NASCAR Power Rankings: Sonoma

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Sonoma
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin’s run of two-straight wins came to an abrupt halt at Infineon Raceway, where an early accident set him back and caused ongoing problems.

At one point, the hood pins on Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota broke, causing the hood to cover his windshield. He eventually finished 34th, his worst finish of the year, and fell one spot in the points to fourth, 151 out of first.

“I won’t back off on my statements about ‘phantom’ debris cautions,” Hamlin said, “but I will obviously have to yield on any insinuation that I can win ‘blindfolded.’”

“Despite my troubles at Infineon and Jimmie Johnson’s win, I still feel that the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota is the car to beat. Sure, I’m biased towards Fed Ex, but that doesn’t necessarily make me a ‘mail’ chauvinist.”

2. Kevin Harvick

Harvick finished third at Sonoma, posting his Sprint Cup-best 11th top-10 finish of the year, and extended his points lead to 140. Harvick dueled with Robby Gordon for several laps, but was unable to overtake Gordon before the finish.

“As everyone knows,” Harvick said, “Gordon is a volatile person. I wouldn’t think of spinning him, much less bother getting to know him. I may be willing to ‘slice bread’ with Joey Logano, but I wouldn’t dare ‘break bread’ with Gordon.”

“As for anyone who may be critical of me, all I have to say is ‘take a look at who’s leading the Sprint Cup point standings.’ I’ve basically been on top all year. My wife DeLana may wear the fire suit, but where the points lead is concerned, I’m the one wearing the strong suit.”

3. Jimmie Johnson

Johnson captured his first career Sprint Cup road course win, capitalizing on Marcos Ambrose’s glaring error to take the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. Ambrose, in an effort to save fuel, cut his engine while under a late caution.

When his engine didn’t immediately re fire, Ambrose was passed by seven cars as he sat idly on the track. Johnson, previously in second, assumed the lead and never looked back.

“Ironically,” Johnson said, “this should put to rest all the speculation about my championship reign ‘coming to a stop.’ It’s unfortunate that Ambrose wasn’t able to refire his engine; I think we would have had a classic duel to the end. As it is, though, there hasn’t been this much talk about ‘refiring’ since the subject of Casey Mears’ career arose.”

“I’m not sure why Ambrose felt he needed to conserve fuel. Apparently, though, he didn’t save enough, because he wasn’t able to make it to victory lane. As a native of Tasmania, Ambrose must be feeling Tasmanian ‘be devil-ed.’”

“Would Ambrose have won had he not stalled his engine? The question is moot. Any such debate on the matter is simply ‘idle’ chatter.”

4. Kyle Busch

Trouble struck early for Busch at Sonoma, as a lap 10 pileup led to contact with the rear of Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 car. With significant front-end damage, the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota head to the garage for repairs. Busch returned to the mix 33 laps down and finished 39th, dropping one spot in the points to third, 141 behind Kevin Harvick.

“I guess it’s unfortunately fitting,” Busch said, “that in a car sponsored by dog food, we suffered damage when we went ‘nose-to-tail.’ Had we rear-ended the No. 47 car of Marcos Ambrose sponsored by Clorox and Kleenex, I think our chances of keeping our ‘nose clean’ would have been much better.”

“Obviously, with no finish better than 33rd, it was a tough day for Joe Gibbs Racing cars. And we’ve all got the incompetence of others to thank for it. Apparently, Kevin Harvick isn’t the only driver adept at driving into the side of a Gibbs Toyota.”

5. Jeff Gordon

Gordon stormed to a fifth-place finish in the Toyota Save Mart 350, but his actions in doing so raised the hackles of several competitors, including Martin Truex, Jr., Elliott Sadler, and Kurt Busch. Gordon apologized, for the most part, and said he deserved the criticism. He improved two spots in the point standings to fifth, and is 192 out of first.

