Tom Bowles
Tuesday May 6th, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle Busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
The man who's atop the Sprint Cup standings also shares the title of Public Enemy No. 1 this week. After spinning out Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the closing laps at Richmond, Busch cost both drivers the win; and while the 23-year-old offered an apology, the damage had already been done. In Busch?s defense, the contact clearly looked like just one of those "that's racin'" deals, but when you spin the driver that replaced you at Hendrick Motorsports -- one who happens to moonlight as NASCAR's Most Popular Driver -- there's no way you're going to downplay the wreck as if nothing happened. An initial response to the incident was to give Busch three security guards for his press conference Monday during Lowe's Motor Speedway testing. While that was a bit over the top, it's clear fans won't let Busch live this one down anytime soon.
 
2Jeff Burton
Last Week: 2
Jeff Burton
The mark of a championship team is making the most of its bad days, and the No. 31 bunch did just that at Richmond. When the big wreck of the night happened on lap 229, Burton's car was caught amidst the carnage; for the rest of the event, his Chevy was less than 100 percent. But the team had a little luck on its side -- nothing was broken to the point of needing to go behind the wall for repairs -- and quick fixes by the crew allowed Burton to move up to 11th on a night he could have easily wound up 35th. "We were fortunate to escape [the wreck] with some minor fender damage," Burton said afterwards. "The AT&T team did a great job of fixing the car and getting it to where we [could] race."
 
3Clint Bowyer
Last Week: 6
Clint Bowyer
A funny thing happened while Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. made headlines Saturday night; Bowyer drove by them and snuck away with the win. The driver of the No. 07 Chevrolet clearly was the beneficiary of being at the right place at the right time when all hell broke loose at the front of the field. "The fastest car does not always win," he explained. "You've got to be able to be there for the taking, at least, and we were close enough to do just that. I think it was bound to happen [both drivers wrecking], and sure enough, it did." The victory boosted Bowyer to fourth in the Sprint Cup standings, just 123 out of the top spot.
 
4Denny Hamlin
Last Week: 3
Denny Hamlin
What's overlooked in the whole Busch?Earnhardt controversy is that neither should have been in position to win in the first place. All night long Hamlin laid waste to the field, leading 381 of 382 laps. The Virginia native was already dreaming of holding the trophy when his right front tire began to go soft, finally blowing out with 10 laps to go. Hamlin added insult to injury by stopping his wounded car on the race track, a move that forced the caution flag and drew a two-lap penalty from NASCAR. But while that move -- intentional or not -- set up the frantic finish, it's hard not to feel for a man who wanted to win here more than anyone else. "It just wasn't meant to be," Hamlin said afterwards. "There's a better time for me to win here, evidently."
 
5Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last Week: 5
Dale Earnhadt Jr.
Junior seems as bummed out as he's been since moving to Hendrick Motorsports, and why wouldn't he be after losing a win courtesy of Kyle Busch's front bumper. That crash was dripping with irony; the Initimidator's son was himself intimidated by the most aggressive driver on tour since his dad was alive. Junior bit his tongue after the race, but to move forward, I'm not so sure holding his anger is the answer; and after going 72 races without a win, frustration has got to be at an all-time high. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the No. 88 team may be third in the points, but Junior knows this season will be judged on two things: his trips to Victory Lane and how he fares in comparison to the man he replaced. Right now, that goose egg in the win column and Busch's early success leave him struggling in both categories.
 
6Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 4
Jimmie Johnson
Johnson's on again, off again title hopes took another dip at Richmond as the two-time champ wound up wrecked instead of in the Winners' Circle. It was a far cry from his 2007 sweep of the short track. After leading 209 of the previous 800 laps run here, Johnson led a grand total of zero on Saturday before being swept up in that multi-car wreck on the backstretch. Johnson's feast or famine season now includes four finishes of 4th or better -- and four of 18th or worse, leaving him seventh in the standings.
 
7Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 8
Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick, the third man on the RCR totem pole? That's not what you'd expect from the man driving the former No. 3 car, but it's exactly where Harvick sits after watching his teammate Clint Bowyer speed to the win at Richmond. Now sixth in the standings, Harvick is lower in points and has fewer Top 10s than either of his RCR teammates; and even with an eighth-place run at Richmond, you can see that frustration's beginning to rear its ugly head. "We want to be running up front and contending for wins," he said after Richmond. "I know everyone at RCR will continue to work hard on our program to get us where we need to be."
 
8Tony Stewart
Last Week: 9
Tony Stewart
While Stewart's pending free agency could develop into a long-term distraction at Joe Gibbs Racing, the team has done a great job of pulling it together in the short term. After a faulty alternator could have permanently sidetracked Stewart's day, crew chief Greg Zipadelli had him turn off all the fans in the race car; and while that left the driver physically uncomfortable, it kept the car in contention for what would wind up being a solid fourth-place finish. "Pretty proud of these guys," Stewart exclaimed once he got out of the car, crediting a late-race adjustment that helped bring his car to life. "That's the whole moral of the story to this team -- we never give up."
 
9Carl Edwards
Last Week: 7
Carl Edwards
The last two weeks won't make the highlight reel for Edwards; after wrecking at Talladega, Edwards got in the middle of the Richmond "Big One" on the backstretch, a crash that sent superstars like Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch to the garage. But the No. 99 team was able to fix the damage, and Bob Osborne's welcomed leadership atop the pit box allowed Edwards to patiently work his way back up through the field. "It ended up a lot better than I thought it was going to," said Edwards. "To come back from that to finish seventh was great." Of course, he had $6 million reasons to smile at Richmond; that figure is reportedly the driver's new salary after negotiating a three-year contract extension with Roush Fenway Racing.
 
10Ryan Newman
Last Week: NR
Ryan Newman
While the rest of the Dodges struggle at non-restrictor plate tracks, Newman seems to be the only Dodge driver capable of keeping up. His sixth-place finish at Richmond was his third Top 10 in the last four events, proving the No. 12 team has recovered nicely from a post-Daytona 500 slump that threatened to leave it irrelevant by Memorial Day Weekend. Instead, Newman joins Kasey Kahne as one of two Dodges to remain in the Top 12 in the point standings.


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

This Week's Submission: Stacy Blake, Columbia, S.C.You're treating five-time champ Jeff Gordon like a chump. Talladega didn't go the way he liked, but the man still has three Top 5 finishes already this year. How is that not good enough to crack your Top 10?

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