Tom Bowles
Tuesday July 1st, 2008

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Kyle busch
Last Week: 1
Kyle Busch
Looks like Busch has met his match, and the match's name is Juan Pablo Montoya. In the closing laps of the race at New Hampshire, the two got into a bit of a scuffle when Busch blocked the No. 42 on the track. But Montoya wasn't going to take that aggression lying down. Slamming into Busch's rear quarterpanel, he wrecked the No. 18 going down the front straightaway as the final caution flag of the day waved underneath them. That earned Montoya a two lap penalty by NASCAR, but it also didn't do Busch any favors, either; he dropped to 25th in the final running order. But my question is: Why the heck was Busch even back there in the first place? After making an extra pit stop on lap 219, he was good to go the distance on fuel, just like the top seven finishers Sunday. But he mysteriously dove down pit road during a caution flag on lap 273 - even with rain on the way.
 
2Jeff Burton
Last Week: 4
Jeff Burton
In a week where none of our power rankings favorites finished up front, Burton simply kept chugging along. A 12th-place finish isn't what you'd expect from the veteran at New Hampshire, though. He's won there a career-high four times, but his No. 31 never had the track position it needed to contend. Starting 31st, it took most of the day for Burton to work his way towards the Top 5. By the time he got there, crazy weather caused others to gamble on pit strategy Burton just couldn't afford to pursue. "Our choice was to pit so we could make it to the end," he said about the wild finish that left him out of luck when rain stopped the race on lap 284. "There's a reason we didn't gamble; everybody is up there racing for the Chase and if it doesn't work out, then you finish 30th."
 
3Carl Edwards
Last Week: 3
Carl Edwards
Last year, New Hampshire was the race that got away from Edwards after a faulty pit stop robbed him of a chance at a win. This time, he had no such problem . . . because he wasn't running up front. Never so much as sniffing the top spot, Edwards struggled all day long before the crazy ending pushed him back to 17th in the final running order. At least Cousin Carl can't be too upset, as he maintained fourth in the series standings, some 234 behind Kyle Busch.
 
4Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 6
Jimmie Johnson
If only Johnson didn't have to do things like, you know, fuel his car and take tires, he might have four or five wins by now. Once again, pit strategy doomed the No. 48 team with a Top 3 car heading to the finish until an untimely caution on lap 273 forced them to either come in for fuel or gamble with the weather. And for what seems like the umpteenth week in a row, they made the wrong call, pitting and dropping to ninth when the rains came. "Had a great car Sunday. I think everybody saw it," said crew chief Chad Knaus. "We've had great cars the last six to eight weeks, but there is always just something weird that happens to take us out of it." Still, there's reason to remain optimistic; with four Top 10 finishes and 188 laps led since Memorial Day, Johnson's surged to fifth in the season standings.
 
5Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last Week: 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For most of the day, Junior was just minding his own business, focused on a ho-hum Top 15 run. But when he slowed for pit road on lap 273, it turns out that Jamie McMurray behind him had his mind focused somewhere else. In one of the more bizarre crashes of the year, McMurray just flat ran into Earnhardt at full speed, destroying the rear of the No. 88 while bringing out the caution that jumbled up the field at the finish. Earnhardt limped home 24th after that, marking the first time all year that he's gone two straight races without a Top 10 finish.
 
6Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 8
Jeff Gordon
Last year, Gordon finished second twice at New Hampshire, and had a car capable of doing even better on Sunday. The veteran's competitive fire sparked up all day long, peaking when he started racing none other than teammate Jimmie Johnson aggressively for second place. "I felt like I needed to race him hard just to keep him behind me until my car came in," said Gordon of some frantic final laps. "I was obviously blocking him, and it got a little dicey ... it was probably frustrating him a little bit." But in the end, Gordon was the one who got frustrated; a late pit stop for fuel left him 11th and kept his winless streak intact at 22 races.
 
7Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 7
Matt Kenseth
After six straight Top 10 finishes, Kenseth's streak came to an end on Sunday with a mediocre 18th place finish. "We didn't run as good as I hoped," he said afterwards. "I thought the car was better than that, and it really wasn't - plus, we could never get track position." A late race pit stop for fuel didn't help, dropping Kenseth back in the pack amongst all his Power Rankings peers. "With the rain and all, some people pitted and some people didn't," he continued. "We did what all the rest of the guys in front of us did, and it just didn't work out."
 
8Tony Stewart
Last Week: NR
Tony Stewart
Of all the people hurt by late-race strategy, no one suffered more than Tony Stewart. Leading a race-high 132 of 300 laps, he seemed poised to start his annual summer surge with a trip to Victory Lane. But when the caution came out on lap 273, Stewart made the choice to drop from the lead and come to pit road for four fresh tires. When eight drivers chose to stay out on the race track, Stewart lost positions and was left with no time to make them up. The rains came after just one more lap of green flag racing, leaving Stewart stranded back in 13th. "It's just been the oddest year I've ever seen for this race team," he said afterwards in disgust. "I guarantee you there's a crew chief down there that they're hiding sharp objects from right now."
 
9Kurt Busch
Last Week: NR
Kurt Busch
Finally, someone in the power rankings who went from the outhouse to the penthouse at New Hampshire! When everyone darted in for fuel on lap 273, Busch led the pack of cars that stayed out on the track. And once Busch inherited the lead, it was clear sailing from there as the rains ended the race and gave the No. 2 car a surprising victory. No question, the victory was a stroke of luck for the '04 champ, who had been no better than a 10th-place car up to that point in the race. Now 222 behind 12th-place Kevin Harvick with nine races remaining, the big question is whether Busch can use this momentum to push him over the top and back in the Chase, turning around a frustrating season that started with him a title contender.
 
10Casey Mears
Last Week: NR
Casey Mears
After a wacky week, you've gotta give an attaboy to Mears. Recently learning that he won't be back with the No. 5 car in 2009 didn't affect his performance on the race track one bit. Crew chief Alan Gustafson left his driver out on the track during a caution on lap 87, and Mears responded by leading the next 53 laps of the race - 52 more than he'd led in all of 2008. Another pit strategy call late in the day put Mears back in the Top 10, and his 7th-place finish marked the first back-to-back Top 10s for this team all year. It may be a case of too little, too late for this guy, but when you're busy auditioning for a ride, you'll take all the solid finishes you can get.


Dropped Out: Kasey Kahne (5), Greg Biffle (9), Brian Vickers (10)

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? E-mail 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: Jake O'Reilly, Daytona Beach, FL:After a second-place finish at Infineon, what does Davod Gilliland have to do to get a little love? He's overachieving, beating full-time teams without a full-time primary sponsor at some races this year!

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