“A lot of drivers said I was a bit too aggressive out there,” Gordon said. “That may be so, but for a driver who once was considered a road course ace now mired in a road course drought, I’ll try anything to get a win, even patience.”

“But my apologies are a lot like the incidents that spawn them---I don’t mean them. That should temper Kurt Busch’s displeasure at not getting one.”

“And I guess congratulations are in order for Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie wanted this win for himself alone, and I could tell he was extremely proud of his first road course win. That was evident in Victory Circle as he was photographed with the Sonoma trophy, sporting an ear-to-ear smile. In the land of ‘wine and cheese,’ it was a ‘mine and say cheese’ moment.”

6. Greg Biffle

Biffle was the lone bright spot for Roush Fenway Racing at Sonoma, charging to a hard-fought seventh-place finish while his teammates struggled. Biffle battled back from an early pit road speeding penalty to collect his tenth top-10 finish of the year. He remained ninth in the point standings, 79 ahead of Carl Edwards in 12th.

“I was able to avoid the spins that cost my teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards,” Biffle said. “It’s just another example of the unpredictable nature of road course racing. Unless you’re Jimmie Johnson, there are no ‘givens.’”

“As in any debate, there are two schools of thought on NASCAR’s decision to penalize Ambrose. Was NASCAR too harsh or too lenient? Parallels can be made with Edwards’ wreck of Brad Keselowski at Atlanta. That was likely a case of NASCAR going to easy, because Edwards made a clean getaway. In Ambrose’s case, maybe NASCAR acted too harshly, because Jimmie Johnson was recipient of a ‘clear give away.’”

7. Tony Stewart

Stewart battled Boris Said down the stretch at Sonoma, with Stewart finishing ninth, one spot behind Said. Right after the race ended, Stewart plowed into Said’s No. 26 Ford, apparently in retaliation for what Stewart deemed was unfairly aggressive racing on Said’s part.

Stewart improved one spot in the Sprint Cup standings to tenth, 351 out of first.

“I’ll respond to the No. 26 team’s criticisms in due time,” said Stewart. “And when I do, you can best believe it will be another tony Stewart quotable moment. Call it a ‘road course zinger ’ for a ‘road course ringer .’”

“Of course, what else would one expect when me and my sizable ego clash with Said, who’s known nearly as much for his afro as for his driving ability? Nothing less than the situation coming to a ‘head.’”

8. Kurt Busch

Busch’s No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge was tagged from behind by Jeff Gordon on the race’s final restart, and the impact cut the right-rear tire of the No. 2. A likely top-5 finish evaporated, replaced by Busch’s eventual finish of 32nd, and the Penske driver tumbled two places in the point standings to sixth, 216 out of first.

“Sadly,” Busch said, “I saw my chances for a top-10 finish go down faster than Miller Lite out of the vortex bottle. And, in keeping with the theme of beer, I’m ‘hopping’ mad.”

9. Jeff Burton

Burton, in his 500th Sprint Cup start, saw a sure top-10 finish when the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy was spun by Marcos Ambrose No. 47 on the race’s final restart. A disappointed Burton finished 27th, and maintained the eighth spot in the Sprint Cup point standings, where he trails Kevin Harvick by 307.

“I’m not too happy with Ambrose,” Burton said. “With me, as opposed to his engine, he had a little more success ‘starting’ something.”

10. Matt Kenseth

Kenseth limped home in 30th in the Toyota/Save Mart 350, seeing a promising finish derailed by a last lap spin, the result of a merciless scramble typical of the final laps on road courses.

Kenseth fell two notches in the Sprint Cup point standings to seventh place, and trails Kevin Harvick by 242.

“I’m disappointed,” Kenseth said, “as are my legions of fans. And by ‘legions,’ I mean Crown Royal drinkers. That segment of my fan base are crazy about liquor in a purple bag, so crazy that I call them the ‘Insane Crown Posse.’ I feel truly blessed to have Crown Royal as a sponsor. Otherwise, I might not have any fans at all.”

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