NASCAR Power Rankings: Phoenix

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst INovember 19, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 15:  Jimmie Johnson driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet celebrates by doing a burnout in turn one after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2009 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson

Johnson dominated in Phoenix, whipping the field for his fourth victory of the Chase. He led 238-of-312 laps in the desert, and needs only to finish 25th or better to clinch the Sprint Cup.

"My wreck in Texas may have opened the door," Johnson said, "but my performance in Phoenix certainly closed it. So things went from 'slammed' to 'slammed shut.'"

"In any case, it doesn't matter if my quest for the Cup goes slightly astray, I'll still be yelling 'Four!' to my competitors as a warning to 'watch out.'"

2. Mark Martin

Martin finished fourth in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix, losing 31 points to leader and race winner Jimmie Johnson. Martin trails by 108, and is the only driver with a mathematical chance to overtake Johnson.

"Here in Phoenix," said Martin, "it was pretty much left up to the weather to put the heat on Jimmie."

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"Now, I probably won't win the Cup this year, but there's nothing wrong with second place, although with me, it grows tiresome. But if I didn't feel confidently about next year, I never would have re-upped with Hendrick Motorsports for 2010. I guess you could say I'm coming back for 'seconds.'"

3. Jeff Gordon

Gordon's ninth-place finish in Phoenix, coupled with Jimmie Johnson's win, knocked Gordon out of contention for a chance to win the Sprint Cup. When Johnson starts Sunday at Homestead, Gordon will be officially eliminated.

"I'm really disappointed that we don't at least have a shot," Gordon said. "It hurts to know that all Jimmie has to do is start, and we're 'finished.' But we're not dead yet. There's a chance, albeit a very slight one, that Johnson won't qualify for the race. Sure, it's unlikely, but there are times when a wacky Mayan prophecy is all you have left to cling to."

4. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin posted his 14th Top-Five finish of the year with a third in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. Hamlin moved up three spots to eighth in the point standings, 322 out of first.

"Jimmie Johnson's fourth Sprint Cup title aside," Hamlin said, "the biggest story in NASCAR now is my feud with Brad Keselowski. NASCAR called the brash young star into the hauler before Sunday's race, probably to tell him that 'brash' rhymes with 'crash.' I've already vowed to wreck him at Homestead. I'm not sure where my front bumper will meet his back bumper, but I do know that 'FedEx' will mark the spot."

5. Kurt Busch

Busch led 69 laps in Phoenix and came home sixth, his 20th Top-10 result of the year. Busch's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge led the first 52 laps and was seemingly the only other car on the track capable of remotely challenging Jimmie Johnson's No. 48.

"I though we 'had something' for Johnson," Busch said. "That 'something' was nothing more than a goodbye wave as he blew by me. But I'm sure Jimmie can smell victory. It smells like champagne and dust — the champagne he'll be drinking, and the dust we're already eating."

6. Juan Montoya

Montoya finished eighth in Phoenix, his 18th Top-10 finish of the year. He remained sixth in the points, and trails Jimmie Johnson by 289.

"I guess my hopes of becoming the first Hispanic NASCAR champion are over," Montoya said. "At least heading in to Phoenix, there was a chance. Afterwards, there's nada chance."

7. Tony Stewart

Stewart was one of several cars collected in a lap 169 crash started when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. got loose on the narrow back straightaway. Stewart eventually finished 25th, two laps down, and held on to fifth in the points, 285 out of first.

"It looks like Jimmie brought his 'A' game to Phoenix," Biffle said, "while everyone else brought their 'B' game, or worse. Some, like Junior, brought their 'E' games.

8. Greg Biffle

Biffle finished 14th in Phoenix, and is seventh in the point standings, 321 out of first.

"The race at Homestead will be nothing more than a 400 mile victory parade," Biffle said. "It will be just like any parade — there will be clowns, erratic driving, and the man everyone came to see. No, not Santa Claus, but Jimmie Johnson."

9. Kasey Kahne

Kahne came home 15th in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, and maintained the 10th spot in the standings, where he is 476 out of first.

"With Jimmie Johnson's fourth title imminent," Kahne said, "there's very little left to the imagination, except for the rumors of Danica Patrick joining NASCAR. I'm imagining it right now. The day that Patrick signs with a NASCAR team will be anything but a 'Dog Day Afternoon,' and I'll be the one leading the 'Danica! Danica! Danica!' chant."

10. Carl Edwards

Edwards remained winless in Cup races this year, finishing 16th in Phoenix. After nine wins last year, Edwards looked like a shoo-in to contend for the Cup, but 2009 has been a series of disappointments.

"I won this race last year," Edwards said, "and defending that victory would put a positive spin on the season. And I'm sure Mark Martin would like to see a 'positive spin', as well, which in his case would be another early wreck by Jimmie Johnson."