NASCAR Power Rankings: Richmond

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst ISeptember 17, 2009

BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 22:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Pop Tarts/CARQUEST Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2009 in Bristol, Tennessee. Martin's start from the pole position in the Sharpie 500 will be his 1000th start of his NASCAR career.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie JohnsonJohnson was quick early, but loose handling conditions that developed on long runs later in the race unhinged his chances for victory. He finished 11th in the Chevy Rock And Roll 400, and starts the Chase 10 points behind Mark Martin.

"It doesn't matter where you start," said Johnson. "It matters where you finish. As three consecutive Sprint Cup titles can attest, I'm the 'finisher,' and everyone else in 'finished.'"

"I know everyone wants what I've got. But I won't let them take it from me. Those other 11 Chasers may have nerves of 'steal,' but I've got nerves of 'steel.'"

2. Denny HamlinHamlin led 299 of 400 laps in Richmond, and blew away the competition on the final restart to win the Chevy Rock and Roll 400. Hamlin called the win at his home track the biggest of his career, and issued a warning to the rest of the field that the No. 11 FedEx team is "dangerous."

"Hey, I don't fear anyone," said Hamlin. "Nor do I scare anyone. But, with apologies to Kasey Kahne, I feel like I'm the hottest driver entering the Chase."

"And, as the only member of Joe Gibbs Racing in the Chase, I'll have the full support of the organization at my disposal. Heck, even Kyle Busch has said he'll do whatever necessary to help me bring home the Cup. Hopefully, that will mean staying as far away from me as possible."

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3. Mark MartinMartin finished fourth in Richmond, clinching his spot and locking up the top seed in the Chase For the Cup by virtue of his four wins, tied for tops on the circuit this year. Martin will start 10 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, and brings nearly 30 years of racing experience to his quest for the Cup.

"I'm not known for being tall," said Martin, "so it's not often you'll find me commenting on the 'view from the top.'"

"I'm just hoping I can remain at the top. You know, it's times like this I wish I was still in the Viagra car, because right now, above all other things, I need staying power."

4. Jeff GordonGordon posted a solid third-place finish in Richmond, his 12th top-five of the year, and starts the Chase 30 points down to Mark Martin. Gordon led 97 laps on the night, but his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet was no match for Denny Hamlin, who led 299 laps.

"Clearly, we couldn't touch Hamlin's car," said Gordon. "But I thought we easily had the second-best car out there. And I guess I'm satisfied with that. If being Jimmie Johnson's teammate has taught me anything, it's that there's nothing wrong with being second best."

5. Tony Stewart Stewart fell a lap down early after making contact with Reed Sorenson on lap 44. He quickly got his lap back on the next caution as recipient of the Lucky Dog free pass, and eventually posted a 17th-place finish. Stewart will start the Chase ten points behind Mark Martin.

"The pressure of the Chase is immense," said Stewart. "You've got 11 other guys out there willing to do anything to beat you. It's nerve-racking, and downright scary, much like shooting a Burger King commercial with Erik Estrada and Carrot Top. It's 'ChiPs and a dip.' That Carrot Top is truly a frightening sight, possibly even more horrifying than a Jeremy Mayfield in-law."

"It's amazing the great lengths Burger King will go to sell a Whopper, but that's nothing compared to the great lengths Mayfield will go to tell a 'whopper.'"

6. Kurt BuschBusch easily clinched a Chase berth with a strong runner-up finish in Richmond, making an unsuccessful push to catch Denny Hamlin down the stretch. Busch will start the Chase 30 points behind top seed Mark Martin.

"It's too bard my brother Kyle didn't make the field," said Busch. "He gave it his best shot, but, as we all know, as in life as in racing, there comes a time when you've got to trim Busch."

"It's common knowledge that Kyle often acts like an outsider; now he actually gets to beone. And so will my crew chief, Pat Tryson, who just made public his intentions of leaving the No. 2 team to chair Martin Truex next year. I guess I was wrong about there being no quit in this team."

7. Kasey KahneKahne clinched his ticket to the Chase with a 12th-place finish in the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 after starting from the fifth position. Kahne will begin the Chase 20 points behind Mark Martin when the 10-race Chase starts on Sunday in New Hampshire.

"I think it's only fitting that Richard Petty is represented in the Chase," said Kahne. "Sadly, though, the No. 43 is driven by Reed Sorenson, who's about as far from NASCAR royalty as you can get."

"Hopefully, I'll be able to make history and give King Richard his first Cup as a car owner. That would the biggest story of the year, and for once, my driving would overshadow my popularity with the ladies. So, hopefully the Chase 'tale' will take precedence over my desire to chase 'tail.'"

8. Carl EdwardsEdwards, still winless in Sprint Cup races this year, finished 15th in the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 and will start at the bottom of the Chase standings with his winless brethren in the Chase, including teammate Greg Biffle.

"I see it as a new beginning for the No. 99 Aflac team," says Edwards. "Sure, we've lacked speed at times, which has lead to the unfortunate nickname of 'Sitting Duck.'"

"But I guess I'll have to face ridicule until I win a Cup race, just as I'll have to face ridicule for this cast on my foot. Breaking a foot playing Frisbee is really embarrassing, and it prevents me from having total comfort in my race car. Talk about a restrictor 'plate.'"

9. Brian VickersVickers bravely raced his way into the Chase, delivering a pressure-filled seventh in Richmond to seal the last Chase position. Matt Kenseth, 12th in the points when the race started, finished 25th, thus allowing Vickers to overtake him. Despite being the last man in, Vickers won't start the Chase at the bottom. Due to his one win this year, he'll trail Mark Martin by 30 points.

"What a great feeling," said Vickers. "Not only does Red Bull give you wings, Red Bull gives you 'cha-ching.' Red Bull also gives you a much cooler sponsor than Garnier Fructis."

"In less than three months we'll have a champion. The countdown has begun. 'T-minus 18, T-minus 17.' That's a Chase without Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth."

10. Juan MontoyaMontoya finished 19th in Richmond, clinching a spot in the Chase and thus becoming the first international, the first Hispanic, and first former Formula 1 driver to qualify for NASCAR's post-season.

"Hey, it's a great day for non-American, Hispanic, former Formula 1 drivers," said Montoya. "Every single one of them can rejoice in my accomplishment."

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