Tom Bowles
Tuesday August 5th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle Busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
By my count, Busch has held the top spot in these Power Rankings since the end of April. But after nearly three months, he's under increasing pressure from Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, both here and in the overall championship Chase. Pocono has clearly been the Achilles' Heel for the No. 18 team this season, and last weekend was no exception - after finishing 43rd there in the Spring, Busch tumbled to 36th Sunday when he ran out of gas with only two laps to go. That threw away a certain Top 5 finish while Edwards, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. cut a huge chunk out of his point lead (now down to 176 over Junior). After two straight finishes outside the Top 10 - tying his season high - Busch needs to reestablish momentum at Watkins Glen this weekend and show his rivals he's still the man to beat come playoff time.
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
In a bizarre twist, Edwards' win at Pocono came packaged with a screaming match that nearly resulted in him coming to blows with crew chief Bob Osborne. Osborne had Edwards pit from the lead while rain poured down with 70 laps to go, guessing there'd be enough time to dry the track and put the No. 99 back up front. But as the rain kept pouring down, Edwards lost his cool, feeling the race would be called and they'd be stuck in 22nd place. "I was feeling really nervous and thought we made the wrong call," Edwards said. "I had to leave the pit box because I was worried Bob was gonna punch me in the neck." But once the rain subsided, it was Edwards who had to apologize - the track dried, the race resumed, and Osborne's call made the difference, as the fuel from that extra stop powered the No. 99 to an easy win.
3Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 3
Jimmie Johnson
As two-time defending champion Johnson will tell you, the key to mastering the Chase playoff format is peaking at the right time. And after an inconsistent Spring in which crew chief Chad Knaus repeatedly claimed the team was experimenting with playoff setups, it appears they've hit on something that works well for the stretch run. Johnson's third place finish at Pocono was his third straight Top 5 result, a push that's put him fourth in the point standings and just 200 out of the top spot. More importantly, the team's got the good luck vibes back they'd been missing for much of the first three months of the year. Trying to stretch their fuel over Sunday's final laps, Johnson finally did run out of gas - just as he passed the checkered flag.
4Dale Earnhardt
Last Week: 4
Dale Earnhardt
Junior's win at Michigan in June finally got the monkey off the back of NASCAR's Most Popular Driver, erasing the stress of a two-year winless streak that created a whole lot of pressure at the No. 88. But the way the team has performed since then, you wonder if that pressure might have actually been a good thing. In the six races since that win, the team has yet to score another Top 5, instead slumping to five finishes of 12th or worse. Pocono on Sunday was no exception, as Junior led just one lap and was never a factor at one of his career-worst tracks. To add insult to injury, he ran out of gas on the final lap to ruin his late race pit strategy. He may still be second in the standings, but Junior's hardly first on anyone's mind to win the season championship at this point.
5Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 7
Jeff Gordon
Gordon's winless streak continued to build at Pocono, and so did his frustration. A decent finish turned into a 10th-place disappointment when, like Junior, Gordon ran out of gas heading to the Start/Finish line on the final lap. But while that cost his team precious spots in the final results, Gordon has to look at the positives: he's got five Top 11 finishes since June, and that's all but locked him into the Chase with five races remaining. Barring a collapse of epic proportions, Gordon can now go all out these next few weeks and focus on going for the win that's eluded him.
6David Ragan
Last Week: 8
David Ragan
The series' sizzling sophomore continues to cook up solid finishes, scoring a fifth-place run at Pocono to keep his upset bid for the Chase alive. And once again, patience proved to be the key, coming courtesy of a timely pit call by veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig. Fennig's fuel strategy of pitting just before the rain delay on lap 131 led to the fuel - and the luck - the team needed to boost its finish. "The light is shining on us right now," Ragan beamed after the race. "All we can do is just go out and do what we've been doing -- try to get Top 5s and Top 10s, try not to make many mistakes that hurt us, and whatever happens is gonna happen. But if we continue to do what we've been doing, we're gonna win some races and make the Chase, and everything is gonna be great."
7Kasey Kahne
Last Week: 10
Kasey Kahne
As the laps wound down, Kahne clearly had the fastest car on Pocono's 2.5-mile triangle, and looked poised to make the season sweep. There was just one thing missing from the No. 9's quest for its third win of the season: a few extra drops of Sunoco to make it to the finish. "With a little more luck with the cautions, we probably had the car to beat," said Kahne, who gained the lead by staying out on the rain delay with 70 laps to go -- a move that led to a costly extra pit stop. "We took a chance and it just didn't work out like we wanted it to." Still, the fifth-year veteran finished seventh, despite that extra stop for gas. That was enough to boost him up two spots to seventh in the standings. Kahne now has a 91-point cushion over 13th place Matt Kenseth with five races remaining.
8Tony Stewart
Last Week: NR
Tony Stewart
Stewart's topsy turvy season took a turn for the better on Sunday, as a late race surge led to a surprising second place finish. Never a factor before the rain delay, the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet sprung to life over the race's final segments. "I can't complain," Stewart said. "[The track] came to us finally, and we got [our car] to run. Considering what our luck has been this year, this is as good as a win. At least I can leave a race feeling good for once." Stewart's momentum is coming at the perfect time; he's the defending champ at Watkins Glen.
9Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 6
Matt Kenseth
It's hard in these rankings to have an 11th-place finish and drop three spots, but that's exactly what happened to Kenseth after a certain Top 5 was derailed by a last-minute stop for gas. "We knew when we stayed out there when it rained that we were about three laps short of making it on one stop and everybody else was gonna make it on one stop," Kenseth explained. "So unless we had more rain or more caution laps, we knew we were gonna be a little short. I thought it was gonna rain one more time." But it didn't, and the bad luck of Indy and Pocono is now raining on Kenseth's Chase parade. He dropped to 13th in the standings, trailing a playoff spot by 11 points, and now heads to his Achilles' Heel this weekend: a road course.
10Jeff Burton
Last Week: 5
Jeff Burton
The sole 40-something in contention for the title, Burton's season is aging far too quickly. All of a sudden, the one-time points leader has simply fallen apart, success replaced by struggle in every aspect of his performance. Last week, it was a pass through penalty for a tire being outside the pit box on Lap 166. As a result, a probable Top 5 finish quickly unraveled into a disappointing 21st-place run. That dropped Burton to fifth in the season standings, still good enough to make the Chase. But with one Top 10 finish in his last seven starts, he can hardly be considered a contender for the title at this point.

Dropped Out: Greg Biffle (9)

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: Cynthia Chase, Little Rock, AR:Denny Hamlin got his season back on track with a third place finish at Indy, and he's solidly in the Top 12 in the season standings. How could he not be in your Top 10?

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