Nascar Power Rankings: Michigan

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst IAugust 20, 2009

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 16:  Brian Vickers, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, performs a burnout in celebration of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 16, 2009 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Tony Stewart—Stewart finished 17th at Michigan, behind several cars that gambled correctly on fuel strategy, yet ahead of others that ran out of gas near the race's end. Just by starting the race, Stewart clinched a berth in the Chase, and holds a comfortable 284-point lead over Jeff Gordon in the point standings.

"Never has the 'Gentlemen, start your engines' command meant so much," Stewart said. "Usually, the most interesting aspect of that command is seeing if Robby Gordon realizes that the grand marshal's use of the term 'gentlemen' precludes Robby from following that command."

"Now, as the first Chase qualifier, I've become even more desirable as NASCAR's most eligible bachelor. But really, I'm not necessarily looking for the one lady to say 'I do;' I'm looking for as many ladies as possible to say 'I will.'"

"Of course, there should have never been any doubt that I'm NASCAR's most eligible bachelor. Heck, I have a bachelor party every weekend."

2. Jimmie Johnson
—For the second time this season, Johnson dominated at Michigan, easily leading the most laps, only to see victory evaporate as a fuel mileage gamble went sour.

In June, Johnson relinquished the lead at Michigan when his tank went empty on the final lap. On Sunday, his tank went dry while leading with three laps to go, handing the win to Brian Vickers, who was on a nearly identical fuel strategy. Johnson finished 33rd and dropped a spot to third in the Sprint Cup point standings.

"That's simply a case of 'deja fu-el," Johnson said, while deleting Jackson Browne's 'Running On Empty' from his iPod playlist. "To lose the lead on fuel twice in one year at the same track is simply uncanny. That gives new meaning to running 'un-lead-ed' fuel."

"That's twice in Michigan we've been bitten by mileage issues, and it's cost us countless other times. Obviously, the No. 48 isn't the most efficient when it comes to fuel mileage. Can my devious crew chief Chad Knaus find a way to overcome that weakness? Well, that's the 'Six Race, $100,000 Question.'"

3. Jeff Gordon
—Unlike his Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, Gordon made a pit stop 51 laps from the finish his last, stretching his fuel mileage while Johnson ran out with three laps to go. Gordon finished second to Brian Vickers, who conserved fuel by drafting Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet.

With the runner-up result, Gordon reclaimed the second spot in the Sprint Cup point standings, trailing Tony Stewart by 284.

"The fuel situation handed me second place, and almost the win," Gordon said. "After what I went through last week at Watkins Glen, I think it's only fair I was able to 'back' into the runner-up spot at Michigan."

"Now I think it's just dandy that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally showed some spunk. First, he criticizes NASCAR, then he goes out and picks up a third-place finish. That 'criticism followed by a top-five finish' attitude is a very astute strategy, one that Kyle Busch has been employing, to little success, for most of the year."

"But I know Dale is pleased. His third-place finish must have felt like a win; someone needs to tell Junior Nation that it wasn't."

4. Carl Edwards
—On a track traditionally dominated by Roush Fenway Racing cars, Edwards was the team's highest finisher, posting a fourth-place finish and rising two spots in the point standings to fourth. It was the first time since 2001 that a Roush Fenway driver failed to win at least one of the Michigan races.

"It's way too early to count this organization out," Edwards said. "I think most people have forgotten who won the first two races this season, including me. I just know it wasn't me."

"However, there's still time for Roush Fenway to win races. So the motto in the garages is 'Just win, baby,' although Jack Roush would rather know 'Just when, baby?'"

5. Denny Hamlin
—Hamlin finished 10th in the Carmax 400, his second top-10 result at Michigan this year. Hamlin remained in the fifth spot in the points, and, with Kyle Busch faltering, will likely be the sole Joe Gibbs Racing representative in the Chase.

"Hey, Kyle's not down for the count just yet," Hamlin said. "But I think it's apparent he could use a 'standing 18 count.' Kyle's quick to criticize others, but maybe he should take a look in the mirror. Sure, it might say he's the 'fairest of them all,' but that's obviously a reference to his lack of a tan, and not his driving skill."

