NASCAR Power Rankings: Atlanta

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst IMarch 10, 2010

ATLANTA - MARCH 07:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, drives down pit road to Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 7, 2010 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Tom Whitmore/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tom Whitmore/Getty Images

Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson’s two-race winning streak was snapped in Atlanta, as a pesky tire-rub issue that forced a four-tire pit stop late in the race negated any chance for the win. Still, Johnson brought the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet across the finish in 12th, a solid finish and one that kept him well in sight of points leader Kevin Harvick.

“How’s this for irony?” asked Johnson. “After a four-tire pit stop in Las Vegas won me the race, it was a four-tire stop in Atlanta that likely cost me the race. But, that’s the nature of this sport. One week, you’re being handed your fifth Sprint Cup championship trophy; the next, you’re a mere afterthought. That’s going from ‘iconic’ to ‘ironic’ in the span of a week.”

“But what better way to deflect the ‘Jimmie Johnson domination is bad for the sport’ talk than a mediocre finish coupled with a spectacular crash? My teammate Jeff Gordon recently spoke of the need for rivalries in NASCAR. Well, we’ve got a big one now. Unfortunately, it’s between a driver who needs algebra to count his enemies, and another who hasn’t won a race in two years. For Carl Edwards, it seems that ‘V’ is indeed for ‘vendetta,’ and not for ‘victory,’ while for Brad Keselowski, ‘V’ is for ‘victim.’”

2. Kevin Harvick: A qualifying run of 35th forebode a difficult race day for Harvick, but persistence and astute pit calls by crew chief Gil Martin gave the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil team a hard-earned ninth-place finish in the Kobalt Tools 500 in Atlanta. Harvick still leads the Sprint Cup point standings with a 26-point cushion over Matt Kenseth.

“Once again, Carl Edwards has let his temper get the best of him. One would think fatherhood would have mellowed him out, but it seems that his infernal instincts have overwhelmed his paternal instincts. When NASCAR’s done with him, he may just get some paternity ‘leave.’”

“There’s only one person that calls him ‘Daddy.’ After NASCAR levies a fine that is sure to be in the thousands, there will be lots of people calling him ‘grand’ daddy. Last week, all the talk was of Carl’s first born; now all the talk centers on Carl’s first air borne.”

3. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth scored his fourth top-10 finish of the year with a second in Atlanta, surviving a race marked by late crashes and 16 extra laps. Kenseth moved up two positions in the point standings to second, and trails Kevin Harvick by only 26 points.

“I think we’re starting to reap the benefits of switching crew chiefs,” Kenseth said. “Todd Parrott was the right choice, if for no other reason than his name is easily pronounced. Besides, Parrott’s presence has spawned another unoriginal nickname for my pit crew.

No longer known as the ‘Killer B’s,’ these guys now prefer to be called the ‘Parrott-heads.’ Changes in latitude have resulted in changes in ‘Matt-itude.’ If Jimmy Buffett has a problem with any of our copyright infringements, we hope he’ll at least let us enjoy it through the weekend. ‘Come Monday,’ if it’s still a problem, we’ll cease and desist.”

“As for our esteemed Roush Fenway teammate Carl Edwards, my team loyalty, as well as my team owner, forbid me from criticizing Edwards. Besides, criticism at a time like this is counter-productive. There’s only one thing Carl needs more than my support, and that’s counseling. And I’m sure he’ll get lots of it. Heck, he might even need counsel , in the form of a lawyer, when he faces council , in the form of NASCAR’s disciplinary board.”

“You know, they call him ‘Cousin Carl.’ After NASCAR parked him for aggressive driving, they’re now calling him ‘Cousin Carl, once removed.’”

4. Greg Biffle: After hitting the wall in Saturday’s Happy Hour, Biffle resorted to a backup car and went to the back of the field for the start of Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500. Biffle steadily climbed up the leaderboard in the Census 2010 Ford, and was near the front for a number of late restarts.

A further charge to the front was nullified when spinning tires ahead of him slowed his line, considerably holding up a train of cars.

“There’s a name for those guys,” Biffle said. “They’re called tire ‘scrubs.’”

“I’m just happy we finished well and didn’t get caught up in any of the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski melees. Those two are akin to Aaron Fike and heroin—when they ‘get together,’ someone gets ‘high.’”

“I think, in the coming days, Carl’s going to be schooled in the difference between ‘retaliatory’ and ‘conciliatory.’ I think Carl immediately realized the severity of his actions and acted quickly to make amends. That’s probably why he drove through pit lane in the wrong direction after being black-flagged. Obviously, Carl’s version of the ‘Polish Victory Lap’ was a tribute to Keselowski’s Polish heritage.”

