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From The Marbles

Power Rankings: It's just like old times as Brad Keselowski is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 2

Nick Bromberg
From The Marbles
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Guess what's back, back, back again? Power rankings are back, tell a friend. Our weekly From the Marbles staple is back for 2014 and once again, it's far from a scientific formula as it's the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. Direct all your complaints to us at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com.

And no, we're not expanding Power Rankings to 16 drivers.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 1): One way to stay at the top of Power Rankings is to run second after you win the seasin's opening race. Much has been made about the "go for it" strategy that crew chief Steve Letarte and Junior employed in chasing after Kevin Harvick because of Junior's 500 win. It was all due to the new Chase format, right? More on this in Happy Hour on Thursday, but let's hold off on making rash judgments on how strategy and racing has already been affected.

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2. Brad Keselowski (LW: 3): It's just like the JR Motorsports days when @Kes was driving the No. 88 Navy car. Hell, both he and Junior would have needed a Navy armada to stop Kevin Harvick from whomping the field on Sunday. With that Alliance Truck Parts paint scheme he ran on Sunday, his car looked downright 2013-Nationwide-Series-Sam Hornishian. And with a third-place finish, drove like Hornish in the Nationwide Series last year too. And no, that's not a diss.

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3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 11): When you win half of the races in a season to date, you get to make an incredible vault through the Power Rankings standings. Harvick's car was untouchable throughout the race and while it wouldn't have reached "travesty" territory had a mistake on one of those restarts cost him a win, it would have sure been a stark departure from the race's storyline. Here's a thought, Jimmy John's. Your No. 4 sandwich is your "original," so why not have a $4 No. 4 in the days after a Harvick win? I'll charge you $4 for that idea when you enact it.

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4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 5): Got a lot of heat about Jeff Gordon being in fifth last week, so congratulations, haters, he's now in fourth. And maybe you all just missed Power Rankings over the offseason and needed something to gripe about. Speaking of gripes, after reviewing the photo evidence and the video, Gordon has a very good case that he should have finished third in the Daytona 500. Hopefully a single point doesn't come down to deciding Gordon's Chase. And if it did, well, he's got a good case for Brian France to intervene.

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5. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 4): After finishing sixth, Johnson said his team was just a bit off. This is why the No. 48 team scares fans of every other driver. Instead of taking a top-six and a good points day, Johnson's insistence that the team learned a lot about the car and that they hadn't completely figured out their setups reinforces why this team has won six championships. And lots of people don't like being reminded of that.

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6. Denny Hamlin (LW: 2): One general idea can sum up a lot of driver's Phoenix race, and that includes Hamlin. After being caught a lap down when a caution flag came out in the midst of green flag pit stops, he never was able to work his way back into the top 10 after taking the wavearound. Because of the lack of tire wear, late-race pit stops for fresh tires didn't help, and Hamlin ended up 19th. Really, it's like a mad libs. You can plug in about five drivers for Hamlin's name.

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7. Joey Logano (LW: NR): How much should we applaud Logano for taking that look to Harvick's inside on the final restart? After all, it was his only shot at getting the lead. There was no way he was going to keep up with Harvick over the race's final nine laps, so he needed to get the lead right away and hope like hell that he could hold on to it. It didn't matter, as he didn't get enough of a run to make the pass count. And fourth is a good points day that could come in handy later in the year.

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8. Matt Kenseth (LW: 6): Here's where it kind of starts to get messy. Kenseth is here because he finished sixth at Daytona and wasn't horrible at Phoenix, finishing 12th. He also gets to be in the mad libs category with Hamlin, as that's a nice summation of Kenseth's day. But hey, it was a better race than his last time at Phoenix, right? We're here to look on the bright side for you, Flatline.

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9. Carl Edwards (LW: NR): After crashing across the finish line in Daytona, Edwards went back to Phoenix and got an eighth place finish. So welcome to Power Rankings! He started fairly deep in the field and was forced to work his way up, but he settled into the back half of the top 10 when he got near the front.

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10. Greg Biffle (LW: 8): Did Biffle even run at Phoenix? Yes, he did, and he finished 17th. And he even started sixth too. But he wasn't able to maintain that short-run speed he showed and toiled near the end of the lead lap for the last half of the race. But given how many cars got lapped during Sunday's race, it's not an incredibly damning statement.

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11. Kyle Busch (LW: NR): We don't get to take the Nationwide Series race into account in Power Rankings, otherwise Busch would be a tad higher. The prowess that he showed in the rain-shortened victory wasn't mechanically there on Sunday, but Busch finished 9th and it's on to his hometown.

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12. Ryan Newman (LW: NR): Newman crashed off the bumper of his teammate in the 500 and was far and away the best car of his team at Phoenix. Newman finished seventh while Paul Menard was 23rd and Austin Dillon was 24th. It was reminscent of Harvick's performance in relation to his teammates at RCR. Is this a trend, or just an aberration and the three RCR cars will be closer together than they were last year?

 

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