It wasn’t quite the Southern 500, but at least the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was racing where it should be – the South – on Labor Day weekend. The abrasive, slippery surface at Atlanta put drivers and teams to the test, and we saw some incredible athletic ability during the track’s own 500-mile Sunday tradition that entered its second year on Sunday (Sept. 5). Tires that wore Darlington-style combined with men going for the trophy, not the points, leading to an old-school NASCAR marathon filled with plenty of ebbs and flows.
But as the competition entered the homestretch, the cream naturally rose to the top, leaving the majority of the cars running up front the same ones ready to compete for the championship come New Hampshire. In the end, Tony Stewart was finally able to break into victory lane for the first time all season, maintaining his personal 12-year victory streak that dates back to when he was a rookie in 1999.
How much did that hard day’s work by Smoke help him climb up our Labor Day Power Rankings? Did Kevin Harvick’s pit lane and tire woes cause him to lose his hold on the number one spot? And after Kyle Busch’s confrontation with Todd Bodine in the Truck race, were the voters soured on the Shrub or inspired? Check out how our experts responded to the latest edition of “Darlington Pretend,” filing away those Atlanta action-packed votes in our newest weekly Top-15 poll.
|FRONTSTRETCH TOP-15 POWER RANKINGS: SEPTEMBER 8, 2010|
|Rank||Driver (First-Place Votes)||Votes||Last Week|
|1||Tony Stewart (4)||203||5|
|Finally followed through on his promise to hit the highlight reels of victory lane. Now, all he needs is to spin someone out at Richmond, then throw a sucker punch and his traditional sizzling summer streak will be complete.|
|2||Carl Edwards (2)||191||4|
|Officially ended his personal season-long competition with Dale Earnhardt Jr. – laps led vs. Earnhardt’s top-10 finishes – by pacing the field for 32 laps Sunday night. Before then, it looked like it might come down to the wire…|
|3||Kevin Harvick (2)||187||1|
|A shame that his pit crew didn’t take the chance to chastise him for screwing up Sunday night. It’s only fair after the earfuls he’s given them the last month or so. I wonder if they could fly in Donald Trump for Richmond before things start getting serious?|
|4||Kyle Busch (1)||180||2|
|Changed his standing order at Papa John’s to NO ONIONS.|
|5||Jimmie Johnson (2)||171||10|
|All Chad Knaus had to do in the Wednesday team meeting was turn the page on that calendar from August to September. Playtime is over now; time to see what the four-time champ has really been hiding under his sleeve all year long.|
|Probably the most TV coverage Burton has had all year Sunday night, and for good reason – he was sideways, slideways, yawed-out and racing (not riding) for every one of those 500 miles.|
|Would love to have been at the debrief on Tuesday morning to hear what Kurt meant by that No. 77 setup comment. True story: Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Keselowski have as many top 10s, combined, as Dave Blaney, Scott Riggs, Michael McDowell and Landon Cassill. Aren’t you supposed to have help from teammates to win a championship?|
|Daughter Ella helped design paint scheme for the No. 24 Chevrolet Sunday night. But taking her input on the chassis setup was probably a bad idea.|
|Boy, did that federal bailout money from BB&T come in handy at the right time. If only Mark Martin got bills and not free looks at boobs as a gift from GoDaddy.com.|
|Said he didn’t know he was three-wide when making a move that caused Atlanta wreck. Really? If you pass somebody two lanes wide, wouldn’t that add up to… never mind.|
|T-10||Juan Pablo Montoya||101||13|
|More top 10s than Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, yet mathematically eliminated from Chase contention. Go figure.|
|At first, that parts failure jab at Bristol seemed a little hasty. Following Atlanta, now it’s more like cryptic – and a legitimate concern heading into the Chase.|
|If they gave gold stars for earning a playoff spot, this guy would take it and then not show up for the final 10 races. Why bother playing if you don’t have a chance to win?|
|For the third straight year, NASCAR’s Daytona 500 winner has gone on to miss the Chase. And people dare to say this playoff system isn’t flawed?|
|In the news for more confrontations the last four weeks than we’ve seen during his entire Cup career. Too bad that’s the only thing he’ll be able to brag about the last 10 weeks of the season.|
|Dropped Out: David Reutimann (15)|
|Also Receiving Votes: Kasey Kahne (59), Martin Truex Jr. (52), David Reutimann (30), Mark Martin (25), Marcos Ambrose (23), Reed Sorenson (12), Regan Smith (12), AJ Allmendinger (9), Paul Menard (7), Joey Logano (6), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6), David Gilliland (3)|
|Writer Voting Panel: Phil Allaway, Brock Beard, Thomas Bowles, Bryan Davis Keith, Tony Lumbis, Mike Neff, Vito Pugliese, Mike Ravesi, Kurt Smith, Garrett Horton and Matt Taliaferro|
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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