NASCAR Power Rankings: Atlanta
Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
1. Jeff Gordon: Gordon moved closer to breaking his two-season-spanning winless streak, earning his second runner-up finish of the year with a second in Atlanta.
Gordon fell a lap down early and was slowed by a dropped lug nut in the pits, as well as a clutch problem, but he managed those problems and avoided the tire issues that plagued many others on the caustic Atlanta surface.
“Tires and the Atlanta racing surface go together like me and my ex-gold-digger Brooke,” says Gordon. “My memories of that marriage can’t be exorcised by a simple repaving, however. It’s too bad I didn’t have a spotter out with me then on the dating scene to guide me clear of disaster.”
“Anyway, tire issues certainly wreaked havoc on the field, especially for my teammate and pole sitter Mark Martin. He cut a right-rear tire and hit the wall, severely damaging the No. 5 Kellogg’s-sponsored Chevrolet. Talk about a ‘cereal’ killer.”
2. Kurt Busch: Busch manhandled the tricky Atlanta track, as well as the competition, leading 234 of 330 laps to take the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was the elder Busch’s third top-10 finish of the year, and he celebrated in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge with a victory lap in reverse, apparently in a symbolic act meant to explain his career arc since winning the Sprint Cup title in 2004.
“Hey, I’m from Las Vegas,” says Busch. “‘Back that ass up’ is not just a request made of a stripper. It can be applied it to the race track, as well. Plus, I received the winner’s purse of $164,175. And, only in Atlanta can you find a g-string large enough to stuff that amount into.”
“Anyway, I call my inverted celebration the ‘2-Way Street.’”
“I’ve got to hand it to crew chief Pat Tryson for deciding on four tires there at the end. On a track like this, four tires is always the correct option, and that’s what gave me the advantage over Carl Edwards. Martin Truex, Jr. may not agree, but ‘passing’ was easy.”
3. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer finished sixth in Atlanta, the fourth time he’s finished sixth there, joining Kevin Harvick to give Richard Childress Racing two cars in the top 10. Bowyer remains second in the point standings, 43 behind Jeff Gordon.
“I’m happy with the direction this team is heading,” says Bowyer. “I know it’s early in the season, but I can’t help but imagine myself hoisting the 2009 Sprint Cup trophy, and handing it to the champion.”
“But seriously, I think this team is capable of winning it all. Sure, some may say that would be viewing the outcome of the season through rose-colored glasses. I call it looking through ‘Clint-ed’ windows.”
4. Carl Edwards: Edwards led at the final restart, but couldn’t hold off Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon down the stretch in Atlanta.
During the race’s final caution, Edwards took two tires while Busch and Gordon opted for four, and he was easily picked off by the two on a track in which grip is everything. Edwards’ third place result bumped him from ninth to fourth in the point standings.
“It’s fitting that my No. 99 Roush Fenway car features the Aflac mascot,” says Edwards, “because I was a sitting duck out in front on two tires.”
“But I’m happy to finish third, and pleased that the Roush Fenway organization didn’t suffer the engine failures that plagued us last week. After Las Vegas, I told Jack Roush I wanted, in writing, his assurance that we wouldn’t see engine failures again. And he happily obliged, with a heartfelt reading of The Little Engine That Could.”
5. Tony Stewart: Stewart fought back from two laps down to earn a workmanlike eighth-place finish in Atlanta, his third top 10 of the year and a welcome rebound from his 26th last week in Las Vegas. Handling issues made the task difficult, as Stewart’s No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet started extremely tight and finished with a similarly serious loose condition.
“As you saw in a much-talked about pit incident,” says Stewart, “Goodyear is so afraid of performing in Atlanta that even their tires themselves are trying to run away from the track.”
“As for my car’s handling, I’m used to things going from tight to loose in a span of minutes, not hours. Trust me, I’ve tried ¼ wedge, even ½ wedge adjustments on some of the ladies that attend my parties, but nothing seems to loosen them up like a few drinks and empty promises of the good life.”
6. Kyle Busch: Busch suffered from a loose-handling race car throughout the day, initiated by a bad setup and exacerbated by the temperamental Atlanta Motor Speedway surface, to finish 18th in the Kobalt Tools 500, three laps down to the twelve cars on the lead lap.
“Well, if I can’t win the race,” says Busch, “then I can’t think of anyone better to win the race than...Jeff Gordon. But he didn’t. My brother Kurt did, and really, I’m happy for him. And other guys are too. As we all know, Kurt’s not the most popular driver in NASCAR, or anywhere for that matter.
"But, Kurt deserved this win, and it was nice to see him get his just rewards, which included ‘backhanded’ compliments from his old pals Jimmy Spencer and Tony Stewart.”
“Kurt’s finally getting some attention. Lately, all the talk has been about me, and Kurt’s just had to sit their and admire me. I guess it’s true what they say---Big Brother is watching. Now, people are talking about Kurt, which means his ears must be burning, and not because of pain from cosmetic surgery.”
7. Kevin Harvick: Harvick was one of several cars in the pits when NASCAR brought out the yellow flag when a crew member of Marcos Ambrose’s team dashed across pit road to retrieve a tire.
The No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevy fell two laps down, but Harvick and his crew gradually worked their way to the front and eventually posted a fourth-place finish. Harvick is now eighth in the points, 123 out of first.
“As for Ambrose’s crew member,” says Harvick, “I’m sure everyone was asking ‘What was that guy thinking?’ I think the question we, and NASCAR, should be asking is ‘What was that guy smoking?’ I think it’s time for a preemptive drug test before that guy gets caught chasing tires across the interstate, high on heroin.”
8. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth salvaged a 12th-place finish in Atlanta, his day hindered by an ill-handling car and a fuel miscalculation that cost him a spot in the top 10. He is now fifth in the point standings, 88 out of first.
“Handling was certainly an issue for us,” says Kenseth. “The car was like a Carl Edwards’ chokehold on Kevin Harvick—it lacked grip.”
9. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson overcame a pit road speeding penalty to finish ninth in Atlanta, his second top-10 finish of the year. The three-time defending Sprint Cup champion moved up six spots to 13th in the point standings, where he trails teammate Jeff Gordon by 177 points.
“I understand my teammate Jeff Gordon had a ‘clutch’ problem,” says Johnson. “I myself have had a few problems with the clutch, but never in the clutch, because everyone knows that once the Chase starts, Jimmie Johnson is ‘clutch.’ I am so money.”
“But, this is my typical slow start to the season. Has anyone noticed? You would think a three-time Cup champion would be a polarizing figure in this sport, and fans would either love me or hate me.
"However, it seems that the only reaction I can extract from fans is not love or hate, but indifference.”
10. Kasey Kahne: Kahne scored his first top-10 finish of the year, clocking a seventh in Atlanta to break into the top 10 of the point standings. Like many drivers, Kahne was in the pits when Jimmy Watts, the gasman for Marcos Ambrose, ran across pit road and onto the infield grass to retrieve a stray tire.
When NASCAR flew the caution as a result, Kahne fell a lap down, and spent nearly a third of the race regaining that lap.
“I’m happy to post my first top 10 for Richard Petty Motorsports,” says Kahne. “Or is it Petty Enterprises? Or is it Gillett Evernham Motorsports? Or is it Petty-Gillett Racing/Enterprises? Or is it Starship Enterprises? Or is it Penn Jillette And Teller Enterprises? It’s a confusing matter.”
“Also confusing—my major sponsor, Budweiser, trying to push beer on the wine cooler-drinking set who call themselves my biggest fans.”
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