Tom Bowles
Tuesday October 7th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
He has learned the hard way during four Chase appearances that luck plays an important role in any racing championship. But at Talladega he had the four-leaf clover when it counted, and that leaves him in the driver's seat for a third straight title with Hendrick Motorsports. Falling a lap down early with a car that lost the draft, Johnson needed, and got, the free pass during a midrace caution to get back on the lead lap. Then, during the Big One on Lap 175, it was Johnson who deftly maneuvered by the spinning cars of rivals Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, missing, by inches, a wreck that would have left the No. 48 too damaged to continue. Instead, his car was among only a dozen unscathed at the finish, with Johnson taking a conservative approach to come home ninth and increase his lead in the standings to 72.
 
2Carl Edwards
Last Week: 2
Carl Edwards
All eyes will be on Edwards this week as he tries to recover from a devastating wreck at Talladega. The circumstances couldn't be worse for this title contender, who not only caused the Big One, but also did so by wrecking his teammate and rival for the championship, Greg Biffle. The ensuing wreck sent a dozen cars to the garage, leaving Jack Roush near speechless as three-fifths of his team was taken out. "I was just pushing Greg as hard as I could," Edwards explained. "It's my fault, and I apologize to everybody caught up in that wreck. We just got in exactly the wrong spot there going into three, and [Biffle] got real loose and that was just the way it went. I was worried about the idiots when you come here, [but] I was the guy that caused that one." Only time will tell if he can get over this mistake before it's too late.
 
3Greg Biffle
Last Week: 3
Greg Biffle
At this point, Biffle must not even want to step foot within the state of Alabama. After hanging back in the pack for most of the day to avoid the big wreck, Biffle was being pushed into the lead by Edwards before becoming an innocent victim at Talladega once again. That left him with a DNF for the fourth time in the last time races there, still without a Top 10 finish in 12 career starts. With stats like that, it's no wonder Biffle doesn't fault his teammate for the bad luck he just can't seem to shake. "You can't blame Carl," he said. "He was trying to help us. When he came to push a little bit, it just instantly slid. I had my foot in the gas and it just spun the tires and went around and that's all she wrote."
 
4Jeff Burton
Last Week: 5
Jeff Burton
Talladega was the last best chance for a new player to emerge in the three-man Chase for the Championship, and Burton's doing the best he can to become the fourth dark horse candidate. In 30 career starts at Talladega, Burton had finished in the Top Five only twice -- but out of nowhere the No. 31 Chevy ran fourth on Sunday to reestablish itself as a title contender. "Any time you get a Top Five at Talladega, you've got to be happy with it," he said. "I'd certainly rather win, but this was a tough place, and just getting out of here with a Top Five is always a good thing." Now 99 points behind Johnson with six races to go, the team needs good runs at Lowe's and Martinsville -- a Burton stronghold -- to make their move.
 
5Clint Bowyer
Last Week: 6
Clint Bowyer
Last year's Chase Cinderella pulled a little bit of last year's magic on Sunday, finishing in the Top Five at a track that's been more likely to chew him up and spit him out over the course of his career. Finishing fifth at Talladega had to feel like a win for a team reeling from last week's poor performance at Bowyer's home track (Kansas). "This is big," he admitted when looking back on his run. "[Talladega] can bog you down in the points big time. If you look at some of the Chasers that had trouble, Jimmie was one of the only ones up front that got through it. He padded his point lead. But we did what we had to do. We were able to capitalize on some people's misfortunes. The Jack Daniel's Chevrolet lives to race another day."
 
6Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 4
Kevin Harvick
After nine consecutive Top 10 finishes, Harvick's run of consistency came to an end on Lap 175 at Talladega. Unable to avoid the spinning cars of Biffle and Edwards in front of him, Harvick's battered Chevy slumped to 20th in the final running order. After leading 22 laps during the race, Harvick had his best chance yet to end his 65-race winless streak. Instead, he's staring at a zero in the win column and a 171-point deficit in the standings with six races left to fix it. At least the team fixed the No. 29 car before the day was over, upping Harvick's streak of running at the finish to 74 straight races. He's now just 10 behind the all-time record of 84 set by Herman Beam.
 
7Tony Stewart
Last Week: NR
Tony Stewart
It's been a tumultuous year for Stewart, who's heard whispers of dissention within his own team after announcing he's leaving JGR to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. Hopefully, that heartfelt hug shared by crew chief Greg Zipadelli and Stewart in Victory Lane will do wonders to put those rumors to rest. As it is, Stewart's win comes packaged with plenty of controversy to handle over the next seven days. While flagged the winner by NASCAR, Stewart actually crossed the line second to surprising rookie Regan Smith. But while Smith thought it was legal to pass below the yellow line on the last lap (a theory several drivers agreed with), NASCAR penalized him for making the move and granted the win to Stewart. "I just had to protect my line," he said of the block that caused Smith to make his move on the apron. "You hate to have to do that, but to win here at Talladega I would just about wreck the whole field to win." Too bad the NASCAR Rulebook -- I have an official copy -- says nothing about the subjective yellow line rule which handed Stewart his win.
 
8David Ragan
Last Week: NR
David Ragan
It took a few weeks for Ragan to get over the disappointment of missing the Chase, but a third-place finish at Talladega shows the No. 6 car is back on track to earn this year's title of "best of the rest." Now 13th in the standings by 117 over Kasey Kahne, the sophomore will shatter his rookie placement of 23rd. And what a difference a year makes in terms of raising expectations. Last fall, a third-place run at Talladega would have left him smiling all the way back to North Carolina. A third-place run this time around? "I'm a little disappointed," he said. "We had a car that could have won today." Don't worry, David: your first win may well come before this season is out.
 
9Kyle Busch
Last Week: 9
Kyle Busch
When your best Chase finish is taking a battered race car and bringing it home 15th, you know the playoffs just aren't going well. But this was an important day, nonetheless, for Busch, who stopped the bleeding of three straight finishes outside the Top 25. "We were just riding around waiting for the end and all heck broke loose in front of me," Busch said of his involvement in the Biffle/Edwards wreck. "I got to the bottom and almost made it through, but the 22 [Dave Blaney] got me in the right front. My guys did a great job getting it fixed so we could finish." That last line is critical, because it shows a positive change in Busch's attitude, something he needs to win races and build momentum for '09.
 
10Paul Menard
Last Week: NR
Paul Menard
It's been a whirlwind week for Menard, who announced on Sept. 30 that he'd be leaving his DEI No. 15 ride for a spot over at Yates Racing. Bringing along support from his dad's company, Menards Home Improvement Stores, he gives lightly-sponsored Yates the financial support it needs while putting his soon-to-be former employer in a desperate search for cash. Just five days later, Menard rode the momentum of a career change to his best ever finish, coming home runner-up in a race DEI could have very well won under the right circumstances. "I thought Regan [Smith] had it," Menard said. "Very cool day for DEI, and I'm definitely looking forward to finishing out the year with these guys." Too bad those guys aren't looking forward to Menard leaving them, with the very future of the No. 15 in doubt.


Dropped Out: Jeff Gordon (7), Matt Kenseth (8), 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 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: Kelly Knox, Indianapolis:Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was in the Top Five in points all season long, and scored a Top Five finish in Loudon in his first Chase race. How can you take a guy that's lived up to expectations the entire year at Hendrick and throw him out of your Top 10?

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