By Brant James
March 09, 2010
NASCAR Power Rankings
1 Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 2
Kevin Harvick
It was a heartening ninth-place for Harvick on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He wrestled the No. 29 Chevrolet around the 1.54-mile oval for most of the afternoon, extremely unhappy with its handling, but wrangled another solid finish after an astute series of pit calls and effective chassis adjustments. Harvick's top-10 finish, more so than his two previous runner-up results, indicates that he's ready to apply pressure to four-time defending series champ Jimmie Johnson. "If a ninth-place effort ever felt like a win, then that was it," Harvick said. "We just weren't very good all weekend. (Crew chief) Gil (Martin) made a great call there late to not pit and take the wave around. We got a quick caution, which enabled us to get tires, and take a big swing at the chassis. Today was the kind of day that we just couldn't manufacture last year."
2 Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
Another well-timed series of events seemed to be aligned for Johnson on Sunday. Tire issues caused him to surrendered a top-5 spot om order to pit under green midway through the race, a real danger considering several solid cars had been trapped a lap down when caution flew after similar stops. But Johnson actually improved his position when the entire field cycled through. A perfectly-timed debris caution negated a 7.6-second deficit to Kasey Kahne, and conspiracy theorists were roused from their slumber. But more tire issues and a pit gaffe (JJ slid through his box) sunk him in the field again. Johnson rallied to finish 12th with the help of a seven-car wreck in front of him and moved up to fifth in the standings.
3 Greg Biffle
Last Week: 6
Greg Biffle
Despite switching to a backup car after a crash during practice, Biffle took the replacement No. 16 Ford to an impressive eighth-place finish. Third in points, he hasn't won this season, but the veteran and his crew chief, Greg Erwin, have led laps, pressed for wins and shown the sort of resilience that lends itself to long-term success.
4 Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 7
Matt Kenseth
He was a rallying second on Sunday in Atlanta, making a jump from fifth in a green/white/checker finish to keep things interesting for former teammate Kurt Busch. Second in points, Kenseth's performance has improved dramatically since crew chief Todd Parrott took over for the second race of the season. "Honestly, the season couldn't have started any better for us," Kenseth said. "I said that last week, too. It sounds silly since we won the first couple races last year. [It's] cool to get to get off to this good of a start, be as competitive as we were last week. This is as competitive as we've been at Atlanta in quite a while."
5 Kurt Busch
Last Week: NA
Kurt Busch
The 2004 season champion deserved better than his points standing (19th) suggested before the weekend and he finally avoided misfortune to assume control in the second half of the race. Kasey Kahne might have had the better car for most of the afternoon, but Busch was flawless and assertive when it mattered, bullying through slower traffic in a green/white/checker finish to run away from Juan Pablo Montoya (by jumping the restart, Montoya contended) and keeping Kenseth back in his mirror. Busch made a nine-spot jump in the standings before heading off to moonlight as a drag racer this weekend. There wasn't a bull-riding tournament anywhere?
6 pothole
Last Week: 3
Clint Bowyer
Involved in a seven-car wreck during the first green/white checker attempt, he finished outside the top-10 for the first time this season (23rd). Bowyer led laps late in the race, and remains fifth in points, so Sunday was just one of those ... racin' deals.
7 Jeff Burton
Last Week: 4
Jeff Burton
He only mustered a 20th-place finish but still jumped one spot in the points standings to seventh. That was good enough to keep him in our top 10.
8 Tony Stewart
Last Week: NA
Tony Stewart
Tire issues curtailed what might have been a better day, but Stewart took the blame for driving a little too hard despite knowing the equipment he had under him likely wouldn't take it. He finished 13th and is now eighth in points.
9 Paul Menard
Last Week: NA
Paul Menard
Take a minute. Soak it in. Don't overthink it. Paul Menard is ninth in driver points. He finished fifth on Sunday in Atlanta and is ninth in driver points. Stop shaking your head. Yes, your nose is bleeding. Dab it and it'll stop. Paul Menard is ninth in driver points. Okay, moving on now.
10 Carl Edwards
Last Week: NA
Brad Keselowski bumps Carl Edwards a little. Edwards wrecks in a place where he has had great success and comes back 153 laps down. He tries to wreck Keselowski -- who is by then in sixth place -- but misses. Edwards finishes the job on the front stretch, sending the No. 12 Dodge -- to his dismay -- almost to what's left of Buckhead. Edwards was clearly sorry that his act of revenge produced such a horrific crash, but didn't seem in postrace interviews to be all that regretful. You totally deserved me punching you in the chin. Sorry it drove your jaw into your brain pan. My bad. NASCAR wants rivalries and self-policing and the fan energy that comes with it. It doesn't want cars in the air and injured or dead drivers (Keselowski was unhurt) and fans, but its all part of the parlay. It will be interesting to see how the series' reaction impacts its "boys, have at it" decree from the preseason.

Dropped Out: Jeff Gordon Joey Logano Mark Martin David Reutimann

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