After the longest race, lengthwise, in NASCAR history, The Racing Geek is a bit tuckered this week. Nonetheless, the rankings are in and not surprisingly, there’s a new No. 1.
1. (5) Kevin Harvick
Typically you associate winning, especially multiple times in a four-month span, with leading a lot of laps and being dominant. But Kevin Harvick is doing everything he can to prove that theory wrong. In his three wins this season, he’s led a total of nine laps. On the year, his 108 laps led are only good enough for 12th best. Then again, who really cares, considering he’s won more than any other driver in 2011?
2. (1) Carl Edwards
From the outset, the Coca-Cola 600 had the appearance of a Carl Edwards’ romp. However, as is often the case in NASCAR’s longest race, how one runs during the daylight is vastly different than how they run under the lights. And instead of cruising to his second points win of 2011, the driver of the 99 car got out of pit sequence and found himself mired back in traffic where passing was a chore. The end result saw Edwards finishing a disappointing 16th.
3. (3) Jimmie Johnson
My favorite moment Sunday in a day and night filled with them, was Fox showing Jimmie Johnson blowing up and Chad Knaus giving a typical Chad Knaus response as he witnessed smoke billowing out of the 48. Here’s a link to video, but be warned, it’s highly enjoyable, the content is not safe for work.
4. (4) Matt Kenseth
Like a host of drivers, fuel mileage cost Matt Kenseth a higher finish than he otherwise deserved. Unlike those other drivers, the ’03 champ led the most laps and looked to have his third victory of the season well in hand.
5. (2) Kyle Busch
It wasn’t the best of weeks for Kyle Busch. First, he gets tagged for stupidly going 128 in a 45-mph zone. He follows that up by crashing not once, but twice all on his own Sunday in a span of 25 laps. The first time he took a harmless spin through the grass. However, the second incident wasn’t as kind to M&M’s machine, as he hit the outside wall hard enough to warrant a trip to the garage for repairs.
6. (8) Dale Earnhardt
I got an email from a reader saying they disagreed with me saying that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was back. His contention was a driver whose gone three years without a win can’t be considered back until they actually, you know, win. It’s a fair point.
Regardless, I still stand by what I wrote. I contend that even though he hasn’t won this year – or for that matter the last two years – Earnhardt’s been in position to have at least four victories this season. In the Daytona 500 he was running with the leaders late before getting caught up in a wreck not of his own doing. He was leading with four laps to go at Martinsville before Kevin Harvick passed him and he had to settle for second. At Talladega he pushed teammate Jimmie Johnson to the win and finished fourth. And of course there was last Sunday at Charlotte, where Earnhardt came within a thousand feet of getting back to the winner’s circle.
Yes, he hasn’t won, but the consistency, as well as the results are skewing heavily in the direction that if he isn’t back, he’s as close to being back as one can possibly be without actually being considered all the way back.
(I promise the above paragraph made sense when I wrote it.)
7. (6) Greg Biffle
Everything I said about Matt Kenseth applies here except leading the most laps and winning for the third time in 2011. “The Biff’ is the favorite at Kansas, having won there twice previously and with how fast the Fords have been this year on the mile-and-a-half tracks.
8. (7) Clint Bowyer
Despite making wholesale changes to his car throughout the 600-mile race to combat a tight condition that would never be resolved, Clint Bowyer still managed to salvage a 15th-place finish. A finish good enough for him to maintain his eighth spot in the standings heading into what surely is the most important race of the year for the Emporia, Kansas native.
9. (10) Tony Stewart
With the calendar officially turning to June, now is about the time Tony Stewart starts to heat up on the track. The good news for the owner-driver is despite having just one top-five finish all season, he doesn’t have too big of a hole to climb out of by Tony Stewart standards, as he’s ninth in points and still within reaching distance of a upper-echelon finish in the standings.
10. (11) Jeff Gordon
With the continued inconsistencies of the 24, it’s apparent that the only way Jeff Gordon is going to make the Chase is via a wildcard spot. Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson need to focus all their attention on getting win number two on the year and not worrying about points. If that means gambling recklessly on taking no tires or two tires when the situation normally would call for four, or trying to stretch their fuel well beyond its limits, so be it. The bottom-line is all this team needs to do to make the Chase is win just one more time in the 14 remaining regular season races.
11. (12) Denny Hamlin
I did a radio interview last week where the host compared Denny Hamlin to my beloved Minnesota Twins. Unfortunately for both Hamlin and my Twins it wasn’t meant as a compliment, as both have struggled this season to meet the expectations that were laid out before them in the offseason. But at least Hamlin has a real chance of turning around his year, whereas the Twins sport an ungodly record of 17-36 and are 15.5 games out of first just two months into the season.
12. (15) David Ragan
David Ragan just keeps knocking on the door to Victory Lane, as his runner-up finish in the 600 can attest. You have to figure eventually he’s going to figure out a way to unlock the door and step into victory lane. Especially with a lot of favorable tracks coming up on the schedule where the Roush Fenway organization should have a noticeable advantage.
13. (9) Ryan Newman
There are a lot of drivers in need of a good run at Kansas. But perhaps none more so than Ryan Newman, who has a lone top-10 finish in the last seven races, and consequently has fallen from second in points to 10th, just 10 markers ahead of Greg Biffle for the final spot in the Chase.
14. (NR) Kurt Busch
It’s the NASCAR equivalent of the chicken or the egg scenario. Because Kurt Busch wasn’t complaining and moaning constantly on the radio did it allow him to focus more on giving constructive feedback to his crew and help him to a fourth-place finish – his first top-five since Daytona? Or, did Busch’s constant verbal tirades over the last month push Penske Racing towards making changes that were long overdue and as such Busch had a better car to drive on Sunday?
15. (NR) AJ Allmendinger
The intermediate tracks haven’t been the 43 team’s strong suit this season, so their fifth-place run in the 600 is promising for a team sitting 13th in the standings, just 18 points removed from a spot in the Chase. You have to admit, it would be pretty damn cool to see a Richard Petty owned car competing for the championship for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media/Getty Images