Brant James
Tuesday February 23rd, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 5
Jimmie Johnson
Damn, that documentary ended a week too soon. HBO should have known that California was a much better venue to film a finish with a flourish. The El Cajon native won for the fourth time in six races (and fifth overall) on the two-mile oval, with what appeared to be some of his Granite Hills High Class of '93 in the stands. Perhaps more frustrating for his rivals, the four-time defending champ appears to have, as runner-up Kevin Harvick put it, a "golden horseshoe" still firmly wedged in an uncomfortable place. Johnson was on pit road as a caution flew with 27 laps left and exited just before the pace car and leader Jeff Burton. That allowed JJ to recoup the lead as the rest of the leaders pitted. "We had the car much better, but had lost track position and had some really fast cars to deal with. The gift we got by being on pit road, I took advantage," he said. In winning his 48th career race, JJ sets about the droning business of making life miserable for everyone not affiliated with the No. 48 Chevy.
2Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 4
Kevin Harvick
The new points leader had what appeared to be the best car in the first two races, but no shelf-worthy affirmations to show for it. No one to blame but himself on Sunday, slapping the wall as JJ moved up to fill his racing line with three laps left. Harvick and teammate Jeff Burton were chasing JJ down and Harvick was unable to recover after the handling of his No. 29 Chevy was damaged. Still, not a bad start, considering his and RCR's travails most of last season. "It pushes us to fine tune our stuff and get the best out of our cars week in and week out," he said. 'This might be an opportune time for Childress to pull his once-disgruntled employee aside, rehash the details of mutual progress made so far, and thrust a new contract offer into the free agent-to-be's hands.
Last Week: NA
Jeff Burton
His 46 laps-led were surpassed only by Johnson's 101 and he might have challenged the eventual winner had he been able to pass Harvick in the finals laps. Or if he'd worked the throttle just a little harder coming back to the flag stand when Johnson made his great escape. "When the caution came out, I slowed down. The 48 beat us out," Burton said. "Then they got a break there, but they did a really good job of making their car good when it needed to be good. They definitely got a break, but they executed on it." But this was clearly progress. A late-season crew chief change to Todd Berrier appears to have been the tonic for Burton's portion of RCR's malaise in 2009 and he's performing like a driver rejuvenated after finishing 17th in points in 2009.
4Clint Bowyer
Last Week: 7
Clint Bowyer
Fourth at Daytona, eighth at Fontana, and part of a three-pronged Johnson pursuit squadron. It's early, waaaay early, but RCR has a points leader for the first time since 2008 and a burst of momentum heading into the meat of the season. More importantly for RCR and Bowyer, Sunday represented another validating effort on a non-restrictor plate track.
5Mark Martin
Last Week: NA
Mark Martin
He followed a pole and 12th-place finish at Daytona with a fourth at Fontana. He's off to a much better start than this time last season, not that it hurt him back then. He later began the Chase as the points leader and finished second. "When I've been in a hole before and been searching, I didn't win out as well over things," he said before the Fontana race. "That was also when I was younger and maybe not as mentally tough or mentally fit as today."
6Greg Biffle
Last Week: 6
Greg Biffle
While Johnson made up ground on the lead during the fateful final caution period, Biffle got shuffled back and settled for a tenth-place finish in a stout No. 16 Ford. Still, that performance was hardly mope-worthy considering the bad luck that has befallen him during his Sprint Cup career. Roush Fenway Racing, like RCR, is showing signs of having figured out why its 2009 went so awry.
7Matt Kenseth
Last Week: NA
Matt Kenseth
He was 2-0 by this time last season, but about to take the first step into a 34-race oblivion. With new crew chief Todd Parrott on the box and another top-10 finish behind him, Kenseth might be ready to resume his monotonously effective mode and recapture the Chase berth that eluded him for the first time in his career. "I'm feeling great as far as the two finishes that we've had," he said. "It sounds dumb me saying that since we won the first two last year, but to get out of Daytona with all the troubles we had and finish eighth, and then to come here in Todd's first weekend and finish seventh is pretty good."
8Joey Logano
Last Week: NA
Joey Logano
The 19-year-old improved by bounds over his previous California efforts, ran with the top 10 most of the race, and eked out a top-5. Now ninth in points, the 2009 Rookie of the Year is seeking consistency. "A top-five here feels like a win for me for as much as we improved at this race track," he said. "The first time I came here was last year and we sucked. We ran 35th to 40th the whole time. Last time we came here we ran probably 20th to 25th, and this time around we were within the top 10 and sneaked out a top-five there at the end. You got to be pleased with that. That was really cool. We worked really hard all day."
9David Reutimann
Last Week: 8
David Reutimann
Brad Keselowski bounced off him to prompt the crucial final caution, but unaffected, Reutimann recovered to finish 15th and remain in the top 10 in points (despite falling two spots to eighth). Always a bit of a mope, he characterized his race as a "disappointment."
10Kurt Busch
Last Week: 9
Kurt Busch
Sixth at Fontana after another frustrating Daytona 500 in which he ran among the leaders, led 33, and was third with seven left until taking four tires on a final pit stop and settled for 23rd. A step in the right direction last weekend kept him in our top 10 this week.

Dropped Out: Jamie McMurray (1), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (2), the #hole (5), Scott Speed (6).

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