Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Mustache and mullet jokes need not apply

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Jimmie Johnson  Two runner-up finishes in the last three races but no wins since Talladega in April. It’s almost Chase time, though, and Johnson finds himself leading the pack (albeit in a controlled four-wheel drift) as September begins. Surprise, surprise.

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<p> Tropical Depression Lee, meet Jeff Gordon. Gordon won the day in Atlanta, but Jimmie Johnson — who finished second in a four-wheel drift — still sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

9. Kurt Busch  Like the little girl with the curl, Kurt can be very, very good or very, very bad. Problem is, that doesn’t translate into Chase success.

10. Kevin Harvick  After back-to-back 22nd-place finishes, Harvick and the boys rebound with a respectable seventh at AMS. Still, something is amiss here.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He’ll probably make the Chase, but at this rate that’s about all you can expect.

12. Tony Stewart  Finally broke out of a nasty slump with a big third-place showing at Atlanta. More should follow. Should.

13. Martin Truex Jr.   He keeps showing flashes of brilliance but just can’t finish like the big boys.

14. AJ Allmendinger  Somehow ranks 13th in the standings. Probably because that’s about where he finishes each week.

15. Clint Bowyer  If you were at work, YouTube his comments about Juan Pablo Montoya. Classic.

Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Paul Menard

 

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

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The Earnhardt Extension

Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick still an unlikely pairing

by Tom Bowles

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s racing legacy and how it will be linked with Hendrick Motorsports — the racing organization that came up with the plan to dethrone his late father.</p>

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Here Comes Danica

Danica Patrick comes full circle - literally - heading to NASCAR full-time in 2012

by Vito Pugliese

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese examines Danica Patrick's decision to move to NASCAR full-time in 2012 and what we should expect from her going forward.</p>

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Danica Coming to NASCAR Full-Time

Patrick will run full Nationwide, Partial Cup Series schedules in 2012

by Matt Taliaferro

Dancia Patrick is coming to NASCAR full-time. The current IndyCar Series driver and “GoDaddy.com girl” announced on Wednesday that she will leave the open-wheel series at the conclusion of the 2011 season to drive the JR Motorsports GoDaddy.com No. 7 Chevrolet in a full Nationwide Series campaign in 2012. JR Motorsports is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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<p> Danica Patrick announces her intention to run a full NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2012, as well as a partial Sprint Cup schedule.</p>

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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Kyle "The Surgeon" Busch speeding away from the competition

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Kyle Busch  “The Surgeon” begins to pull away … kind of like he’s going 128 mph and the rest of the field is doing the 45 mph speed limit.

2. Jimmie Johnson  To those harping about how Johnson is ripe for the taking, take notice that he has only six finishes worse than 11th (in 23 races) this year and sits second in the point standings. Blue 48, prepare to make your Chase run.

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<p> Kyle Busch begins to pull away from Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the field in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

7. Ryan Newman Newman is very quietly putting together a solid season. He’s no Kyle Busch, but if things continue along the current path, he could make a respectable showing in the championship standings.

8. Kevin Harvick Harvick has been awful quiet lately. Too quiet, in fact. Makes me wish for the days of his grandstanding with Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Carl Edwards ... am I leaving anyone out?

9. Kurt Busch Wonder if, after 38th- and 34th-place runs, Kurt is wishing he was still behind the wheel of the Miller Lite Dodge? After all, his scripted sponsor plugs worked better then. Kind of.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior sits 10th here not because of his impressive performances, but because no one else has wrested it from him. And at this point, that wouldn’t be hard to do.

11. Mark Martin  Showing real signs of speed the last few weeks — and there’s still time to sneak into this Chase.

12. Tony Stewart  His cars aren’t handling right, he’s frustrated, Bristol is up next and he’s on the Chase bubble. NASCAR media beware!

13. Denny Hamlin  Sometimes you get the feeling Denny gets inside his own head.

14. Greg Biffle  At least he’s qualifying better these days ...

15. Clint Bowyer  Somehow still hanging in at 11th in the standings, which may speak to the competition down there.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.
 

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

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Kyle Busch Wins in Michigan

Kyle Busch muscles to Win No. 4 of 2011, takes points lead

by Matt Taliaferro

There was no fuel mileage or weather-related strategy involved in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway — only pure, unadulterated horsepower. And Kyle Busch had the most of it, pulling away from Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checker restart to win his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2011, and in the process, take the lead in the championship standings.

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<p> Kyle Busch pulled away from Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checker finish at Michigan International Speedway to win the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday.</p>

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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Is Keselowski Brewing Up a Chase Run?

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Kyle Busch  Leads the series in top 5s (12) and is tied for the lead in wins (3) and top 10s (14). He also leads all drivers in best looking wife/girlfriend (and there’s some stiff competition there).

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<p> Kyle Busch still sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings, but a new threat is gaining ground fast.</p>

5. Brad Keselowski  Is this ranking too high for Keselowski? Maybe, but there’s no doubt the boy is delivering on his potential — busted ankle and all — and could make for a nice darkhorse title contender (and no, none of his product was consumed in the writing of this article).

6. Kevin Harvick  Scores his first top-10 finish at Watkins Glen since the July Daytona race. That said, he’s somehow pulled a Carl Edwards and stayed firmly entrenched in the top 5 in the standings. Doesn’t he just seem to disappear sometimes?

