NASCAR Power Rankings: Charlotte

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Charlotte
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

 

1. Kyle Busch:

Busch survived an adventurous day at Charlotte to finish third in the Coca Cola 600 and inch closer to the lead in the Sprint Cup point standings. Contact with Brad Keselowski on pit road midway through the race caused right-front damage to the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota, and contact with Jeff Burton on a hectic late restart infuriated Burton, who confronted Busch after the race.

“And to think,” Busch said, “just a week ago I was the one wanting to ‘kill’ someone. Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. But I really don’t think I did anything wrong. I think Burton saw a pretzel on my car and felt it was his right to get ‘bent out of shape.’”

“Now, Joe Gibbs has his hands full with Denny Hamlin and I. This is a far cry from his days with the Washington Redskins, when keeping everyone happy involved little more than a six pack in John Riggins’ locker. Of course, Denny and I will never be mistaken for the ‘Fun Bunch.’”

 

2. Jeff Gordon:

Handling issues plagued Gordon throughout most of Sunday’s Coca Cola 600, but a late surge, buoyed by astute pit calls, moved him to the front late in the race. Gordon stayed on the track during a late caution as most others pitted, and inherited the lead for three laps. He was eventually tracked down by cars with fresher tires, but his sixth was his sixth top-10 finish of the year, and he advanced two places in the point standings to fourth.

“Once again,” Gordon said, “it’s a case of ‘close, but no cigar.’ One would think Nicorette should be my primary sponsor, because I seem to have ‘quit smoking.’”

“And with abstinence comes dry spells. And Hendrick drivers are suffering. Jimmie Johnson is mired in an eight-race winless streak, while I’m enduring a nine-year Cup-less streak. Then there’s Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Talk about ‘going without.’”

 

3. Kevin Harvick:

Harvick finished 11th at Charlotte, fighting back from a lap down, and saw his lead in the Sprint Cup point standings dwindle to 29 over Kyle Busch.

“The margin may be small,” Harvick said, “but I’m still the man in the lead. Like many of my fans, I’m a ‘front-runner.’ Honestly, I don’t see anyone knocking the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet from this stoop. As with BP, ‘top-kill’ will be a failure in regards to Shell, as well. In addition, again as with BP, that will leave me ‘gushing.’”

 

4. Kurt Busch:

Busch was unstoppable at Charlotte, winning the All Star Race last week and leading 252 of 400 laps in his way to the win in the Coca Cola 600. Busch, in the No. 2 Miller Lite Vortex Dodge, held off the No. 1 car of Jamie McMurray down the stretch. It was Busch’s second win this year, and he jumped three places in the point standings to sixth, 172 behind Kevin Harvick.

“With three wins in the last four races,” Busch said, “the Busch brothers are the hottest thing in NASCAR. And that’s reason to celebrate, as least for Kyle and I. Call it ‘sibling revelry.’ McMurray, like others who have fallen to the Busch brothers, found out that ‘2’ is better than ‘1.’”

 

5. Denny Hamlin:

To avoid the out-of-shape car of Jimmie Johnson on lap 166, Hamlin swerved into the infield grass, an act which damaged the left-front splitter. Swift repairs kept Hamlin on the lead lap, but with his handling compromised, he fell a lap down before regaining it with a Lucky Dog free pass. He finished 18th, his first result out of the top 4 in four races, and remained fifth in the point standings, 166 out of first.

“I have no problem swerving to avoid a four-time champion,” Hamlin said, “but I do have a problem ‘going out of my way’ to avoid Kyle Busch. It’s apparent that incidents with Johnson and Busch both lead to ‘sparks flying.’”

“Joe Gibbs may have to dig deep into his play book to keep the peace between Busch and I. Our relationship, much like the handling of the No. 11 Toyota after a ride through the grass, is shaky, at best.”

 

6. Matt Kenseth:

Kenseth posted his eighth top-10 finish of the year, leading seven laps on his way to a tenth in the Coca Cola 600. He kept the third position in the Sprint Cup point standings, and trails Kevin Harvick by 117.

“As you may well know,” Kenseth said, “my No.17 Ford sported sponsorship by Jeremiah Weed Southern Style Sweet Tea Vodka. While I’ve yet to record a ‘DNF’ this year, that had to be my first ‘WTF?’ of the year. Their slogan should be, ‘It’s more than a mouthful.’”

 

7. Jimmie Johnson:

Usually dominant at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson looked out of sorts in this year’s version of the Coca Cola 600. He slapped the wall on lap 166, then, on lap 272, got loose and slammed the inside wall. Johnson visited the infield care center, was released, and returned to finish 37th, 36 laps down. He tumbled three spots in the point standings to seventh, 204 out of first.

“The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet has been dominant at Charlotte Motor Speedway,” Johnson said. “With six victories there, you can call it ‘home.’ But, after the last two wreck-filled weeks, so much for ‘home-field advantage.’ As the retaining walls at Charlotte can surely attest, my recent trouble there have really ‘hit home.’”

“It’s been a year of ups and downs. You know it’s tough when your visits to the infield care center outnumber those to victory lane.”

 

8. Jeff Burton:

Starting eighth on the race’s final restart, Burton’s No. 31 Caterpillar made contact with Kyle Busch’s No. 18, contact of which sliced Burton’s left-rear tire. Burton drifted quickly backwards, eventually finishing 25th, then confronted Busch on pit road.

“I’m known as the most diplomatic and level-headed driver in NASCAR,” Burton said. “And Busch may be the most brash and hot-headed driver on the circuit. However, I would never think of going so far as to say I would ‘kill’ him, although I’d be perfectly happy to kill him with kindness.”

 

9. Mark Martin:

Martin finished fourth in the Coca Cola 600, his fifth top-5 of the year, as the No. 5 Carquest/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet scored the highest finish for Hendrick Motorsports. Martin is tenth in the point standings, 263 out of first.

“I really feel like this team is rounding into form,” Martin said. “A breakthrough is imminent, and I think Pocono is the place. We need a win, and it’s make-or-break time, so I expect us to 'pool' our resources and fully come together as a team. This is ‘it.’ So, please, when I say ‘Mark-o,’ you say ‘Pocono.’”

 

10. Ryan Newman:

Newman started on the pole at Charlotte, his 46th pole in his Sprint Cup career, and raced to his fifth top-10 finish this year, taking ninth in the Coca Cola 600. Newman improved one place in the point standings to 12th, 351 out of first.

“As you know,” Newman said, “Tony Stewart hit one of Greg Biffle’s crew members during a pit stop in Sunday’s race. I can certainly sympathize with that crewman. I’m with Tony on a day-to-day basis, so I totally understand the perils of being in the ‘next stall.’”

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