5. Kurt Busch: Busch led 129 laps at Atlanta, including the final nine after darting to the lead on a lap 332 restart, and won the Kobalt Tools 500, repeating his spring Atlanta victory of last year. With his first win under new crew chief Steve Addington, Busch jumped nine spots in the point standings to tenth, and trails first by 142 points.

“I know Steve feels vindicated now that he’s got a win as my crew chief under his belt. Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s team took Steve’s job; now. Steve gets to tell them to shove it.”

“As for the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident, I’m sure NASCAR’s new policy of allowing drivers to ‘police themselves’ will be put to the test. On one hand, you’ve got Edwards showing the ‘personality’ that NASCAR hoped for. On the other, you’ve got a car sailing through the air, endangering drivers and fans alike. I hate to say it, but NASCAR asked for this. Edwards may be a loose cannon, but the subjective interpretation of NASCAR’s new edict makes their law a loose ‘canon.’”

“In any case, the Edwards-Keselowski history is ‘feud’ for thought.”

6. Mark Martin: Martin blew a left-rear tire on lap 115, sending him sliding through the infield grass, as the Hendrick Motorsports team struggled with tire issues all day in Atlanta. Martin recovered from his blown tire, but was collected in a lap 331 wreck started when Jamie McMurray got loose. Martin finished 33rd. Ten laps down, and fell four places in the point standings to seventh.

“One would think,” Martin said, “after Goodyear’s infamous history in Atlanta, they would have had this tire problem completely resolved by now. And one would think, having not driven the Viagra car for three years, I’d no longer be subject to jokes about ‘inflation.’ ”

7. Clint Bowyer: After a quick, two-tire pit stop during a caution after Brad Keselowski’s crash, Bowyer held the lead for the first try at a green-white-checkered finish. After taking the green, Bowyer’s No. 33 BB&T Chevy was easily picked off by cars with four fresh tires, and soon after the No. 33 was collected in a crash initiated by Jamie McMurray.

Bowyer remained on the lead lap, however, and finished a respectable 23rd. He dropped three places in the Sprint Cup standings to fifth.

“It was an up-and-down day for us in Atlanta,” Bowyer said. “And speaking of ‘up-and-down,’ I had a front row seat for takeoff and landing of Brad Keselowski’s No. 12 Dodge. If you ask any of his rivals, they’ll tell you that’s as close to heaven as Keselowski will ever get.”

8. Kasey Kahne: Kahne led 144 of 341 laps in Atlanta, finishing fourth to lead a contingent of three Richard Petty Motorsports drivers in the top six. RPM teammates Paul Menard and A.J. Allmendinger came home fifth and sixth, respectively.

“Richard Petty was as happy as could be,” Kahne said. “I believe King Richard was ‘nighted’ on Sunday, meaning he slept very well.”

“Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my opinions on the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski shenanigans, or at the very least Twitter or Facebook my thoughts. Some may deem it odd that Edwards chose to explain himself on his Facebook page. I don’t. I think it was wise. Where else could Carl go and be surrounded by ‘friends?’

“I think it’s interesting that the opportunity for drivers to ‘police themselves’ arose one week after Danica Patrick left. It seems that for the first three races of the year, drivers were less interested in the chance to ‘police themselves,’ and more interested in an occasion to ‘cop’ a feel.”

9. Tony Stewart: Starting from the back after an engine change, Stewart quickly worked his way to the front in Atlanta, only to be shuffled back after a loose wheel forced an unscheduled pit stop on lap 307.

The No. 14 Office Depot emerged in 30th, but Stewart recovered to finish 13th, thanks to a few wrecks that eliminated much of the field, and thanks as well to Stewart’s ability to avoid those wrecks. Up three spots in the point standings, Stewart is now eighth, 134 out of first.

“It’s been a somewhat uneventful year for me so far,” Stewart said. “You know it’s been a quiet year for Tony Stewart when there’s an Atlanta race with tire problems and you still don’t hear much from me. A top-10 finish in Bristol, or a Rolling Stone article, will make some noise.”

10. Juan Montoya: Montoya was a force all day in Atlanta, qualifying third and finishing third to rebound from a tough day in Las Vegas last week. It was Montoya’s first top-5 and second top-10 finish of the year.

“What a difference a week makes,” Montoya said. “Last week in Las Vegas, Jamie McMurray wrecked his teammate. This week, he wrecked everybody but his teammate.”

“I may drive the Target-sponsored car, but the No. 42 clearly wasn’t the most ‘Target’-ed car on the track. That belonged to Brad Keselowski’s No. 12 Dodge. I think the people at Aflac chose a good race to keep their logo from prominent display on the No. 99. Carl Edwards may usually be sponsored by a duck, but, at least on Sunday, he was crazy as a loon.”


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