By Brant James
August 02, 2011
Brickyard Power Rankings
Jeff Gordon was huddled in the lounge of his hauler, waiting for his next obligation during a preseason event at Daytona when a sudden confluence of his day job and many side gigs captivated his attention.

Regis Philbin, the 79-year-old figurehead of a popular morning chat show Gordon has often guest hosted, had announced his retirement, and the 39-year-old four-time Sprint Cup champion was leading an internet poll as the fans' choice for Philbin's full-time replacement.

"What's that all about?" he cackled, a grin consuming his face. "I haven't got the call."

Then he thought it through a little more. He does have that place in New York, anyway. He's pretty open except for most weekends.

"Monday through Thursday, that that doesn't sound like a bad gig," he pondered.

Sights and Sounds: Brickyard 400
Watch Paul Menard capture his first cup victory and the rest of the sights and sounds from the Brickyard 400.

Most race car drivers, regardless of their success or longevity, never have such considerations. Most aren't Jeff Gordon. But a 20-year career, 84 wins, four titles and a willingness to sample life beyond the security of familiar racing culture has provided opportunities that allowed him to create a new template for what a modern race car driver can be. He did the same thing in the early 1990s, when his supernova arrival in NASCAR made him both a lionized and vilified icon for a growing legions of fans, and an idol to young drivers on dusty tracks throughout the country who saw the path to stardom redefined by the kid from Indiana, via California.

The kid once dubbed "Wonder Boy" by his foil and friend and mentor Dale Earnhardt turns 40 on Thursday. And he seems ready for the next chapter.

"Birthdays to me are just sort of another day, another year," said Gordon, who is seventh in driver points and a two-time winner this season. "It's not a big deal for me."

Evidently not. Gordon will lead the NASCAR power rankings on his birthday, because he earned it. But he's probably also really hard to shop for.

Jeff Gordon
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 9
With a little less fuel in Paul Menard's tank or a little more asphalt to cover, the four-time Brickyard-winner likely would have tied Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher for the all-time victories standard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But even with a runner-up finish on Sunday, Gordon has a win, four top-fives and six top-10s in his last eight races.
Carl Edwards
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 13
The points leader took a detour through the apron when Landon Cassill and Roush Fenway teammate David Ragan induced the final caution on Lap 121 of 160 and he trudged to a 14th-place finish. Jimmie Johnson's moribund result (19th) allowed Edwards to maintain the top spot in the driver standings for a 14th week.

Edwards, 31, also remained the most-discussed free agent in the series. Whether his impending decision, to remain with Roush -- where he began his full-time NASCAR career in the truck series in 2003 -- or leap, as speculated, to a possible fourth car at Joe Gibbs Racing, is becoming a distraction is unclear. But it has become a more hotly pursued topic each week. Most drivers contend that business matters vanish and racing matters consume them once a helmet is pulled over a head with a cluttered mind. Most drivers don't negotiate their own contracts, though. Amid one of his finest seasons, Edwards managing a possible first championship campaign and the acquisition of life-long financial security is a fascinating study in multi-tasking.
Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 12
Indianapolis finishes have generally been superb (three wins since 2006) or subpar (three finishes of 36th or worse entering Sunday) for Johnson. A 19th-place finish allowed him to maintain second place in the driver standings.
Matt Kenseth
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 11
He considered his No. 17 Ford superior to every other car in the race except for Gordon's -- which led twice for 36 laps -- and hoped for a last-lap showdown with his occasional foil. But Kenseth settled for another solid fifth-place finish. Fourth in driver points, he has four top-fives and seven top-10s since winning at Dover 10 races ago.
Kevin Harvick
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 10
He fears his team has gotten too far away from the core strategies that made him points leader after his co-leading third win in the 12th race of the season. The team is perhaps gambling too much and not racing the way Chase winners approach things. An 11th-place finish on Sunday wasn't satisfying as much as it was efficient, as he and crew chief Gil Martin used pit strategy to pick through the field, recovering from as low as 33rd position.

"We're all disappointed we didn't run better but hats off to Gil for trying a different strategy at the end," he said. "It was a long, hot day and it was very difficult to pass cars."
Kyle Busch
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 12
He recovered from a pit road brush with Tony Stewart that he admitted was his fault and climbed to 10th. Not a bad day.

"Definitely had no idea that the day would be so ugly, but yet [we] come out of it smelling like a rose I guess," he said. "We worked our butts off this whole weekend trying to get something out of nothing."
Ryan Newman
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 9
A 12th-place finish keeps him eighth in driver points, though an Indiana boy has to want a better result at his home track. Still, after battling an ill-handling car much of the race, he said a decent points finish aided by an alternate pit strategy was good enough.
Tony Stewart
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 8
The Indiana native's travails always comprise one of the underlying threads of the Brickyard 400, even after two liberating victories. In a week in which he won his first World of Outlaws race, Stewart couldn't complete his back-home nostalgia fest. Meandering back from an early pass-through penalty for clipping the commitment line cone, he led from Lap 135 to 144 but surrendered the lead for fuel, finishing sixth.
Kurt Busch
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 11
He, like teammate Brad Keselowski, was eager to deliver Roger Penske his first stock car victory at a track where their team owner had won a record 15 Indianapolis 500s. Though Busch qualified fourth and ran competitively most of the race, his mow through the apron grass while avoiding a Lap 121 mess relegated him to a 21st-place finish.
Paul Menard
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 6
In a season in which four drivers have won their first Sprint Cup race and 14 different drivers have won the first 20 events, Menard's victory remained stunning. In collecting his first victory in 167 Cup starts -- he has one in 168 Nationwide Series starts -- the son of hardware magnate John Menard took a step toward validating the opportunity that millions of dollars worth of unconditional fatherly love can buy over eight seasons of NASCAR competition. Now 14th in driver points, Menard is within reach of another career benchmark at age 30: a possible first Chase for the Championship berth as a wild card. He and Denny Hamlin (a race winner and 11th in points) currently possess those final two spots.

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