By Brant James
June 14, 2011
Pocono Power Rankings
Ryan Newman knows that the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. That's likely why the Sprint Cup driver was so evasive when pressed last weekend about whether he had been secretly fined by NASCAR for allegedly punching driver Juan Pablo Montoya -- as first reported by Jim Noble of Performance Radio Network -- during a meeting with NASCAR last month at Darlington.And even more importantly, as a driver who admitted last year that he had been the recipient of a clandestine fine for maligning the quality of racing at Talladega, he knows that the first rule of NASCAR is you do not talk about NASCAR ... unless it is positive. Malign labor, never management. Denny Hamlin -- who was also fined last season for criticizing the sport on Twitter -- is the only other driver to admit to secret sanctions.Perhaps it is easier to talk about it if you've never been impacted by it. Then again, as Carl Edwards admits, what are you going to believe anyway?

"I haven't had a secret penalty yet. I don't know if you can believe that statement inherently, but I haven't had a secret penalty," he said before the race. "I have had some good public penalties. I don't know. Due to their secret nature I don't know what they are or what they were for, so I don't know what to think about that. I guess you have to be careful what you say around here."

Perhaps not careful enough. Edwards' engine began to grumble 60 laps into the race on Sunday and eventually failed and required a lengthy repair, relegating him to a 37th-place finish and, in essence, a 34-point penalty for the points leader.

Ingenious. Insidious, NASCAR.

And of course, ludicrous, but the boundary between nonsense and plausibility is easily obscured in the absence of complete transparency. NASCAR fans are likely to be titillated by palace intrigue until they feel it has impacted their favorite driver in some way. No one wants to feel as if their loyalty has been cheapened by a sport not running a fair game. Certainly NASCAR has thrived under the heavy hand of a ruling family and secret police for more than a half century. The sport would likely never have been cattle-prodded into a national major league as a democracy, considering the disparate, nomadic nature of racing and racers.But tales of strong-arm tactics and harsh sanction have never before been so instantly consumable by a fan base willing and able to gather information and part-information via electronic sources. A series so conscious of the penetration of social media must realize that it no longer gets to control the plot and the outcome as before.

Emerging from the mist and woody shroud of rural Pennsylvania, the weekly Sprint Cup power rankings.
Carl Edwards
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 10
The points leader was surprisingly cavalier after his No. 99 Ford was forced to the garage with a major valve train issue early in the race, at one point joining the TNT broadcast team as an extra analyst. His Roush Fenway Racing crew was able to triage and repair the malady in less than two hours, allowing him back on-track to attempt to recoup points. He finished 37th, losing most of the 40-point margin with which he entered the land of carved bears and summer cabins.
Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 9
He hasn't led the point standings since closing out a fifth-straight title in the finale last season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but Johnson pulled within just six points of Edwards leaving Poconova Scotia, and earned major good-guy teammate points in helping push eventual race-winner Jeff Gordon past Montoya with 40 laps left. Johnson's fourth-place finish was his first top-5 since winning at Talladega six races ago.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 8
A sixth-place finish left NASCAR's most popular driver third in points and again feeling "lucky to be able to compete." Just 10 points behind Edwards, and with three consecutive finishes of seventh or better -- including a runner-up finish at Kansas -- Earnhardt Jr. has not been as high in points since Aug. 23, 2008.
Kurt Busch
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 8
A schizophrenic season is in its latest sunny period. Busch, who at times this season has maligned his team, his co-workers, fumed over team radio, but also led the points standings for two weeks, finished second in a backup car he'd been forced to after a practice crash. Busch began the season with four consecutive results of ninth or better, then didn't finish higher than 10th for seven straight starts, and now has produced a fourth, ninth and second-place result since ending his slide.
Kevin Harvick
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 8
He rallied from a 32nd starting position to finish fifth in yet another bit of his increasingly customary style, but the feisty driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet was infinitely more notable in that he is apparently not ready to make nice with Kyle Busch. He appeared to cut down on the No. 18 Toyota early in the race on Sunday, and responded "he's only seen the beginning of it."
Kyle Busch
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 8
With their mutual probation period over next week, Busch quipped that Harvick "thinks we can go out there and wreck each other again," a display, he said, of Harvick's "character." That was just the beginning of his problems on Sunday. A third-place finish was marred by a failed post-race inspection, in which the No. 18 Toyota was found too low, according to crew chief Dave Rogers, who on Monday incurred a $25,000 fine while Busch and Joe Gibbs were given six-point driver and owner penalties, respectively. Joe Gibbs Racing issued a statement on Monday accepting the penalty and stating that it understood what had happened for the left front of the car to skew out of acceptable range during the race.
Matt Kenseth
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 7
Everyone was expecting a lot more from a car sponsored by clothing designer Affliction, but there was nary a gilded eagle wing or leering skull to be seen on the No. 17 Ford. Sure, Kenseth finished eighth and stands seventh in driver points, but come on.
Ryan Newman
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 6
He spent much of his weekend in the Poconos discussing -- or more precisely, not discussing -- supposed secret NASCAR penalties and whether he'd landed a haymaker on Montoya during a joint meeting with NASCAR last month. He finished the race eighth, holding on to the ninth spot in driver points ... unless, of course, he's been secretly docked points and NASCAR is trying to devise a way to stealth them away with no one noticing.
Jeff Gordon
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 5
A multi-race winner for the first time since he won six races and finished second in points in 2007, Jeff Gordon, at 39, may be entering a late-career prime. At 11th in points and one of only three racers with multiple trips to Victory Lane this season, he's seemingly a lock to qualify for the Chase.
Final Laps: Jeff Gordon wins Pocono 500
Source: SI
Jeff Gordon won his fifth race at Pocono and his 84th on NASCAR's Sprint Cup circuit.

Tony Stewart
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 5
A surly 21st after losing third gear midrace, Stewart holds on to the final automatic Chase berth with 12 events remaining in the regular season. His most productive part of the season has arrived, so maybe that'll lighten his mood. Or maybe his ride swap with Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton today at Watkins Glen will do the trick.

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