Tom Bowles
Tuesday October 28th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
With three races left in the season, Johnson's third straight title is nothing short of a formality at this point. After a difficult day in which the No. 48 was caught speeding on pit road and fell a lap down, it looked like the title Chasers could gain some serious ground on the point leader. But when all looked lost, Johnson's team found its groove. After a lightning quick stop put the car in position to get back on the lead lap, Chad Knaus made the call of the race with 11 laps left. With his car in position to grab a Top 10, Knaus instead made a move to gamble for it all in bringing Johnson down for four fresh tires. A few minutes later, the No. 48 was second, and his point lead had ballooned to an all-but-impenetrable 183. "We have a lot of reasons to be confident," he admitted. "But until I have that trophy in my mind, I can't loosen up."
 
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
This weekend should have been spectacular for Edwards and his No. 99 team. Coming off a Nationwide Series win at Memphis on Saturday, Edwards had chopped 80 points off Clint Bowyer's lead in that championship battle -- and he hoped to carry the momentum over to Atlanta. In one sense he did, passing Denny Hamlin on Lap 309 and cruising home to his seventh victory in 33 Cup starts this season. But when told rival Jimmie Johnson came home right behind him in second, the look on Edwards' face told you all you need to know. "Are you kidding me? Man, you've rained on my parade," he said upon hearing the news. "I could have done without that one. Jimmie is an awesome competitor. We've [just] got to go win those next three [now] and hope for the best." That's not exactly the sound of someone who expects to leave Homestead with this year's title trophy.
 
3Greg Biffle
Last Week: 3
Greg Biffle
The Biff was brilliant during the first three Chase races, but ever since his Talladega wreck in October things just haven't been the same. He's gone without a top five in his last four starts and spent much of the day out of contention at Atlanta before rallying to simply finish in the Top 10. "I don't know why, but the car obviously was not right," he said. "We were awful in practice and just never got a handle on it. We tried a whole grocery list of stuff on it today, but we just couldn't get it to go." Passed by Edwards for second in the standings, a battle for runner-up is all the Biff could hope for in the Chase at this point.
 
4Jeff Burton
Last Week: 4
Jeff Burton
In a touch of irony, Burton's championship dreams went up in smoke when he bulldozed the No. 22 Caterpillar car -- sponsored by the same company which'll support his own Cup effort next year. The resulting five-car wreck left Burton stuck in 18th at the finish, dropping him to a distant fourth in the Chase standings. "I was under the No. 22 [Dave Blaney] and he was just in a bad spot and he looked like he got really loose," Burton said. "I don't know. I guess I should have just stayed on the outside -- it was probably as much my fault as it was his." At least the team can take solace in the fact they're heading to Texas next, one of three tracks Burton has won at over the last year and a half in the Cup series.
 
5Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 7
Jeff Gordon
Hidden under the radar of Johnson's scintillating Chase has been a return to form for the No. 24 team. No, they haven't visited Victory Lane, and probably won't for the first time since Gordon's rookie year in 1993 (you'll get sick of hearing that by Homestead). But what Gordon and Co. are doing is reestablishing the type of consistency they haven't seen since early in this 2008 campaign. Sunday's ninth place finish was Gordon's fifth Top 10 in seven postseason races, leaving him sixth in points and with a reasonable shot at ending the year in the top five. You've got to walk before you can run, and this team is taking the baby steps it needs to become a contender once again in '09.
 
6Kyle Busch
Last Week: 9
Kyle Busch
For Busch, this 10-race playoff can't end fast enough. Yeah, Sunday's fifth-place finish had to be a boost for a team that's got just two Top 10s since Sept. 1. But once again Busch failed to get out front, and has paced the field for just 35 circuits during this year's Chase -- just two percent of the 1,671 laps he's led all season long. "We just didn't have anything today," Busch admitted. "We were out to lunch there a long ways, and made the most of a solid run." Still 12th in points, the team is simply hoping there's enough fight in them to get back in the Top 10 and on the stage for the banquet in December.
 
7Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 10
Matt Kenseth
Everyone talks about Jeff Gordon's winless drought, but Matt Kenseth has a little streak of his own he's trying to protect. With 15 victories over the last six seasons, the '03 champ is suddenly on the verge of going without a Cup trophy for the first time since 2001. For a while Atlanta looked to be where that bubble would burst; but after leading 128 laps, falling to second and away from clean air destroyed any hope Kenseth had of taking the win. "In this day and age of racing with these cars and stuff we've got going on, you can take a pretty good car and put it in the front and think you've got the best car in the world," he said after losing the lead to Denny Hamlin in the pits, eventually dropping to fourth at the finish. "And then, you put it in second and you've got a pretty average top five or Top 10 car. It's just really frustrating."
 
8David Ragan
Last Week: 8
David Ragan
Johnson may be turning the Chase into a runaway, but David Ragan has made an even bigger mockery of the race for 13th place. With four Top 10 finishes in his last five races, his lead on the "Best of the Rest" in the 2008 Cup standings now stands at 224 over Kasey Kahne. But at this point the sophomore doesn't care whether he ends up 13th or 15th, just so long as he could end this season on top with a victory to welcome new sponsor UPS for 2009.
 
9Denny Hamlin
Last Week: NR
Denny Hamlin
Hamlin started off this Chase on the wrong foot, but has since righted the ship with back-to-back top five finishes at Martinsville and Atlanta. At one point Hamlin looked on track to win Sunday's race after taking the lead from Matt Kenseth on pit road. But a series of late yellows bunched up the field, giving a desperate Carl Edwards the opportunity he needed to make a move. "Our car was pretty good," Hamlin said. "We definitely had a car that could've won the race. We just didn't like those cautions. It killed us. We couldn't get going on the restarts. Our car was a long-run car, and it just could never come in." Now the focus will be on keeping teammate Busch at bay while catching Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in front of him to finish the season 10th in points.
 
10Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 5
Kevin Harvick
For Harvick, Atlanta was the pits -- literally. Caught for speeding on pit road on lap 254, the Shell/Penzoil Chevrolet was sent to the back of the lead lap and languished there, coming home a disappointing 13th. Since pulling a Miracle at AMS in March 2001 -- winning in just his third career start and less than a month after Dale Earnhardt's death -- Harvick has just one top five and two Top 10s at the track in his last 15 starts. Sunday's run was more damaging than most, leaving Harvick vulnerable to dropping out of the top five in points over the last three races. He's currently fifth, just five markers ahead of Gordon and seven in front of teammate Clint Bowyer in the standings.


Dropped Out: Clint Bowyer (6)

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: Yankee Granny, Location unknown:Come on, Tom; show Junior some love and put him in the rankings! He ran an almost flawless race at Martinsville, finished second, walked away from Gordon, Edwards, etc at the end, and might have caught J.J. if it had been a longer run [at the finish]. He also didn't fight with his crew chief (who set the car up beautifully all race long) and ran the conservative smart kind of a race that produces winners! If he runs like this the rest of the year, you will have to put him in! (Note: Earnhardt, Jr. finished 11th at Atlanta this Sunday, but still didn't make it on our list).

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