7. Kurt Busch  It’s hard to recall the last time a lapped car gave the leader the boot, but that’s what we saw out of Busch at the Glen. Let’s see — Kurt would now be wise to steer clear of Johnson and Allmendinger for a while.

8. Matt Kenseth  Random stat of the day: Matt Kenseth — not especially known for his road racing acumen — has six straight finishes between 12th and 14th on the roadies. I don’t know how to interpret that, but there it is.

9. Ryan Newman  The circuit returns to Michigan on Sunday, where Newman scored a sixth-place finish in June. Expect about the same out of a team that’s been trending upward in the season’s second half. And expect some sarcastic response to a reporter during his Friday media availability for good measure.

10. Tony Stewart  A solid top 5 at the Glen was spoiled late. The resulting 27th dropped him in the standings to the edge of the Chase cliff. That oughta put Tony in a real good mood in Michigan.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  A 15th at the Glen? Yeah, Junior will gladly take that and move on to the site of his last win.

12. Denny Hamlin  We’re all just glad Denny walked away from that one. It’ll be interesting to see what a new engine package does for his team moving forward.

13. Paul Menard  A blown tire late at the Glen ruined what was another pretty decent run for Menard. I’m sure if you asked him about it, he’d give you a very leveled and somewhat emotionless response.

14. Joey Logano  That road course training Joey got from Max Papis paid off to the tune of a fifth-place run. Man, this kid is still all over the board.

15. Greg Biffle  This may be premature, but Biffle could very well rocket up these ranking after he wins Michigan this weekend.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin

 

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

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Horsepower Rankings

Pocono Rain Doesn't Dampen Spirited Finish

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Kyle Busch  For the second race in a row, Busch overcame issues that hindered his early-race gains to post a top-10 finish. The runner-up at Pocono finds him just 11 points out of the points lead.

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<p> Edwards is signed, Johnson is gearing up for his run and Gordon is, well, Gordon. But Kyle Busch is still the man to beat in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Stewart-Haas Racing making a charge

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Carl Edwards  Edwards has been first or second in the point standings after 17 of the 19 races this year. It may be tight at the top, but as others come and go, Carl remains.

2. Kyle Busch  Kyle claims the flat tire that ended his day in Loudon was due to excessive brake heat, but it looked more like it was due to excessive contact with Hendrick Motorsports cars.

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<p> A big weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing's Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman was impressive, but not enough to knock Carl Edwards from atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

10. Tony Stewart  On the topic of wins, Stewart (also on the Chase bubble) needs one in the worst way. The good news is that the Brickyard is up next and a runner-up showing in Loudon is fresh on his mind.

11. Joey Logano  A string of top-15 runs may be too little too late if Logano can’t pick up a victory.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Junior is going the wrong way fast. Never has there been a better time for an off weekend.

13. Kasey Kahne  From 19th to 15th in the standings in the last three weeks. Is there a spoiler in our midst?

14. David Ragan  Ragan joins Stewart as the wild card qualifier for the Chase as they run now. Needs to change his lack-luster Indy ways, though.

15. Brad Keselowski  Is 25 points out of 20th in the standings and, with his Kansas win, a Chase spot. My thinking is he gets there.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, David Reutimann
 

You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro

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Rocketing Past the Competition

Stewart-Haas Racing smokes the field in Loudon

by Matt Taliaferro

A typical fuel-mileage race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit finds a surprise winner in Victory Lane — a driver and team running mid-pack that have nothing to lose by rolling the proverbial dice and stretching a tank of gas to the max.

Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was not your typical fuel mileage race.

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<p> Teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart qualified and finished 1-2 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Lenox Industrial Tools 301 from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.</p>

“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling this year,” Stewart said. “But it really shows me the depth of the people we got in our organization.

“Our guys at our shop just keep plugging away, they keep working, they keep their chins up. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. It’s easy when things are going right. But when times are tough and you have a day like today, you see how your organization battles. That, to me, shows the character of what Stewart-Haas Racing is about, what our people are like.”

Newman’s win could pay big dividends for his playoff hopes. He had been teetering on the Chase bubble for weeks, but the New Hampshire victory falls just one week after a strong fourth-place showing at Kentucky. He now finds himself eighth in the championship standings and with insurance via the win that, were he to fall out of the top 10, could qualify his team based on the two wild card entries awarded to race-winners.

Stewart’s standing is a bit more precipitous. Normally a driver who comes alive in the hot summer months, Stewart is winless in 2011. Still, he is tied with Hamlin for 10th in the standings, although Hamlin’s win at Michigan serves as the tiebreaker. But with one of Stewart’s favorite tracks on tap — the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway — it could be the start of an SHR surge.

Kyle Busch entered New Hampshire with the points lead but blew a tire on lap 61 a limped to a 36th-place finish. That handed the points lead back to Carl Edwards, whose 13th-place run finds him seven points ahead of Johnson in the race to the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s slide continued on Sunday. A top-10 car for much of the afternoon, Earnhardt’s No. 88 was the victim of a pit road violation. Having to make up lost ground, he drove to a 15th-place finish but fell to ninth in the standings, with only a seven-point cushion over Stewart, after being a fixture in the top 5 for the first half of the season.
 

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