NASCAR Power Rankings: Atlanta

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst ISeptember 9, 2009

HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 06: Fans look on as Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, celebrates with a burn out after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 6, 2009 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Tony Stewart 

Stewart had a top-10 finish in sight until a loose lug nut forced an extra pit stop on lap 203. Stewart recovered from that setback and, after numerous adjustments throughout the race, the No. 14 Office Depot Chevy was fast on its final run, and Stewart nearly cracked the top 10 with an 11th-place finish.

"The pressure of the approaching Chase affects everyone," Stewart said, "even us. Our extra pit stop was just a microcosm of the duress teams feel under this situation, and they both lead to the same thing—nuts tightening."

"And, as Danica Patrick's unofficial spokesman, I'm here to say that she's ready to make the jump to NASCAR. We've talked about it, and I think what I've told her has had a positive impact on her ultimate decision. I'd love to see her in the driver's seat of a Stewart Haas Racing car. And I'd love to see me in the passenger seat, singing the Beatles' 'Drive My Car.'"

"Plus, Danica would be the first woman on my payroll who doesn't feel the need to work for tips."

2. Jimmie Johnson 

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Johnson qualified third in Atlanta and was a fixture up front for the first half of the race. But a broken axle with about 80 laps to go sent Johnson to the garage, where repairs cost him 20 laps. Johnson finished 36th, and dropped to third in the Sprint Cup point standings.

"The No. 48 Chevy and the volatile band Guns N' Roses now have something in common," Johnson said. "A faulty 'Axl.'"

"But our finish in Atlanta is not a big deal. This doesn't mean I'm not still the favorite to win the Cup. I am. If the last three years have proved anything, it's that in the Chase, the Cup hasn't been very good at eluding me. The hardware always seems to find its way to Lowe's."

"I feel no pressure. None. Not only is the champagne on ice, but the 'champion' is 'on ice,' as well."

3. Jeff Gordon 

Gordon finished eighth in the Pep Boys Auto 500 on an unpredictable night on the tricky Atlanta Motor Speedway track. On short runs, Gordon sported one of the faster cars, while the handling of the No. 24 DuPont deteriorated considerably on long runs. Gordon moved past Jimmie Johnson into the No. 2 slot in the point standings.

"And that's the 'long' and 'short' of it," Gordon said. "The inconsistency was troubling; I didn't know whether to put my foot on the gas or the brake. I did, however, know not to put it on a Frisbee."

"Hey, I think it's really cool that Tom Cruise will narrate an upcoming documentary on the history of Hendrick Motorsports. He's a huge Hollywood star and famous across the universe, so I think he'll bring a lot of attention to this organization. Let's just hope he can be as big of a shill for Hendrick as he is for Scientology."

"If this Hendrick documentary features spaceships and Cruise excitedly jumping up and down on a couch, then I don't think I'll endorse it as true."

4. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin became the fourth driver to secure a Chase For the Cup position, his sixth-place finish in the Pep Boys Auto 500 locking up the spot. Hamlin is fourth in the Sprint Cup point standings, 398 out of first.

"Unlike eight other drivers," Hamlin said, "I can go to Richmond content in knowing that I'm guaranteed a spot in the Chase. My teammate Kyle Busch doesn't have that luxury. That means, like the recipients of those guitars he donated to schools in Nashville, he'll be doing a lot of 'fretting.'"

5. Mark Martin 

Martin finished fifth in Atlanta, his eighth top-five result of the year, as the No. 5 Car Quest/Kellogg's Chevy was consistent throughout the night, absent of the wild swings in handling that plagued many cars. Martin remained 10th in the point standings, but finished higher than the drivers below him, thereby solidifying his Chase position.

"Hey, I'm not in this just to make the Chase," Martin said. "Winning the Sprint Cup is my ultimate goal. Should I make the Chase, I'll bring a lot of wisdom and experience to the table, some '50 Sense,' if you will. Now, I haven't been shot nine times, but I have been snake bitten quite often in my Cup quests."

6. Kasey Kahne

Kahne benefited from a timely caution with 17 laps to go at Atlanta and zoomed past Kevin Harvick on the restart with 11 to go. Kahne pulled away and celebrated his second win of the year, which boosted him a whopping five places in the point standings. Kahne is sixth, 96 points ahead of Brian Vickers in 13th.

"The No. 9 Budweiser Dodge was fast on the restarts," Kahne said. "When I saw Harvick in front, I knew I could catch him if I remained patient and tempered my amazement and disbelief at seeing a Richard Childress leading the race."

"But nothing's cooler than celebrating the win in Victory Circle with a Budweiser 'tall boy' and a Miss Sprint Cup 'shortie.'"

7. Juan Montoya

Montoya finished third in the Pep Boys Auto 500, only his second top-five of the year, and moved up one spot to eighth in the Sprint Cup point standings. After a brush with the wall late in the race, Montoya's No. 42 Dodge got faster, and he led laps 275 through 304.

"Sometimes," Montoya said, "when you can't get the right adjustment in the pits, you have to take it upon yourself to get it done. A slap of the wall is often the perfect remedy. And Michael Waltrip is the best self-adjuster in the game."

"I'm really focused on making the Chase, not just for me, but for my fans whom I like to call my 'Target Audience.' And speaking of Target, I 'aim' to become the first Colombian to qualify for the Chase For the Cup. Like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the dreams of an entire nation are resting on my shoulders. Unlike Junior's, the dreams of my nation are realistic. I'm intent on becoming the most well-known Colombian to deliver the goods since Juan Valdez."

8. Carl Edwards

Despite a broken foot suffered while playing Frisbee, Edwards still raced in Atlanta, and the No. 99 Aflac Fusion was quick early. But an oil leak sabotaged his evening as repairs in the garage left him 20 laps down. He eventually finished 37th, 23 laps down, and remains fifth in the points.

"We've all heard of odd injuries to athletes," Edwards said. "This may top them all, except for that time I broke my hand shooting myself in the foot. Luckily, Aflac is my sponsor, as well as my insurer. So, if you want a clever headline for the Frisbee incident, 'Disc-Oh! Duck' would work nicely."

"Yeah, the oil leak really did us in. I guess that's not the first time, as far as oil is concerned, that we should have 'put a lid on it.'"

"As for the broken foot, that's just the second best excuse not to do a back flip. The first being the inability to win a Cup race."

9. Kurt Busch

Busch's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge got extremely loose on lap 245 in Atlanta, and he slammed the wall and bounced into the No. 43 car of Reed Sorenson. Busch's car was done for the night, his second DNF of the year, and he finished 38th.

"The car was loose all night," Busch said. "And from the looks of things, I wasn't the only one dealing with those issues. There were cars fish-tailing all over the place. I haven't seen that many rear ends wiggling since Tony Stewart's last hauler party, which I wasn't invited to, but heard lots about, and got slapped for."

10. Brian Vickers

Vickers kept his Chase hopes alive with a remarkable seventh in Atlanta, overcoming a broken axle on lap 246 without losing a lap to the leaders. Vickers moved up a spot to 13th in the point standings, and now trails the 12th spot by only 20 points.

"Two words came to mind when the rear axle of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota snapped," Vickers said. "Not 'Oh no!' But 'Bull Split.' It's really a sickening sound to hear an axle give way, almost as bad as hearing Brad Daugherty speak."

"But we have our work cut out for us in Richmond. Kyle Busch is strong there and, like me, he'll be doing everything in his power to win the race. But I'll be more than ready if he wants to tangle. I know Carl Edwards' injury is a huge detriment, but I think I could benefit from the same type of injury, because I'd like to break a foot—off in Kyle's rear end."

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