NASCAR Power Rankings: Michigan

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst IJune 18, 2009

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 14: Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, drives down pit row after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 14, 2009 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Tony Stewart—Stewart turned in a solid seventh place finish at Michigan in Sunday's hectic finish to the Lifelock 400. It was his series-best 11th top-10 result on the year, and it kept him on top of the Sprint Cup point standings, where he holds a 47-point lead over Jeff Gordon.

"The last two weeks have produced some really exciting racing," Stewart said. "It's good to see the racing making the headlines, as opposed to drug usage, racial slurs, and smashed guitars. But I love a good Guns 'N Roses concert."

"Anyway, it's great to lead the point standings, which makes them top-heavy. I have no plans on relinquishing my grip, nor do I plan on going away easily."

"And speaking of 'going away easily', this Jeremy Mayfield issue just won't stop making headlines. Now it seems that Mayfield's expert witness in his lawsuit against NASCAR lied about his credentials and qualifications. That's another point for NASCAR. Mayfield's falling well behind in this court case. So, it wouldn't be an understatement to say that he's wishing he could 'score' soon."

2. Jeff Gordon—Gordon started at the rear of the field after an engine change on Friday, the result of a blown engine in practice. With the setup of the No. 24 DuPont Chevy geared for racing in traffic, Gordon quickly charged through the field. He breached the top 10 on lap 110, and was running fourth when race leaders Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle ran out of gas within seconds of each other. Gordon took second behind Hendrick teammate Mark Martin's win, and trimmed 24 points off of Tony Stewart's points lead.

"I think everyone's happy for Mark," says Gordon. "He's a favorite of fans and drivers alike. He's no doubt a shoo-in to win the title of 'Most Popular NASCAR Driver (Who Wins Races).'"

"Besides, who would have expected Martin to run out of gas? He's 50 going on 30. And it's good to finally see some luck going Mark's way. Luck has played a big part in a few wins this year. Matt Kenseth and David Reutimann were both fortunate recipients of the 'Golden Shower,' which is a term coined to indicate rainfall that handed a driver an unlikely victory. But don't look it up on the Internet. Mark's lucky break was known as the 'One-Two Combination,' which happens when both drivers ahead of you run out of gas."

3. Jimmie Johnson—Johnson led 146 of 200 laps in Michigan, and chased down Greg Biffle six laps from the end for the lead, only to run out of gas four laps later. Johnson finished 22nd, the last car on the lead lap, but he maintained the third position in the points, and is 142 out of first.

"Hey, don't call me 'Tank' Johnson," Johnson said. "I think Biffle and I pretty much canceled each other out. The fuel tank certainly decided this one. Cars were dropping like flies, or like Camping World series truck teams. There were more 'E's' on fuel gauges than there were 'E's' at 'Show Your Tattoo Day' at the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Fan Club Convention."

"That's two consecutive races in which we've ran out of gas. Chad Knaus took responsibility for it in Michigan. That's very noble of him, but, in light of what happened at Pocono, Chad should have examined his thoughts and feelings more deeply before approving such a high risk strategy. As it was, he didn't pass introspection."

"However, being third in the points, as well as the three-time defending Cup champion, I can well afford to gamble for wins. Luck wins races, but not championships."

4. Mark Martin—Martin outlasted the field in a fuel mileage war at Michigan International Speedway, passing the stalled cars of Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson while running out of gas himself on the final turn. Martin's Lifelock 400 victory was his third win of the year, and boosted his Chase hopes, as he moved up five places from 13th to 8th in the Sprint Cup point standings.

"Hey, there's no shame in winning a fuel mileage race," Martin said. "And it doesn't bother me one bit that the fans are chanting 'MPG' instead of 'MVP.'"

"Fans have been demanding more exciting racing. They can't say this wasn't an 'en-gauge-ing race.' Well, at least the last 40 laps were, when crew chiefs started frantically punching numbers on their fuel mileage calculators. You know, determining fuel mileage is such an inexact science, much like determining the sexual preference of American Idol finalists."

5. Kurt Busch—Sound adjustments and economic fuel strategy were the catalysts for Busch's eighth place run at Michigan, his eighth top-10 finish of the year. After his final pit-stop on lap 150, crew chief Pat Tryson calculated that the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge would be short on fuel by about two laps. Busch successfully managed the gas tank, and moved up one spot in the Sprint Cup point standings to fourth.

"My goal is to be within striking distance of the points leaders," Busch said. "Although I'm wary of being within striking distance of Tony Stewart. Experience has taught me that when he and I are in close quarters, I should keep my distance. Otherwise, he'll do the striking."

"As a representative of a dying breed, Dodge drivers with surgically altered ears, I feel compelled to speak on behalf of NASCAR's recent admission that they've talked to foreign manufacturers about competing in NASCAR. I'm not sure NASCAR, or America, is ready for such a European influx of automakers. I know I'm not. I'm already disliked enough by Americans. Put me behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz or BMW and I might just have my citizenship revoked."

6. Greg Biffle—Biffle and Jimmie Johnson battled down the stretch in the Lifelock 400, their desire to win suppressing their need to conserve fuel. Biffle took the lead when Johnson ran out of fuel two laps from the finish, then, just as Biffle was likely celebrating his good fortune, the No. 16 3M Ford sputtered on the final lap. Mark Martin zoomed past, and Biffle coasted to a fifth-place finish.

"I knew I couldn't hold Jimmie off and conserve fuel," says Biffle, "so I decided to do neither."

"I'm a two-time Michigan winner, so we had high hopes here. In the end, though, the empty gas tank left us all feeling fuel-dejected."

7. Carl Edwards—Edwards efficiently conserved fuel during the race's final green flag run at Michigan, giving him a fourth place finish in the Lifelock 400 and his second-consecutive top-five finish. Edwards remained sixth in the Sprint Cup point standings, and trails Tony Stewart by 262.

"Races at Michigan always seem to come down to fuel mileage," Edwards said. "Was there ever any doubt that this one wouldn't also? I knew the race would be decided by 'fumes' just as soon as Michigan's own Kid Rock issued the 'Gentlemen, start your engines' command, because I could smell the whiskey on his breath from where I sat."

8. Ryan Newman—Plagued by handling problems, Newman finished 22nd at Michigan, his first finish outside the top 10 since a 16th place finish at Phoenix. Newman fell one spot to fifth in the point standings, and he trails points leader Tony Stewart by 255.

"You know you've had a tough day when you have plenty of gas in your tank at the end," Newman said. "We never could get the car adjusted to the point where we could get involved in the gas-happy final laps. You know, I've got a college degree in engineering. But our day at Michigan was simply a study in 'engine erring.'"

9. Kyle Busch—Busch, who qualified second at Michigan, seized the lead immediately from pole sitter Brian Vickers and led the first eight laps. But, as the race progressed, the handling of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota declined, and adjustments ordered by crew chief Steve Addington failed to improve the situation. Busch finished with a hard-fought 13th place finish and held on to the ninth slot in the point standings.

"I spent the last week listening to the 'Six String Sting.' No, not the Scorpions acoustic power ballad, but the backlash from my victory celebration in Nashville last week, in which I smashed a Gibson Les Paul guitar."

"Maybe it wasn't the best idea in the world, but no one 'axed' me to stop. Anyway, it's working out just fine for me. NASCAR, never one to miss a merchandising opportunity, has created a new video game, combining the racing action of NASCAR 2009, the music of Rock Band, and the vandalism of Grand Theft Auto. It's called Guitar Anti-Hero."

"But really, I thought smashing the guitar was the coolest victory celebration ever. It could only be topped if Jimmie Johnson wins a Nationwide race in Nashville and celebrates by igniting the guitar. Of course, they'd have to call him 'Jimmie Hendrix.'"

10. Denny Hamlin—After a run of bad luck and a series of sub-par finishes, Hamlin rebounded at Michigan with a third in the Lifelock 400, his first top-10 since a sixth at Phoenix. Hamlin improved two places in the point standings to 10th, where he is 42 points ahead of David Reutimann in 13th place.

"I let off a big sigh of relief after we completed one lap at Michigan," Hamlin said. "After that, it was 'all systems go.' As opposed to last week at Pocono, when, after one lap, it was 'all systems gone.'"

"It feels good to get back on track. Being inside the top 10 of the points gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I intend for my next stop to be victory lane. And, when I get there, you can best believe I won't perpetrate some 'guitar-ded' victory celebration. Unlike some people, I know how to treat a trophy, although it's been so long since I've been with a trophy, I'm not sure I remember what to do."