NASCAR Power Rankings: Talladega
Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
1. Jimmie Johnson:
Johnson clipped Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Ford on lap 196 at Talladega, spinning Biffle and sending the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy hard into the inside wall. Johnson suffered his second DNF of the year, and his 31st in the Amp Energy 500 wiped out much of his points lead, now down to 26 for 108. A few laps earlier, Johnson inexplicably blocked the charge of teammate Jeff Gordon, forcing Gordon to check up and fall back in traffic, where he was moments later caught in an accident.
“There was a time when my relationship with Gordon was considered ‘tight,’” Johnson said. “Now, there seems to be considerable distance between us, as if something ‘jimmied’ that tight bond open.”
“I understand Gordon said he’s ‘reached his limit.’ Therein lies the problem—he’s stuck on four titles and fears for his legacy. But let’s face it—people don’t like me because I’ve won four consecutive Sprint Cup titles. I say to them, ‘Don’t hate me because I’m bountiful .’
“But I’ve taken responsibility for my actions at Talladega. Gordon and Biffle are understandably not happy with me. Mathematically, 48 is divisible by 24 and 16. Apparently, that makes the driver of the No. 48 a "divisive" figure.’”
2. Kevin Harvick:
Harvick’s dramatic last-gasp pass of Jamie McMurray at Talladega gave him his first win since 2007, and denied McMurray a spring sweep of restrictor-plate races. Harvick benefited from a third and final green-white-checkered attempt, made possible when Jimmie Johnson nipped Greg Biffle on lap 196, prompting the race’s final caution.
“It’s been a long time between wins,” Harvick said, “and it’s great to make big news on the track instead of off. 'Harvick By A Nose' is a much more satisfying headline as opposed to ‘Edwards By The Throat.’”
“While my team and sponsor for next year are currently unknown, I have to thank my longtime sponsor Shell, which sadly is leaving to adorn Kurt Busch’s No. 22 car next year. To borrow a familiar racing phrase, Shell is pulling a "gas and go" on me. And, although Shell won’t be with me next year, I hope they feel my appreciation when I say ‘thanks for nothing.’”
3. Kyle Busch:
Busch led eight times for 22 laps in the Amp Energy 500, and survived several late restarts to bring the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Pedigree Toyota home in ninth. After a mediocre start to the season, Busch has reeled off top 10 finishes in the last three races, and four of the last five. He is fifth in the Sprint Cup point standings, 160 out of first.
“Michael Waltrip was quick to condemn me for the accident in which I nudged Johnny Sauter out of my way and into Waltrip’s No. 55,” Busch said. “Is that surprising? Not at all. Four Michael Waltrip Racing-affiliated teams were just penalized for using illegal parts, so Michael’s got plenty of ‘blame’ to spread around.
“Besides, my car was pinned firmly between Sauter’s No. 36 and Waltrip’s No. 55. You can’t blame the No. 18 Pedigree for Sauter taking a hard ‘dog ’-leg left, nor can you blame it for the result-Sauter and Waltrip becoming ‘lapped ’ traffic.”
4. Jeff Gordon:
Gordon’s late run to the front at Talladega was foiled by a block from Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, who swerved into the path of the No. 24 DuPont Chevy just as Gordon was building steam, pushed by the No. 5 Chevy of Mark Martin. Forced to check up, Gordon fell back in the field, and subsequently sustained damage moments later when Jeff Burton hit the wall and slammed into Gordon. Gordon fell a lap down, but quickly redeemed a free pass when Johnson caused an accident and the race’s final caution. Gordon finished 22nd and fell five spots in the point standings to tenth.
“I had a great run going that probably would have put me in position to win at Talladega,” Gordon said. “So, when Johnson slid in front and stopped my momentum, it’s easy to see that such a move would drive me to both my ‘breaking’ and ‘braking’ points.
“Jimmie needs to keep a well-focused pair of eyes on me in the near future. Like the millions of fans of Fox’s action/drama series starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jimmie will be watching ’24.’”
5. Denny Hamlin:
The No. 11 Fed Ex Express Toyota was consistently fast all day in the Amp Energy 500, and Hamlin led nine times for 17 laps on the day. Hamlin avoided a potentially disastrous outcome on lap 76 when traffic in front checked up, and he spun wildly down the track, regaining control without hitting the wall or other cars. He eventually finished fourth, and improved two places in the points to ninth, 193 out of first.
“That’s not the first time a Toyota has been seen spinning wildly through traffic,” Hamlin said. “Obviously, my ‘recovery’ skills are top notch. And, that new spoiler did its job; I could have easily gone airborne during that spin. White men can’t jump, and, with a new spoiler on their cars, they can’t fly, either.
“Remember, I’m racing with an injured left knee, so, much like Jimmie Johnson’s defense of his actions at Talladega, I barely have a leg to stand on.”
6. Matt Kenseth:
Misfortune struck Kenseth early at Talladega, as the No. 17 Valvoline Ford was collected in a lap 84 accident triggered when Kyle Busch sent Johnny Sauter spinning in to traffic. Repairs to the damage cost Kenseth four laps, and he finished 28th, which dropped him from second to fourth in the point standings.
“I hear the tension at Hendrick Motorsports is so thick you can cut it with a knife,” Kenseth said, “or Rick Hendrick’s business acumen. We here at Roush Fenway Racing don’t always agree, but when we do, we almost always agree to disagree.
“With sponsor issues a major topic of conversation, I’m happy to have a solid major sponsor, Crown Royal, in addition to Valvoline, which sponsored the No. 17 at Talladega. It seems that both of my sponsors are in the business of being ‘well-oiled.’”
7. Mark Martin:
Martin posted his fourth top five finish of the year with a fifth in the Amp Energy 500, leading one lap in a race that saw 88 lead changes, a Sprint Cup record. Martin jumped four places in the Sprint Cup point standings, and holds the sixth spot, 169 out of first.
“What a race,” Martin said. “It had more twists and turns than the Jeremy Mayfield Versus NASCAR court case. And just as much, if not more, ‘speed.’ And, as with the Mayfield-NASCAR case, much like a Talladega race with the maximum number of green-white-checkered finishes, there seemed to be ‘no end in sight.’
“Hendrick Motorsports has really made headlines lately. First, it was the ‘Kahne Mutiny.’ Now, it’s the emerging feud between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. I imagine Rick Hendrick will nip this turmoil in the bud when he says to those two, ‘Can’t we just get along.’ Funny thing is, that’s practically the same thing he told me when he signed Kasey Kahne to drive for HMS and showed me the door: ‘Can’t you just get along.’
“Hopefully, Jimmie and Jeff can solve this issue the same way Rick and Kasey did, by ‘coming to terms .’”
8. Greg Biffle :
Biffle had his hopes of a promising Talladega finish upset when he was clipped by Jimmie Johnson on lap 189, just moments after a slow start by Tony Stewart derailed Biffle’s momentum on a restart. Damage from the spin was minimal, but Biffle and the No. 16 3M Ford fell to 23rd before reclaiming six spots in the final two laps. Biffle’s 17th-place finish was only his second result outside the top 10, and he maintained third in the point standings.
“Sure, Stewart and Johnson made mistakes,” Biffle said, “and those mistakes cost me. But I’m not one to be critical, lest I sully my reputation as a driver who gets along with nearly everyone. Maybe you’ve heard me say, ‘Nobody beefs the Biff,’ nobody beefs the Biff.’ For all you old school rap fans, like Mark Martin, out there, that’s a play on Biz Markie’s 1995 classic ‘Nobody Beats The Biz.’ I guess that makes me ‘Biff Markie.’”
9. Kurt Busch :
Busch’s eighth-place finish at Talladega was a testament to the perseverance of the No. 2 Miller Lite team, as the squad overcame significant damage in a lap 84 accident, as well as a late speeding penalty on lap 146. Busch was 29th on lap 188 prior to the first green-white-checkered attempt, and steamrolled his way to the top 10 by the time the checkered flew. With his fifth top 10 result of the year, Busch improved two places in the point standings to seventh, and trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 177.
“I really made up a lot of ground in those last laps,” Busch said. “And speaking of ‘make-up sessions,’ Rick Hendrick has his work cut out keeping his two superstars at peace. Trust me, he won’t be asking my boss, Roger Penske, for advice. Roger dealt with a similar situation when Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman were teammates. Roger’s learned his lesson. Then, he had two guys that didn’t like each other . Now, he’s got two drivers, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, that others don't like.
“Now, as everyone knows, I’ll be in an entirely new car next year, piloting the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge. Obviously, Shell/Pennzoil prefers their drivers one way-unlikeable.”
“Brad Keselowski will assume duties in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. So, next year, when Carl Edwards deems it necessary to again decide ‘what code he wants to live by,’ we can all call it a ‘beer run.’”
“Consequently, anyone wronged by Keselowski can address him directly as the ‘devil in the blue deuce.’”
10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.:
Earnhardt scored a solid, yet disappointing 13th-place finish in the Amp Energy 500, his charge to the front in the deciding laps dashed by the luck of the draft and unforeseeable circumstances. Left without a drafting partner, Earnhardt faded down the stretch, but found comfort in the fact that he hasn’t finished outside the top 16 since California.
“And so it goes,” Earnhardt said. “My winless streak continues and frustration builds. You’ve probably heard that I said racing at Talladega is comparable to a ‘lottery.’ I guess that’s not entirely true; I could win the lottery.
“As you know, when Dale, Jr. shaves his beard, it’s newsworthy, as well as a boon for one of the most disturbingly obsessive Junior fans out there. At Richmond this weekend, one Junior fan will be selected to receive a package gift-wrapped with ‘all the trimmings.’”
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