The Best NASCAR has to Offer

Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte stretch unequalled on schedule
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese notes that NASCAR's month of May — with races at Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte — is the best of the season.</p>

Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte stretch unequalled on Cup schedule

Much was made of the first five races of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule being run on diametrically diverse tracks. From the season opening restrictor plate Daytona 500, to the bumper-car bonanza that made up the closing laps at Martinsville, and the intermediate downforce contests in Las Vegas and Fontana.

Pennell’s Picks: Fantasy NASCAR Trends at Richmond

Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's race in Richmond
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.</p>

This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Richmond International Raceway for some good ol’ fashioned short track racing in the hopes of putting on an exciting race — something many fans are clamoring for after a dull month. Typically one of the more action-packed tracks on the schedule, Richmond has averaged 10.8 cautions since 2007 and last year's September race saw a total of 15 yellow flag periods.

Horsepower Rankings

NASCAR circuit "rips" into Chase for the Championship

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Jeff Gordon  The four-time champ has averaged a 3.25-place finish over the last month. Gordon is looking like the “Wonderboy” of old at just the right time.

2. Jimmie Johnson  It looks as if his biggest threat in the Chase may come from within — as in within Hendrick Motorsports in the form of the aforementioned Gordon. Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Exclude From Games: 
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<p> Two of NASCAR's all-time greats — Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson — lead the list in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

8. Ryan Newman  Newman continues to throw top 10s on the board — he was eighth at Richmond — but he must avoid the hiccup his team seems to have once every month if a title is to be won.

9. Kurt Busch  When you finish in the top 5 but receive more pub for your post-race antics, you know you’ve got some explaining and/or apologizing to do. When the cameras are on, of course.

10. Tony Stewart  Tony’s antics came on Friday and, like Busch, were because of a confrontation with reporters. When are these guys going to learn that life can be a lot easier when they’re on friendly terms with the media?

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Somehow rebounded from a number of issues at RIR and snuck in the Chase. Sorry Junior Nation, but don’t expect much more.

12. Denny Hamlin  Led zero laps and finished ninth at one of his favorite tracks. That’s not a great sign.

13. AJ Allmendinger  AJ’s top-12 streak has hit five races in a row and he’s 13th in points. Not bad, young man.

14. Mark Martin  There’s still a little gas left in the tank, as Martin’s 10th-place finish in Richmond proved. Not bad, old man.

15. Jamie McMurray  This week will mark the start of “R&D Season” for McMurray and the Ganassi gang.

Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, David Ragan

Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro