NASCAR Power Rankings: Darlington

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Darlington
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Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin led 104 laps in Saturday’s Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington, and capitalized on mistakes by Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton to close out the win and capture his third triumph of the year.

Hamlin also won Friday’s Nationwide Royal Purple 200, and became the first driver to sweep the Darlington races since Mark Martin in 1993. Hamlin is now sixth in the Sprint Cup point standings, 164 out of first.

“I may need a crutch to walk, but not a broom to sweep," said Hamlin. "Jeff Gordon may be shaky in the clutch, but I’m strong on the crutch.

“Now, do the trappings of success that apply to Jimmie Johnson apply to me as well? When Jimmie strings together a dominating series of races, everyone all but hands him the Sprint Cup trophy, and makes him out to be the bad guy. I believe I’ll face a similar situation. Johnson may be heeling , while I’m healing . And when we’re on, we both drive with surgical precision.

“That’s my third win this year, and coupled with Kyle Busch’s win last week at Richmond, that’s two in a row for Joe Gibbs Racing. Does this signify a shift in power? Of course, everyone knows the lineup of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is quite formidable, and Rick Hendrick gives the team hire power. Hendrick not only can wade in his talent pool, he could drown in it.

“But JGR can hold its own. While Jimmie and Jeff have had their share of disagreements, we here at Gibbs are a cohesive unit. Oftentimes, people speak of the glue that holds a team together. Not here. This team maintains its bond via the use of magnets.”

 

Jeff Gordon

Gordon led a race-high 110 laps at Darlington, but a mental error again prevented a potential victory, thus extending his winless streak to 40 races.

Looking to pit before other leaders near race’s end, Gordon had to abort the move when he failed to signal drivers closing behind him.

When he pitted a lap later, David Reutimann’s spin brought out a caution, and Gordon had to rush back onto the track to avoid losing a lap.

With track position lost, Gordon eventually restarted 12th, but dashed to fourth by the end.

“Racing is often a matter of give and take, for me especially," said Gordon. "Lately, I’ve been giving away victories, then taking responsibility for it.

“Now, if I was as good at manufacturing victories as I am at making excuses, then I’d have at least five wins this year. As it is, another one bites the dust. It’s always convenient to use the music of Queen to explain the unexplainable. Now, if you throw in David Bowie with Queen, then the explanation becomes even more evident—I’m not what I used to be Under Pressure.”

 

Kyle Busch

Busch hit the wall in Friday’s qualifying, forcing a change to his backup car and a start at the back of the field for Saturday’s Showtime Southern 500.

Busch, in the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota, quickly stormed to the front, and led 29 laps on his way to a seventh-place finish, his sixth top 10 of the year. He remained third in the point standings, 113 behind Kevin Harvick.

“It’s never a good thing to start at the back of the field,” Busch said. “But the new, mature Kyle Busch handled it with grace and aplomb. The old, whiny Kyle would have handled it with dis grace while dropping the A -bomb . Rest assured, a year ago, if the No. 18 Doublemint car would have had to go to the back, somebody would have been chew -ed out.

“Congratulations are in order for Denny. Not everyone is aware that doctors surgically implanted a cadaver’s ligament in Denny’s injured knee. Since then, he and the Fed Ex Toyota have nearly been unstoppable. The Fed-man winning owes a lot to a dead man walking.”

 

Kevin Harvick

Harvick posted his series-leading eighth top-10 finish of the year when he finished sixth in the Showtime Southern 500.

Harvick extended his lead in the Sprint Cup point standings from 10 to 110 points over Jimmie Johnson, who finished 36th after a lap 179 crash.

“Again, we had a mishap on pit road with some dropped lug nuts, and I gave my crew chief Gil Martin an earful," said Harvick. "That’s called a Darlington gripe.

“I understand Old Spice won’t be renewing it’s sponsorship of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 car next year. That stinks. I’m completely sympathetic. Although my contract renewal with Richard Childress Racing is scheduled to be signed later this month, I still don’t have a sponsor for next year. I don’t proclaim to be hip, unless I’m shooting from it, but what I need right now is a sponsor to pimp my ride.”

 

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson suffered his third DNF of the season when he was slammed on lap 179 by A.J. Allmendinger after brake failure sent the No. 43 sliding up the track and hard into the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy.

Johnson finished 36th and remained second in the point standings.

“As you know, Allmendinger drives for Richard Petty Motorsports," Johnson said. "It’s certainly ironic that a car of the King hit that of the reigning champ. I know Petty is long removed from driving the No. 43 car, but that accident was a blast from the past nonetheless. The No. 48 Lowe’s car was totaled and nearly beyond repair. Financially, it would take a king’s ransom to salvage it.

“Now, everyone is asking, 'What’s wrong with Jimmie Johnson?' As four consecutive ceremonial crownings of the Sprint Cup champion can attest, I think the more appropriate question is ‘What’s rite with Jimmie Johnson?’

“But two DNF’s in three races, when I only had one in all of 2009, is certainly alarming. But there’s 42 other drivers who can expect a serious wake-up call when I win handily at Dover.”

 

Kurt Busch

Busch finished third at Darlington, using a quick pit stop during the race’s final caution to restart fourth with 20 laps to go.

The elder Busch passed younger brother Kyle with 17 laps to go before cruising to his fourth, top five, of the year.

Busch is eighth in the point standings, 202 behind Kevin Harvick.

“With Brad Keselowski taking over the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge next year it’s apparent that the Miller Brewing Company thinks my ability to sell beer has waned," Busch said. "It seems that a controversial figure such as Keselowski, while he may not appeal to his fellow drivers, appeals well enough to Miller’s target market. So, in addition to his ability to push buttons, Brad can push product as well.

“Speaking of gimmicks, have you seen Miller Lite’s new vortex bottle? The grooved bottle creates a vortex when it’s poured. That sounds like the biggest scam in a bottle since water. I’ve heard of whiskey in a bottle, but this is a clear case of whimsy in a bottle.”

 

Jeff Burton

After jousting for the lead with Denny Hamlin prior to the race’s final caution, Burton’s hopes for the win at Darlington were dashed in the pits, when he ran over his air hose. After serving a drive-through penalty, the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy restarted 13th, well out of range of Hamlin in first, and Burton eventually finished eighth.

“That hissing sound is not a busted air hose,” Burton said. “It’s me addressing my pit crew. At least for this week, I’m calling them the CAT-astrophies . I think that’s a more tactful and less hurtful way of criticizing my crew. They are sensitive fellows. In the RCR family, I think you’ll see that Clint Bowyer and myself are much more compassionate in that respect than Kevin Harvick. To use a weightlifting analogy, it’s a clear case of clean and jerk.”

 

Matt Kenseth

Kenseth finished 13th for the second straight race. Loose-handling conditions plagued Kenseth, a situation exacerbated by cooling track temperatures.

Kenseth fell one spot to fifth in the point standings, and is 150 out of first.

“I had my share of Darlington stripes,” Kenseth said. “The Lady In Black certainly left her mark on the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford. Although I don’t condone it, black on black crime is quite commonplace at Darlington.”

 

Juan Montoya

Montoya posted his third consecutive top-six finish, racing to a fifth at Darlington as the Colombian continued to erase the impact of four finishes outside the top 34 this season.

Montoya had never finished better than 20th at Darlington, and his finish, coupled with teammate Jamie McMurray’s runner-up result, gave Earnhardt Ganassi Racing two cars in the top five.

“South Carolina is a lot like South America except with slightly more Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans,” Montoya said.

“Anyway, after a rough start to the season, we feel we’ve finally got the No. 42 Target car up to speed, giving us the ability to run with the big dogs. My competitors had grown accustomed to seeing the red No. 42 Dodge behind them. No longer. Now that I’m running up front contending for wins, it’s going to make them see red in the face.”

 

Mark Martin

Martin, the defending Darlington champion, finished 16th in the Showtime Southern 500, as an untimely caution caught the No. Five GoDaddy.com Chevrolet on pit road. Martin is tenth in the Sprint Cup point standings, 265 out of first.

“As you can see by the right sides of nearly every car leaving a mark is inevitable here at Darlington," said Martin. "And it also seems to be inevitable at Hendrick Motorsports. I’ll be gone after the 2011 season to make room for Kasey Kahne. Do I want to leave Hendrick? Maybe. Was I given an ultimatum? Maybe. Let’s just say my exit from Hendrick is a case of friendly fire.”

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