off. We had some really good green-flag transitions on pit road, and we gained a bunch of spots during those stops. [My guys] got me track position, and that helped get a decent finish out of the day." Um ? what? The 2003 champ can frown all he wants, but I doubt the rest of his team was as frustrated by the finish. Now 74 ahead of 13th place in points, Kenseth has a cushion in his bid to make his fifth straight Chase.
6Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 6
Kevin Harvick
While his other two teammates have fallen like a rock, Harvick's made an unlikely resurgence to put himself in position to make the playoffs with ease. An eighth place at Michigan was the third consecutive top-10 finish for the No. 29 bunch, and with Bristol and Richmond remaining on the schedule, Harvick's short track prowess should keep him well above the Chase cutoff. This team could have easily folded after becoming a victim during the Indy tire debacle; instead, they rallied, and could be RCR's best hope to bring home a title in 2008.
7David Ragan
Last Week: NR
David Ragan
The sizzling sophomore season for Ragan continued Sunday, as he tied his career best finish with a third place at Michigan. Acting like the underdog he is to make the Chase, Ragan pulled an aggressive move of his own by staying out during a series of yellow flag stops on Lap 183. That gave him the lead, and while Ragan dropped to third over the final 17 laps, the move paid off as the No. 6 car handled well enough against cars with fresher tires to hold on to his podium finish. "It's just one of those days where we kind of controlled our own destiny," he said. "I just drove as hard as I could and tried not to make any mistakes." If mistake-free runs at Bristol, Fontana, and Richmond come next, a Chase bid will all but certainly be his.
8Dale Earnhardt Jr
Last Week: 5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior was yet another victim of the Hendrick struggles on Sunday, finishing 23rd after getting loose and smacking the outside wall coming out of Turn 2. How bad was it for the four HMS drivers on Sunday? It's the first time since April 2006 at Texas that none of their four cars finished in the top 10. And while the primary focus continues to be fixing the problems in Jeff Gordon's camp, Earnhardt's recent slump (eight races, no Top 5 finishes) has to be a bit concerning. Most of the problems have circled around ill-handling race cars and miscommunication between Earnhardt and Tony Eury, Jr.; and if those two aren't on the same page right now, there's going to be no miracle reconciliation in the playoffs.
9Greg Biffle
Last Week: NR
Greg Biffle
The Biff's had an inconsistent summer, struggling to find the magic from when he nearly won a handful of races back in April and May. Even though Biffle came home fourth at Michigan -- just his second Top 5 in his last ten races - he knows there's plenty of work to do. "The 3M Ford Fusion just ran really good," he said. "The pit stops were phenomenal. But, I couldn't get a hold of the race track like I needed to. We had a tough time getting the balance right ever since we showed up here." Finishing behind Edwards, Ragan, and just ahead of Matt Kenseth, Biffle's looks to be fourth-best in that group - putting him in a tough spot to even think of contending for the title in the Chase.
10Jamie McMurray
Last Week: NR
Jamie McMurray
Roush Fenway's forgotten fifth man has been in the news more for his contract status than his on-track performance in recent weeks. But ever so quietly, McMurray has made a last-ditch effort to keep from being released. Three Top 10s in four races - including a 10th place at Michigan - have pushed him up to 18th in the standings. That's the highest ranking for McMurray this season, and just one below his 17th place finish in the final standings last year for RFR.

Dropped Out: Jeff Gordon (8), Greg Biffle (9), A.J. Allmendinger (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: Julie Mandel, Portland, Maine:I don't understand why you took Jeff Burton out of your power rankings when he's been in there every week of '08. He's still 5th in the points despite his recent slump, and is a lock to make the Chase for the third straight season!

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.