Tom Bowles
Tuesday May 27th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
NASCAR's best driver the first third of the season chugged along to a third place finish at Lowe's Sunday night. But the 600-mile marathon presented Busch with plenty of obstacles to overcome. An unscheduled pit stop for what Busch thought was a flat tire left the No. 18 a lap down at one point, and a faulty alternator forced a battery change that sent him back to midpack. But the driver of the No. 18 Toyota fought through it all to drive through traffic, charging to a top-5 finish at race's end to increase his point lead to 94. That should have left Busch happy with his run; instead, he was flipping off fourth place Jeff Gordon, angry over the way Gordon raced him at the finish.
2Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last Week: 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Once again, Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared to have a car that was the class of the field Sunday, leading a race high 76 laps. But just like so many times this season, something happened to the No. 88 to keep it from Victory Lane. This time, it was a faulty right rear tire that sent Junior up into the turn four wall with 100 laps to go. Collecting J.J. Yeley in the accident, Junior's car was a pile of junk from that point on. Still, after speeding heavily twice down pit road to fix the car - both times when it was closed and emergency vehicles were dusting off the asphalt -- NASCAR made a controversial decision to rescind a major penalty and keep Junior on the lead lap. The team made the most of their opportunity, stretching fuel mileage to run their final 63 laps on gas and jump from a 20th place finish to 5th.
3Jeff Burton
Last Week: 3
Jeff Burton
It's all about consistency with the No. 31 team, and Burton continued his impressive streak of being the only driver to run every lap of every race this season. The No. 31 was never a factor for the win on Sunday, but came home 6th for his best finish since Phoenix in April. That leaves him 94 points behind Busch in the standings, heading to a track in the Monster Mile where he's made some noise in recent years; Burton won a race there in the fall of 2006.
4Carl Edwards
Last Week: 4
Carl Edwards
A ninth-place finish for Edwards was OK, but when you consider his numbers on intermediate tracks, it had to be a disappointment for this team. So far this season, Edwards had won three times in four starts on tracks 1.5 to 2 miles in length, with the lone blip on the resume an engine failure in Atlanta while running second. But unfortunately for the No. 99 team, it appears an early May test at Lowe's Motor Speedway -- combined with 100 laps of the All-Star Race -- allowed the other top teams to catch up. "Our Office Depot Fusion was decent," Edwards said. "It just wasn't good enough." To add insult to injury, Edwards' car ran out of fuel on the last lap, causing the tumble to ninth.
5Tony Stewart
Last Week: 6
Tony Stewart
It's rare that your heart breaks for a two-time Cup champion, but it's hard not to feel for Stewart Sunday night. Holding a five-and-a-half second lead with three laps to go, Stewart suddenly slid up the track after experiencing a flat right front tire. Nursing his car to pit road, Stewart finished a distant 18th at race's end. "It's just stupid," said Stewart's crew chief Greg Zipadelli after the race. "I don't even know what to say -- I'm so frustrated." In Goodyear's defense, it's a lot harder for Stewart -- a yearlong critic of the company -- to blame these tires; he had over 90 laps on them at the time of his flat.
6Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 7
Jimmie Johnson
The one-time master of Lowe's Motor Speedway didn't have the finish he wanted -- the engine blew on Johnson's No. 48 Chevy on lap 351 -- but everyone had to be pleased with how the car performed. After struggling at intermediate tracks all season, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus found the right package at Lowe's, and the No. 48 led 35 laps and put themselves in position to win what would have been their fourth Coca-Cola 600. "We have closed the gap a lot [on the other teams]," said a pumped up Johnson after his run. "I just wish we could have made it 60 more laps."
7Kasey Kahne
Last Week:10
Kasey Kahne
All of a sudden, Kahne's turned what was a ho-hum season into Dodge's best hope to make the Chase. This week's win at Lowe's was more luck than anything else -- even Kahne admitted he was "thinking second" before Stewart slowed up with tire failure with three laps left. But the No. 9 team will take it, as it ends their 52-race winless streak in points-paying events and boosts Kahne up to 12th in the season standings. Now 56 points ahead of David Ragan for that final spot, their job is to keep the momentum rolling.
8Greg Biffle
Last Week: 9
Greg Biffle
After loose wheels plagued this team for two weeks straight, there were some equipment changes for Biffle heading into Sunday night. The team changed to an older, more reliable set of studs and lug nuts, ditching the newer versions that had struggled to stay stuck to their tire. That led to increased confidence, and Biffle experienced a problem-free day on pit road en route to scoring a second place finish in his No. 16 Ford. Maintaining 11th in the standings, it was exactly the type of bounce back run needed after coming home dead last two weeks prior.
9Denny Hamlin
Last Week: 5
Denny Hamlin
After three straight weeks of spending time up front, Hamlin used Lowe's to cool those jets a bit. Starting the race from the 16th position, the No. 11 led just one lap the entire night, running about 15th or so before a late-race wreck on a restart damaged his Fed Ex Toyota. His car was a handful from that point on, and Hamlin dropped to 24th at the end. Now three weeks removed from his rough luck at Richmond -- where he led 381 laps before a cut tire ruined his chances -- Hamlin hasn't scored a top-5 finish since.
10Jeff Gordon
Last Week: NR
Jeff Gordon
Yes, I know what you're thinking: Jeff Gordon's car ran like junk for most of last Sunday's race, spending a good chunk of the night a lap down to the leaders. But as we've seen so often at Lowe's, it's not where you start, it's where you finish in those last 100 miles that counts. And crew chief Steve Letarte had a brilliant strategy to boost Gordon's run, having his driver save fuel to make the final 63 laps on one tank of gas. "It was a crazy one for us," Gordon said after finishing the race in fourth. "I guess you get them any way you can." The four-time Cup champ now has back-to-back top-5 finishes for the first time this season, and here's a fun fact: only Kyle Busch has more. Maybe this team isn't struggling as much as we think ...

Dropped Out: Clint Bowyer (8)

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 their favorite and include their rant in the rankings each week!

This Week's Submission: Greg Masterson, Knoxville, Tenn.:How could you drop David Ragan out after two top-5 finishes over the last month? He's clearly one of the hottest drivers on the circuit right now.

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