By Tom Bowles
October 21, 2008
NASCAR Power Rankings
1 Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
History is in the making. After a dominating Sunday at Martinsville, Johnson is poised and ready to be the first man to win three straight titles since Cale Yarborough won his third consecutive in 1978. Leading 339 of 500 laps, Johnson asserted control early and often in extending his point lead to 149 with just four races remaining. Silencing critics who believed the No. 48 was "stroking" its way to a title, expect him to remain aggressive despite transforming into the overwhelming favorite to win this Chase. "We were going for maximum points and, thankfully, we did that today," he said. "The biggest mistake we could make would be to try to protect something. We need to stay in the groove and the rhythm that we've always been in, and that's to go out and win races."
2 Carl Edwards
Last Week: 4
Carl Edwards
For Edwards, a third at Martinsville had to feel like a win after a difficult past few weeks. Entering this season, he'd never finished in the Top 10 at the paper clip half-mile, but two starts in '08 garnered him an average finish of 6.0. "We've never run well here, so that was good for us," he confirmed. "It's just Jimmie is doing an unbelievable job. We obviously had some misfortune last week that really made this race important. I felt like we could come here and, if we ran like we did today, that it keeps our hopes alive [for the title]." Edwards was right there ... albeit just barely. Given that he's 198 points back with four races left, it's going to take a big mistake by Johnson in order for Cousin Carl to have a chance.
3 Greg Biffle
Last Week: 3
Greg Biffle
The Biff inherits the title of points runner-up this week after a 12th at Martinsville allowed him to leapfrog Jeff Burton to second in the standings. But while the title would seem like a longshot at best for a man who wasn't even expected to contend, Biffle refuses to believe it's over. "We're gonna come and get them," he said. "We've got four more chances and we're going to some of our best places, so they better be on their 'A' game. I know they have been so far, but we're gonna bring the heat to Atlanta and all the rest of the places and see what we can do."
4 Jeff Burton
Last Week: 2
Jeff Burton
Just like in '06, Martinsville is where title dreams fell apart for this 41-year-old veteran. Back then, Burton had a blown engine that took him out and relinquished the point lead to Matt Kenseth. This time around it was a rare mental mistake of pitting outside the box that cost Burton a lap and dropped him to 17th at the finish. "It was just bad timing, really," Burton said. "Just one of those things that happens on a small pit road. We were coming on [pit road] and he [Jeff Gordon] was leaving. I was just trying to stop when he was coming out, and when I did, I was so far down pit road, it was hard to get position back in the box." Now 152 behind Johnson in the standings, Burton has too far to climb and too many good teams around him to work his way back into contention.
5 Clint Bowyer
Last Week: 5
Clint Bowyer
Bowyer's had an interesting Chase filled with good, not great, finishes that have left him a strong contender to place fifth in the final standings. In six playoff races, he's led a total of just two laps, but has finished 12th or better in each to keep his Jack Daniel's Chevy on the radar screen. When Johnson, Edwards, and Biffle are winning races in front of you, that's not going to be enough to win a title, but the consistency is something to build on for '09.
6 Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 9
Kevin Harvick
Harvick fully expected to be a championship contender after a strong ending to the regular season. Instead, he's fallen back to third on the RCR totem pole with a winless streak that dates to the 2007 Daytona 500. A seventh-place finish at Martinsville kept him sixth in points, but you wonder how successful Harvick will consider this season if he doesn't erase that zero in the win column.
7 Jeff Gordon
Last Week: 10
Jeff Gordon
Sunday was Gordon's best chance to snag a win this season, and the No. 24 team certainly gave it all it had to catch Jimmie Johnson. Leading 57 laps, Gordon remained a contender throughout the 500-lapper but was forced to settle for fourth. "We had that long run," Gordon said of a 115-lap green flag stint that sent him fading into the pack. "That was our biggest fear. We went a little risky on our set-up; we had a great car and a great run, but we were really good on the short runs." Now, Gordon's at risk for a winless season, considering he's never won at two of the four remaining tracks on the schedule.
8 David Ragan
Last Week: 8
David Ragan
As strong a season as Ragan has had, you wonder how much better it could have been if he and Matt Kenseth would just stop banging into each other. The two made contact for a third time this season, leading to a late race spin that dropped Ragan to 13th at the finish. "We had a Top 10 car," he said after coming from the rear with his backup machine. "Matt had new tires on. He was coming hard and I was just a little free off the corner and probably wasn't quite in the throttle and got a little loose and he just helped me go around, so no harm, no foul. It was just one of those things. He was in the right place and I was in the wrong place."
9 Kyle Busch
Last Week: 7
Kyle Busch
Even in Kyle Busch's worst nightmare, he never envisioned a Chase like this. The one-time point leader is now dead last, 445 points behind Jimmie Johnson after a long list of problems kept building at Martinsville. A series of problems caused by brakes melting the bead on his tires left Busch diving down pit road for several unscheduled pit stops. Winding up 29th, seven laps down, the eight-time winner in the regular season still has just one top-five finish in this Chase.
10 Matt Kenseth
Last Week: NR
Matt Kenseth
Last year, Kenseth and Roush Fenway teammate Carl Edwards got into it after a post-race incident at Martinsville. This year, it was Kenseth and teammate David Ragan beating and banging en route to an eighth-place finish for the No. 17 car. But that wasn't the only crash for the '03 champ, who survived an incident with Joe Nemechek to work his way up to an eighth place finish at Martinsville. "We haven't been thinking championship the last two weeks with the problems that we've had," Kenseth said. "So we're just out there racing as hard as we can and run the best we can." Hopefully, the rest of the 43-car field will follow suit with the Chase all but decided.

Dropped Out Tony Stewart (6)

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 and tell us why your driver should be included. We'll pick one lucky fan who sticks up for his or her favorite and include their rant in the rankings each week!

This Week's Submission: Jeremy Smith, Atlanta: Jamie McMurray

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