Brant James
Tuesday April 27th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings
The power rankings were dumped into a large bowl, shaken for three hours and dumped onto the ground. The result was a chaotic mess, much like the cars at Talladega Superspeed.
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1Jeff Gordon's agitation level
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Jeff Gordon's agitation level
The four-time series champion just keeps getting more and more cross with his friend/teammate/protégé, Jimmie Johnson. The side-swiping in Texas was one thing. Gordon raced away to finish 22nd and Johnson actually got the worse of it. Still Gordon said he was "disappointed" in the fellow four-time series champion. On Sunday, after Johnson misread Gordon's closing rate and blocked him back into the path of an accident, Gordon admitted to being "pissed right now." That'll likely wane once the titans have a chance to hash it all out, but drivers don't easily forget a pattern of behavior or a laundry list of incidents, no matter the source. And chances are they'll have plenty of opportunities to anger each other on the short track at Richmond. This wouldn't bother Gordon if he wasn't running so well. But unfortunately he's not parlaying good runs into wins, and that has to be part of the frustration. He might get so mad he'll run up and push Matt Kenseth.
2Kevin Harvick's ability to channel chaos
Last Week: N/A
Kevin Harvick's ability to channel chaos
He was hammered by questions about his relationship with team owner Richard Childress following an story and lost his sponsor, Shell/Pennzoil, to a driver (Kurt Busch) he used to relentlessly mock. Kasey Kahne's deal with Hendrick Motorsports for 2012 underscored the point that Harvick was not the most sought-after free agent on the market and that the best opening in the series is already gone. So Harvick sucked in all that negativity, packed it down in that tiny little space behind his heart where all his troubles go, spiced it with some resentment and vengefulness and went out and won Talladega. The win came as Harvick took advantage of the rule that in February cost him a second Daytona 500 victory -- bumpdrafting. Later in the day he would have become the first driver to win two races in the same day at the 2.66-mile track if not for ...
3Brad Keselowski
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Brad Keselowski
Earlier in the week he learned that he would never pay for another beer in his life, after nabbing Budweiser as a new sponsor. Downside is he can't get caught with anything in his paw but a Miller Lite. When Shell asked for teammate Kurt Busch as its driver, Keselowski became the choice for the beer giant, and it's a pretty good gig. Just ask Rusty Wallace. The signing completely overshadowed last year's big news story on Keselowski's battle with Carl Edwards at the end of the spring 2009 Talladega race, which eventually sent Edwards into the catch fence. Not that the incident was Keselowski's fault. He was defending a position in the final throes of a race. But the beer thing is much better, especially since he came to Talladega that spring driving a part-time Cup schedule for Phoenix Racing while he competed full time for JR Motorsports. A year later, he toddled in a made man. He even won the Nationwide race on Sunday, apparently utilizing some strong as oak nucleotide in his DNA to quickly overcome carbon monoxide overexposure and gain a medical clearance to race.
4The uprising against restrictor plate racing
Last Week: 3
The uprising against restrictor plate racing
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. suggests that the racing at Talladega is lacking -- although fans and some of the media were generally breathless over new records set in leaders and lead changes -- perhaps someone will listen. He likened the current rules package to the drivers using "kit cars." Sure, he likely pines for the day when he exploited the rules to win five times at Talladega, but he has a point.
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Sam Hornish Jr.'s dilemma
His Penske teammates have 36-race sponsor deals lined up for 2011 and beyond and his benefactor, Mobil 1, is leaving. Hornish Jr. is 28th in points and not yet showing the promise he brought as a three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion. Owner Roger Penske has not yet enacted his option for next season. Penske even made Hornish Jr. return to the track after the Cup race on Sunday when it appeared Keselowski might not be cleared. (Busch couldn't be reached). Points for remaining a team guy, I guess.
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Jimmie Johnson's Talladega fallibility
The champion had an odd day. After the incident with Gordon, he was racing through the pack in the final laps when, after a set of instructions from spotter Earl Barban, he turned right, across the nose of Greg Biffle. Johnson had not yet cleared the No. 16 Ford, and sent both off track with a hard collision that began with the No. 48 Chevrolet going into the wall. Johnson has a win, but seven DNFs in 17 starts at Talladega, the place where Dale Earnhardt Jr. called him an "idiot" for starting a 25-car wreck in 2005.
7Rick Hendrick
Last Week: 8
Rick Hendrick
Sly. He has two four-time series champions slogging it out on the race track, which he said has ignited a passion he hasn't seen in years. He's locked up the top free agent on the market in Kahne, who signed on even without any clue where he will race until the job opens in 2012. He is hashing through contracts and sponsor relationships to see if he can bring Budweiser with Kahne. And he expects to sign Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus and Mark Martin crew chief Alan Gustafson to new deals in the next week or so, he said. Power continues to consolidate.
8Mark Martin
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Mark Martin
The man has been around long enough to know what he likes and what he doesn't. And he doesn't particularly like Talladega. He's described it as all but a level of hell in the past, left it off his schedule when he semi-retired in 2007-08. On Sunday, he felt a little better about the place, finishing fifth, his first top-5 there since the fall of 2001. In the process, Martin advanced four spots to sixth in the standings.
9Fuel injectors
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Fuel Injectors
The disaster scenario in the three-attempt green/white/checker rule is all the lead cars running out of fuel either waiting for or undertaking overtime. Crew chiefs are not likely to divulge how close the leaders got on Sunday -- Brian Pattie's refusal to answer suggests Juan Pablo Montoya was extremely close -- but the elements existed for an anticlimactic resolution to a system concocted to create climax. On Sunday it likely would have meant four or five of the top seven running dry and Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart driving through the fray. No dishonor there. Thousands leave happy. But a car coming from a half a lap down, weaving through drained, previously race-contending cars, that would be embarrassing for the sport and unfulfilling for the fans. And that's who matters most, right? NASCAR's slow crawl to the 20th century (one more to go!) and the implantation of fuel injectors in the next few years should help alleviate the risk.
10Michael Waltrip's one-liner
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Michael Waltrip's one-liner
The man has won four races ever -- granted, two of them were Daytona 500s -- in 26 seasons, but the 'retired' team owner parachuted into Talladega (scene of one of the wins) for a one-off in the No. 55 Toyota, was involved in two accidents (the second of which he was collateral damage), zinged Kyle Busch (as in star driver, 16-Cup race winner in parts of seven seasons) with the line of the day and left. "Kyle (Busch) just messed up and ran into a guy and crashed him. When you set yourself to the standards that he does, he's really good and he'll tell you about it, but whether it's a tear-off or a caution flag, when you set yourself to those standards and then you make a mistake like that in front of the field, it's kind of disappointing.

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