Brant James
Tuesday March 30th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
The four-time defending series champion moved closer to the top of the point standings by winning three of the first five races of the season, but stole the lead with arguably his most middling effort of 2010. Johnson said he and crew chief Chad Knaus were vetting some new "stuff" with the No. 48 Chevrolet on Monday, which means either it was so good they were sandbagging (at a place where he'd won five of the last eight) or Knaus will be taking the axe to that set-up sheet. Either way, ninth at Martinsville in a car none the worse for wear is not a disaster.
2Denny Hamlin
Last Week: N/A
Denny Hamlin
Knee surgery blows, especially when the procedure uncovers a torn meniscus. For most people this would mean crutches and hobbling around for months, but that's probably not going to be the case for Hamlin. I'd imagine Joe Gibbs Racing has assembled the finest panel of surgeons to make sure his meniscus mending goes off without a hitch. And he can gently lay back into the brain-massaging hands of anesthesia thinking of that amazing, Ben Hur-ish rush to the front in the final two laps at Martinsville. He can relive his jostling past Jeff Gordon to make crew chief Mike Ford's last four-tire gamble look like the most brilliant move in Hamlin's life since he decided to play pickup basketball last January. Wait, maybe that wasn't such a brilliant move.
3Greg Biffle
Last Week: 6
Greg Biffle
The veteran remains consistently consistent as he is the only Sprint Cup driver to have finished in the top 10 in points every race this season. A solid points-gatherer, he used a 10th-place finish on Monday to move up to second in points, just 14 behind Johnson. Had a late wreck at Daytona just held off a bit longer, Biffle would be leading the points and still smiling -- and that's saying something for the sometimes dour Biffle -- over a great American victory.
4Jeff Burton
Last Week: 7
Jeff Burton
If not for that cut in his right front tire, Burton might have run off from Hamlin in the last 20 laps and thwarted one of the more astonishing finishes in recent NASCAR history. But the tire blew even after Burton sensed a problem and the No. 31 Chevrolet thumped up into and sent him to a 20th-place finish while his fellow Virginian went on to win. Burton and Hamlin had dueled for the lead late, with Burton nudging him to try to make a path to the front. He and Hamlin combined to lead all but 15 of 311 laps.
5Jeff Gordon
Last Week: N/A
Jeff Gordon
He was miffed aplenty after losing the lead on the final restart and finishing third. Miffed that NASCAR officials issued a caution as he bore down on the white flag in regulation and miffed from the shot Matt Kenseth delivered to the rump of his No. 24 Chevrolet entering the corner on the green/white/checker finish. "It was pretty obvious to me NASCAR wanted to do a green/white/checkered finish," Gordon said. "There were cars blowing tires, hitting the wall, they weren't throwing the caution. One spins out, and they threw the caution in the blink of an eye. I think it was pretty obvious what they wanted. You got to go with what their decisions are. It's a Monday race. A lot of fans came out here. So certainly a great finish for them. Just unfortunate it took away an opportunity for us because we definitely had that win had the caution not come out there at the end."
6Joey Logano
Last Week: N/A
Joey Logano
The JGR blitz to the front was supposed to be Hamlin plus Kyle Busch, but a late spin knocked the No. 18 Toyota out of the mix. Logano stayed clean and clear during the decisive final restart to follow Hamlin past Gordon and into an impressive second-place finish.
7Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 5
Matt Kenseth
You have to give the former series champion credit for being opportunistic. He tucked past Gordon on the final restart after making contact from behind and appeared in position to pull away when Gordon, irritated, decided he should go up into the wall instead. Again, can't fault a guy for trying. He plummeted to 18th in the race but barely lost second spot in the standings to his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Biffle. "I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville," he said. "But I figured I'd go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake."
8Kurt Busch
Last Week: 4
Kurt Busch
A loose wheel dashed his hopes of a strong finish on Monday, and he wound up 23rd, two laps down. Busch has run better than his point standing this season -- a win at Atlanta notwithstanding -- which presents a season-clarifying dilemma for the 2004 series champion. Should he grow bitter and bog down or stay hopeful and dig in until fortune changes. Much of that will have to do with new crew chief Steve Addington, about whom Busch speaks as if he were some sort of life coach. Must be those soothing Southern tones.
9Climate Change
Last Week: N/A
Climate Change
And no, we're not talking global warming. Rain wiped out NASCAR, Izod IndyCar and NHRA events on Sunday. Sure, Martinsville and Charlotte are weather gambles in the spring, but it's not supposed to rain in Florida in the spring. Maybe it was a symbolic shot across the dashboard from the last polar bear floating on the last slushy ice floe in the Antarctic. Get green racing. Get green.
10Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 3
Kevin Harvick
His finishing position has declined each of the last three weeks -- ninth at Atlanta, 11th at Bristol, then 35th at Martinsville, despite starting on the pole. But the five-week points leader hangs on by a dew claw out of sheer respect for what he's done so far. Burton challenged for a win on Monday and fellow Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer was seventh, so Harvick's right-rear brake issues were frustrating. "We can't afford to beat ourselves," he said. "We lost a ton of points today when we should have battled for the win." Time for Harvick to prove the strong start was no fluke.

Dropped Out: Jimmie Johnson-itis, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, spoilers

Follow me on Twitter at

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.