NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 26

NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 26

NASCAR Top 10 Power Rankings: Week 26

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

1. Jimmie Johnson — Johnson enters the Chase as the No. 1 seed after pulling away for the win in Richmond, his sixth win of the year, two more than teammate Jeff Gordon. Johnson will start with a 20-point cushion over Gordon in defense of the Cup title he won last year.

"It's all falling into place for me," says Johnson, "just like it did last year. The blueprint is the same: fast start, get caught cheating, win Cup title. My goal is crossing the finish line successfully. Crew chief Chad Knaus' goal is crossing the inspection line successfully."

2. Jeff Gordon — Gordon led the most laps in Richmond, 191, but succumbed to Jimmie Johnson's late race surge amd eventually finished fifth. Having picked up his fourth win in June, Gordon went the final 12 races leading up to the Chase without a win.

"Call it a slump if you want," says Gordon. "I prefer to attribute it to the rigors of fatherhood. A Nextel Cup sure would look good in the nursery."

3. Tony Stewart — Stewart will start the Chase alone in third, 30 points down to Johnson, and 10 behind Gordon in second. Stewart missed the Chase last year, but enters this year's Chase as one of the favorites.

"If I had to handicap the field," says Stewart, "I'd put Dale Earnhardt's engine in everyone's car but mine."

4. Denny Hamlin — Hamlin scored his 15th top-10 this year with a sixth in Richmond, and begins the Chase 50 points down to Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin has a short history of strong finishes in New Hampshire, and could easily take the first win of the Chase.

"Just a thought," says Hamlin. "But shouldn't a win in the Chase get a driver 10 extra points? NASCAR wants to put an emphasis on winning races to capture the Cup, but right now, drivers are awarded more for wins leading up to the Chase."

5. Carl Edwards — While leading midway through the race at Richmond, the engine to Edward's Roush Fenway Ford blew, leaving him with a 42nd-place finish. Still, Edwards begins the Chase in fourth, 40 points behind Johnson.

"In situations like that," says Edwards, "it's best just to forget about the past. That's when I look in the mirror, smile, and call myself 'Carl of Tomorrow.'"

6. Kurt Busch — Busch finished ninth at Richmond, despite suffering damage in an accident in which he checked up behind Ryan Newman's spinning car, only to be rammed by Juan Pablo Montoya.

"And who, pray tell, will be the one driver not in the Chase who will have the most impact on the outcome?" asks Busch. "It's got to be JPM, who seems to have an ongoing vendetta against undented cars. I say JPM eliminates at least three Chase drivers from Cup contention before all is said and done."

7. Kyle Busch — Where will Busch's allegiances lie when the Chase starts in New Hampshire on Sunday? Will it be with his current Hendrick teammates, his future Joe Gibbs teammates, or with his brother, Kurt?

"None of the above," replies Busch. "It's every man for himself, which accounts for all of the Chase drivers except for my 'brother' Kurt. Like everyone else, I'm not sure of his gender, and I'm not sure of his loyalty either."

8. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth finished 14th in the Chevy Rock and Roll 400, and will start the Chase 50 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Kenseth has been consistent all year, but to win the Cup, he'll have to find a little more than just consistency.

"If I was a gear," says Kenseth, "I'd be neutral. I'm never great. I'm never terrible. I'm somewhere between the two. To win the Cup, I've got to find another gear. Maybe I'll kill two birds with one stone and find another gear, and a personality, in the same place."

9. Martin Truex, Jr — Truex will start 50 points behind Jimmie Johnson, and will join Kurt Busch as the only drivers without a teammate among the Chase qualifiers.

"It's been a trying year," says Truex. "But I have learned one very important lesson this year: under no circumstances should you asks for a 51% stake in Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated, even if your name is Dale Earnahrdt."

10. Kevin Harvick — Harvick finished seventh in the Chevy Rock and Roll 400, but not without some drama. Diving low to avoid an accident on lap 243, Harvick's No. 29 Chevy flew through the infield grass, collected grass and debris that clogged his grill.

"Grass in the grill is never a good thing," says Harvick, "especially if you're a rapper trying to convince a cop that he doesn't smell something suspicious."

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