Brant James
Wednesday February 17th, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jamie McMurray
Last Week: NA
Jamie McMurray
Not so much a fluke after winning the Sprint Cup series' last two restrictor plate races, he's had a career-defining moment after reuniting with owner Chip Ganassi following an unsatisfying four years at Roush Fenway. McMurray was supposed to become a star after winning his second career race in 2002 while subbing for the injured Sterling Marlin in a championship-contending No. 40 Dodge at Charlotte. It's didn't really pan out, so his winning the Daytona 500 is not necessarily an indicator of positive momentum for the 2010 season. But McMurray's dash to the front and survival of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s attempt to script an even more popular ending to the Great American Race will sure feel good for awhile.
 
2Dale Earnhardt
Last Week: 10
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Will the Daytona 500 be the high point of his season? The fruits of the extreme effort to make his No. 88 Chevrolet better and salvage his career at Hendrick Motorsports will start to be seen this weekend when the series moves to the intermediate tracks that define most of the schedule. Earnhardt needs little help at Daytona. His rush from 10th place to McMurray's wake on the final lap was not epic performance-wise in that great movement is possible in frantic moments on a plate track, but the way he did it, weaving through traffic, making his own way, was great spectacle.
 
3pothole
Last Week: NA
The #hole
The mini moon crater in Turn 2 forced more than two hours of red flag delays at NASCAR's biggest event while its most fervent and fickle fans were watching...for awhile. The #hole became so famous that it earned its own Twitter hashtag. Daytona Speedway president Robin Braig apologized, but blamed cool weather, epoxy, patches that wouldn't hold, and the cars that helped the hole grow. Drivers didn't seem too bothered by the inconvenience, but maybe didn't see the broader implications of NASCAR looking like a complete hayseed operation. This kind of thing doesn't happen at the Super Bowl, and the NFL is the juggernaut to which NASCAR aspires. The #hole will eventually be buried in a track-wide repaving, but it'll remain there...lurking, hungry for stock car.
 
4Kevin Harvick
Last Week: NA
Kevin Harvick
He boasted on TV during the second red-flag period that he wanted to win his second Daytona 500 on the track, not pit road as repair crews smeared something resembling cream cheese into the #hole. He got a seventh-place finish despite having what appeared to be the best car. He got a little karmic boomerang, too. He led Lap 206 on the first green/white/checker attempt when a wreck on the backstretch drew a caution. Under old (by a week) rules, he would have won with the field frozen. In 2007, he and Mark Martin were allowed to race out the final hundred feet when a huge wreck erupted behind them. Harvick won at the line. But NASCAR now mandates three attempts.
 
5Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
Tire and suspension issues made for another anemic start to the season for the four-time defending series champion, but he's been there, done that. Still, it was a strange beginning for the sport's most robotically precise team. Crew chief Chad Knaus was late to a drivers' meeting, a crew member had to be advised (yelled at) during the race about which end of the car he was working on, and Johnson was so desperate for a caution late in the race that he said on his radio -- in hope that officials would hear -- that the #hole might have damaged his car. He finished 35th with a DNF.
 
6Greg Biffle
Last Week: NA
Greg Biffle
Certainly the former trucks and Nationwide Series champion would have loved to grab a Daytona 500 trophy for his collection -- a well-deserved addition to fine career that is often overlooked. A few more seconds and he would have made it to the white flag on Lap 199 with the lead, but a caution forced a g/w/c finish. So he pushed former Roush Fenway teammate McMurray to victory and finished third. Biffle moaned a little but moved on, increasing his Everyman credibility.
 
7Clint Bowyer
Last Week: NA
Clint Bowyer
Running well at Daytona has become a yearly occurrence for this Richard Childress Racing driver. He finished fourth in 2009 and was in contention through the green/white/checker finishes on Sunday, leading 37 laps before fading to fourth.
 
8David Reutimann
Last Week: NA
David Reutimann
Consistently inside the top 10 for much of the 500, he was among the best of Toyota's fleet, out-finishing Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, who was involved in a late wreck, and Kyle Busch, who wrangled an ill-handling car for much of the day/night. Reutimann flirted with the Chase into the summer last season before foundering, and needed a solid start in 2010. He got it.
 
9Kurt Busch
Last Week: 7
Kurt Busch
Another great/awful day at Daytona. He ran among the leaders, led 33, and was third with seven left until taking four tires on a final pit stop. It didn't work out in the first crucial call and team-building moment for Busch and new crew chief Steve Addington. Busch couldn't move the No. 2 Dodge back through traffic in a series of late cautions and settled for 23rd.
 
10Scott Speed
Last Week: NA
Scott Speed
He finished 19th, but Speed and crew chief Jimmy Elledge could have sneaked in simply for thinking big and going for it while eschewing tires on a final pit opportunity with 39 laps left. Most of the leaders couldn't resist, but Speed earned his spot for holding the lead twice for 12 laps (and not triggering a cataclysm) on old tires with a pack of agitated restrictor plate veterans behind him. He finished 19th.


Dropped Out: Mark Martin (2), Denny Hamlin (3), Jeff Gordon (4), Juan Pablo Montoya (5), Carl Edwards (6), Jeff Burton (8), Kyle Busch (9).

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