Thursday February 24th, 2005

NASCAR Power Rankings
RankLW Driver
SI cover boy Gordon was in New York on Monday and Tuesday as part of his post-Daytona 500 media blitz. He appeared on the Today Show, Regis and Kelly, CNN, Tony Danza and did some radio call-in shows. He'll be on with Jay Leno later this week. What does all of this mean? It means he'll be bone-tired by the time the green flag waves in Fontana on Sunday. Don't expect a repeat win -- or even a top-five finish.
You had to be impressed with Busch's second-place finish in the 500. Only two Fords finished in the top five, and Busch's No. 97 Sharpie car was one of them. It doesn't look like he'll suffer from a championship hangover, but then again, that's what everyone said about Matt Kenseth last season after he won two of the first three races. But I think Busch is different. He's got that whole sibling rivalry thing going on with his brother Kyle, a Cup rookie. This should keep Busch sharp.
Little E's season got off to a good start. He struggled for most of Speedweeks, so for him to finish third in the 500 was no small feat. It looks like Junior and his new crew chief Pete Rondeau are clicking just fine.
JJ made a couple of questionable drafting moves in the 500 that cost him some track position, but he was still in the thick of it until the end. He probably would have finished higher than fifth if he hadn't done some serious blocking for his teammate Jeff Gordon on the final lap. Johnson will no doubt be moving up in the rankings shortly.
Stewart led the most laps during the 500 and it appeared for most of the race that he had the best car in the field. This after Stewart won both his qualifying race last Thursday and the Busch Series race last Saturday. So far, it looks like the old Tony Stewart ?- the one who won a championship in 2002 -? is back.
In his final 500 start Martin didn't get his first-ever win at the Great American Race, but he was solid, finishing sixth. Nearly all of the other Fords struggled on Sunday, so this result must be considered a victory of sorts for Martin.
Before last Sunday's race I thought Sadler would challenge for the win, but instead he finished 11th. Keep a close eye on him this weekend; he took the checkered flag at Fontana last September.
Riggs, in his second season on the Cup circuit, was the biggest surprise of the 500. He finished fourth, but now he's got to prove on weekly basis that he can run with the elite drivers. Can he do it? I'd say the odds are long -- very long.
According to a few people in the garage, Newman wasn't feeling well before Sunday's race, which may be one of the reasons why he finished 20th. Nonetheless, Newman's No. 12 Dodge was fast all throughout Speedweeks, which leads me to believe that he's going to have a very, very good season.
Perhaps the strangest story in NASCAR right now is the prickly relationship that Wallace has with Newman, his teammate. Basically, the two can't stand each other. (By the way, there isn't a better representation right now of the old NASCAR vs. the new NASCAR than this bizzare feud.) Nonetheless, Wallace had a nice 500 race. He finished tenth after starting 36th.

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