NASCAR Power Rankings: California

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst IOctober 15, 2009

FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, performs a burnout to celebrate winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on October 11, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson is back in the points lead after a commanding performance in California, leading the most laps en route the victory in the Pepsi 500. Johnson now leads Mark Martin by 12 points.

"The No. 48 Chevrolet was strong all day," Johnson said, "and we reclaimed the points lead. Call it a 'reclamation' point with an exclamation point!"

"It seems to me," Johnson said, "that these so-called 'debris' cautions are just NASCAR's sneaky way of making a boring race just as boring, except with more crashes. But debris cautions, phantom or not, don't matter. It's become apparent that no matter whom I face, whether it be 42 other drivers, NASCAR inspectors, or trigger-happy flag stand officials, that there's no 'sLowe-ing' this team."

2. Mark Martin — Martin finished fourth in the Pepsi 500, only three places behind Jimmie Johnson, but far enough back to see his 18-point lead in the points turn into a 12-point deficit.

"I can't be unhappy with a fourth-place," says Martin. "And I'm not displeased that I'm second in the points. Second is a place I'm plenty familiar with. Heck, I'm 50-years-old; there is no virgin territory left in my life."

"I'm incredibly pleased with the equipment here at Hendrick. My No. 5 Chevrolet has been practically perfect, and it runs so smooth it's almost like riding on coattails."

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3. Juan Montoya — Montoya led 78 laps, second only to Jimmie Johnson's 126, and finished third in the Pepsi 500 in California, his fourth consecutive Chase top-five. Montoya is the only driver with top-five finishes in each Chase race, and held on to the third spot in the standings. The Colombia native trails Jimmie Johnson by 58 and Mark Martin by 46.

"Is NASCAR ready for a foreign-born champion?" Montoya said. "Well, were they ready for a foreign-made car? Not until they put an American behind the wheel."

"I think if I win the Cup, you'll see American fans in a 'His-panic.'"

4. Jeff Gordon — For the second straight week, Gordon scored the runner-up position, following Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson across the line at Fontana, as the Hendrick contingent occupied three of the top four spots. Gordon now trails points leader Johnson by 105.

"Two straight runner-ups," Gordon said, "and I still lose ground to the leader. I can't win for losing."

"Now, once again, everyone is all but awarding Jimmie Johnson the Sprint Cup championship. And, with Charlotte and Martinsville up next on the slate, it's looking good for Jimmie. But not so fast.

"Jimmie may be trying his hardest to win the Cup, but NASCAR is trying just as hard to keephim from winning it. NASCAR can always play the inspection card, especially since they warned Johnson earlier that they are watching. As we all know, concerning the No. 48 car, NASCAR has been known to be an inspection stickler."

5. Tony Stewart — Stewart overcame a late pit road speeding penalty to finish fifth, his recovery helped in part by some late-race accidents that allowed him to gain several positions. Stewart remained fourth in the point standings, 84 behind Jimmie Johnson.

"I think we did the best we could considering the penalty and the competition," says Stewart. "It's really tough holding your speed on pit road in the heat of the battle. And you know me. I hate drive-through penalties on the track almost as much as I do at Burger King, where a drive-through penalty means the clerk forgot to bag one of my two Whoppers, and I'm forced to drive back around."

6. Denny Hamlin — During a restart on lap 190, Hamlin, starting in front from the outside, dove in front of Juan Montoya's No. 42, clipping the Dodge and sending Hamlin spinning into the infield grass. Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota hit the outside pit row wall, and the damage sent him tumbling in the standings. Hamlin finished 37th, and fell three places in the point standings to ninth, 219 out of first.

"I'm not too proud to admit a mistake," Hamlin said. "As much as I'd like to blame Brad Keselowski, I can't. The accident was my fault. In my haste, I laid waste to my Chase chances."

"I cut Montoya off. You know, before the Chase began, I was riding a wave of momentum, so much so that I was ready to cut to the Chase. Now, after the accident, I'm cut out of the Chase."

7. Kurt Busch — Busch survived a spin on lap 238 when he hit the wall in Turn Four and slid into oncoming traffic, causing Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle to spin into the grass. Busch's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge suffered damage, but none which required immediate attention, and he continued to eventually post an eighth. He is now sixth in the points, 121 out of first.

"I'd like to apologize to Biffle and Kahne," Busch said. "I pray that I don't have to face the wrath of their fathers. Take it from me. I've been forced to say 'uncle' several times, but never 'daddy.'"

8. Carl Edwards — Edwards finished sixth in California, his best result in the Chase so far this year. He moved up two spots to eighth in the Sprint Cup point standings, 192 out of first.

"Hey, did you hear about the altercation between Greg Biffle and Joey Logano's father after Saturday's Nationwide race?" Edwards said. "Who does this Mr. Logano think he is, accosting one of my fellow Roush Racing cohorts? Doesn't he know that's my job?"

9. Greg Biffle— Biffle started second in Fontana, and was well on his way to a top-10 finish, but the 3M Ford was caught in a late-race accident started when Kurt Busch hit the wall. Biffle suffered serious right-front damage, but remained on the lead lap to finish 20th. He is now seventh in the points, 188 out of first.

"That wreck was pure mayhem," Biffle said. "Just like the aftermath of Saturday's Nationwide race, when I was confronted by Joey Logano's father, who was angry that I put Logano into the wall earlier.

"I think he gave me the 'one to go' sign, but he was smart enough not to take a swing. Apparently, he's aware that nobody 'beats' the Biff,' nobody 'beats' the Biff.'"

10. Kasey Kahne — Kahne's hopes for a good finish ended on a restart with 12 laps to go, when Kurt Busch bounced off the wall and collected Kahne and Greg Biffle. Kahne finished 37th, and later blamed NASCAR for throwing a bogus caution for debris four laps before his fateful accident.

"The amount of 'debris' on the track seemed to be proportionate to the size of Jimmie Johnson's lead," Kahne said. "Therefore, I have to question NASCAR's decisions to wave cautions for debris. And, since many of the debris cautions happened to occur when Jimmie Johnson had opened up a huge lead, I think that NASCAR is guilty of throwing caution to the winner."