"With three races to go before the Chase, and Kyle 70 points out of 12th, his Chase chances have reached 'critical mass.' Kyle tends to blame his failures on anything or anyone but himself. That makes him a 'critical mess.'"

6. Kurt Busch
—Busch, behind the wheel of a strong No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, was impressive early, moving to second in just one lap from his starting position of sixth. But disaster struck past the midway point of the race on lap 121, when the No. 6 UPS car of David Ragan got loose in front of Busch.

With nowhere to go, Busch made contact, and the No. 2 sustained major damage. After replacing the entire front end, Busch returned, 22 laps down, but engines troubles ended his day for good on lap 146.

"Lately, I've had my eyes open for Jimmie Johnson's No. 48," Busch said. "We've had our share of incidents. Little did I know I'd need to keep a sharp eye on David Ragan's No. 6 car. In the future, my spotter's main duty will be 'UPS tracking.'"

"I knew when we had to replace the front-end that this wouldn't end well. Replacing your front end won't get you 22 laps back, but with the right tank top, it will usually get you a good job in one of the corporate hospitality tents."

7. Juan Montoya
— Montoya made contact with Kasey Kahne's No. 9 Dodge on lap 141, leaving his No. 42 Target Dodge hobbled with a flat rear tire. As he carefully wobbled to the pits, the loose rubber severed a brake line, compounding the issue.

Montoya lost a lap for repairs, but scored a "Lucky Dog" free pass on lap 157 and salvaged a 19th-place finish, maintaining the seventh spot in the point standings.

"The outcome could have been much worse considering the damage," Montoya said. "Usually, after suffering a cut brake line, you're lucky to even cross the finish line. By comparison, in my homeland of Colombia, a severed brake line means you've crossed a drug dealer."

8. Mark Martin
—Martin's Chase standing took a costly hit when he ran out of fuel on the final lap, seeing a sure-fire top-10 finish become a painful 31st. Like many, Martin pitted with 51 laps to go and chose to stay out when the caution flew for the last time on lap 159.

The conservative play would have been to use the caution to top off the fuel tank, thereby giving the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet the ability to race hard to the finish. However, crew chief Alan Gustafson chose to gamble and hope for more cautions, which never materialized.

"Gustafson just threw an 'Alan' wrench into my Chase For The Cup plans," Martin said as he left the track in an angry huff. "As you saw, despite the lack of fuel, I high-tailed it out of there faster than you can say 'It sure is a much bigger deal when Kyle Busch does this.'"

"You could say my exit from the track was 'steam'-powered."

9. Brian Vickers
—Vickers and the No. 83 Toyota team played the fuel mileage war to perfection at Michigan, outlasting Jimmie Johnson and the field to give Red Bull Racing its first Cup victory. With the win, Vickers moved up a spot to 13th in the point standings, and is a mere twelve points behind the 12th spot.

"It's funny," Vickers said. "On Saturday, Kyle Busch was 'raging against the machine.' Then, on Sunday, you had 'Bull's on Parade.'"

"This was a huge win for us. And, as expected, Busch was nowhere to be found afterwards. But he sure made himself available after Saturday's Nationwide race."

"What's worse than Busch angrily tapping at your driver's side window? I'll tell ya' — a drunk and disorderly Lisa Mayfield knocking at your front door humming the Speed Racer theme."

"I know she and Jeremy aren't blood kin, but lack of credibility sure does seem to run in that family. With feuding like that, these Mayfield's don't even need the McCoys."

"Here's a classic joke that's making the rounds in the garage — 'What do you get when you Google 'Lisa Mayfield?' 'Stupid Yahoo.'"

10. Clint Bowyer
—Bowyer posted his third-straight top-10 finish, and fourth in the last five races, with an eighth in the Carmax 400 at Michigan. In what so far has been a disappointing season for Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer has made a late push to represent RCR in the Chase. He is 14th in the point standings, 58 out of 12th.

"The No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet has really come around lately," Bowyer said. "As a whole, RCR really hasn't performed up to its capabilities. In fact, you could say this organization is a lot like Cheerios—it has a lot of holes."


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