NASCAR Power Rankings: Pocono

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst IJune 11, 2009

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 07:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet, waves to the fans in celebration of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 500 on June 7, 2009 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Tony Stewart: Stewart’s whirlwind weekend at Pocono began on Friday when a washout of qualifying gave him the pole position. Then, after a wreck in Saturday’s practice forced him to start at the rear in a backup car, Stewart steadily climbed to the front. He won the race out of the pits during a caution on lap 163 and kept the lead until the end, holding off Carl Edwards while nervously monitoring his fuel gauge. Stewart extended his points lead and now leads Jeff Gordon by 71 points.

“I’ve been asked on several occasions, ‘Do you Smoke after wrecks?’” Stewart said. “Well, as is evident by my victory, the answer is ‘Yes.’”

“To say this was an unexpected win is a huge understatement. No onecould have predicted this, not even 16th century prophesier ‘Pocono-stradamus.’ And he darn sure couldn’t have predicted that I’d win the race in a Hendrick engine. That would have been a bold prediction. You’ve got to have crystal balls to make a forecast like that.”

2. Jeff Gordon: With light rain falling during a caution on lap 156, Gordon eschewed a pit stop, instead choosing to stay out while the leaders pitted, hoping the rain would continue. But clear skies reappeared, and while his gamble didn’t result in a win, it left Gordon with a favorable fuel window and he finished fourth. He now trails Tony Stewart by 71 in the Sprint Cup point standings.

“The rain gauge was empty,” Gordon said, “but luckily, the fuel gauge was not. It was a precipitous call, but it was a gamble worth taking.”

“I have to say, despite my troubles on the restarts, that the double-file restart format was a big success. Not only for the fans, but the drivers as well. Well, with the exception of Denny Hamlin. At the core, drivers love the thrill of side-by-side racing. We're all adrenaline junkies. And no, NASCAR, that’s not an admission of a drug problem.”

3. Ryan Newman: Newman battled through two pit lane speeding penalties as well as a spark plug problem, to score a fifth at Pocono while Stewart-Haas teammate Tony Stewart won for the organization’s first victory. It marked the fourth time in the last five races that Stewart and Newman have both finished in the top 10, and Newman moved up one spot in the point standings to fourth.

“When Tony formed this team,” Newman said, “doubters said it would take Tony years to ascend to the top. Well, they said the same thing back when Tony was climbing catchfences. They also said ‘What the Helio are you doing?’”

4. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson was penalized on lap 104 for pitting just as a caution closed the pits, and unfortunate event that dropped him to 25th. Upon restarting, the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet roared to the front, briefly passing Carl Edwards for second on lap 199. But, Johnson ran out of gas in Turn 3 and coasted across the finish line in seventh. He maintained the third spot in the point standings, and trails Tony Stewart by 103.

“I simply didn’t see the red lights at the pit entrance,” Johnson said. “Maybe it’s my eyesight, or maybe it’s just my impeccable and clean-cut persona shining through. Some people say that I’m so virtuous that I probably couldn’t even see the red lights in Amsterdam.”

“And, speaking of ‘red light,’ Fox’s coverage of NASCAR is over, while TNT has the green light for six races. Let’s rejoice, because that means no more Digger and no more Darrell Waltrip.”

5. Carl Edwards: Edwards’ No. 99 Ford Fusion was easily the field’s strongest car, leading 103 of 200 laps, but on the race’s most pivotal pit stop on lap 163, Edwards lost the race off pit road to Tony Stewart. Stewart pulled away in clean air, while Edwards chased, hoping Stewart’s No. 14 would run out of fuel. It didn’t happen, and Edwards settled for second, his best finish of the year and fourth straight top 10. He also leapt from 11th to 6th in the Sprint Cup point standings.

“That’s got to be the first time Tony’s ‘stretched’ in his life,” Edwards said. “I haven’t seen someone go so far on so little since Aaron Fike stayed awake for 72 hours on one bag of heroin. In both cases, it seems, just a spoonful can take you a long ways.”

“And while we’re on the subject of the drug issue, it looks like NASCAR has sicked the big dogs on Jeremy Mayfield. And, by ‘big dogs,’ I’m talking about the ‘meth Labs.’”

6. Kyle Busch: Busch faced handling issues in the Pocono 500, a cure for which crew chief Steve Addington could never quite resolve. Busch was running inside the top 20 late in the race, but a pit stop for fuel dropped him back while many of the leaders were able to stretch their mileage to the end. Busch eventually finished 22nd and dropped three places in the points to ninth.

“We were confident after winning the Nationwide race in Nashville on Saturday,” Busch said. “It’s not often a race car driver wins a Gibson Les Paul guitar as a trophy. It’s even less often that a driver smashes his trophy in victory lane. That celebratory act had a lot of people asking ‘Who’ does this guy think he is?’”

“But I didn’t mean to offend race organizers, nor did I mean any disrespect to Gibson, Les, or Paul. It was merely a spontaneous celebration that I’ve been planning on doing for a year now.”

7. Greg Biffle: Biffle was one of several drivers that came up short on fuel mileage, making a quick fuel stop with 15 laps to go that cost him a top-10 finish at Pocono. He eventually finish a solid yet disappointing 11th, and moved up two spots to seventh in the point standings, 290 behind Tony Stewart.

“Congratulations to Tony Stewart,” said Biffle. “He played his cards just right. When races on 2.5 mile tracks come down to fuel mileage, there’s no telling the outcome. It’s basically ‘touch-and-go,’ which, coincidentally, is what Tony says to most of the women he meets.”

“You may have noticed some hard racing between Carl Edwards and myself early in the race. Carl and I have a unique relationship, one that toes the fine line between friendly, cooperating teammates and bitter, heated rivals. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a flare up soon.”

8. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth ran strong all day at Pocono, running inside the top 10 for 187 laps until a late but necessary fuel stop dropped him to 19th. Kenseth made up some ground in the remaining laps, but finished 16th. He held on to the eighth position in the Sprint Cup point standings, and is 298 out of first.

“It was a disappointing finish,” Kenseth said, “but we know the car was better than the 16th would indicate. Just as I’m clearly not as good as two wins to start the season would indicate.”

“But I don’t cry over spilled milk, regardless of what Carl Edwards says. Anyway, Jack Roush says he wants to see results soon. And by ‘results,’ he means ‘wins.’ According to Jack, we don’t have to get along, but we do have to get going.”

9. Kurt Busch: Busch was charging his way towards the top 10 when, on lap 129, his water pump broke, sending Busch and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge immediately to the garage for repairs. Busch returned after losing 18 laps to the leaders, and finished 37th, which dropped him a slot to fifth in the Sprint Cup point standings.

“Appropriately, in a race won by ‘Smoke,’ we got water ‘bonged,’” Busch said.

“I’m not sure what to make of Roger Penske’s deal to by Saturn. Gosh, I knew the man was powerful, but never did I realize he could buy a planet. I’ve been called an ‘ass’ before, but I think now I’ll be the butt of a lot of ‘Uranus’ jokes.”

“Does this mean that Roger’s planning on introducing the Saturn brand to NASCAR? Possibly. With Dodge’s fortunes for the future uncertain, I think I could be behind the wheel of Saturn’s first NASCAR entry. I guess then you could call me ‘The Ringer.’”

10. David Reutimann: Reutimann reentered the top 12 in the points with an impressive third-place finish at Pocono, his fifth top-10 finish of the year and third in his last four races. He sits eleventh in the points, 23 ahead of Mark Martin in 13th.

“Winning in Charlotte has left me wanting more,” said Reutimann. “Nothing boosts your confidence like winning a race while parked. My third at Pocono just didn’t deliver the same amount of satisfaction.”

“I’m not sure which lasted longer, the rain-delayed race in Charlotte or the grueling 500 miles in Pennsylvania. There is something to be said for knocking 100 miles off at Pocono. Taking that concept one step further, I think there’s also something to be said for knocking 500 miles off at Texas, Las Vegas, or Phoenix.”