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Power Rankings: The battle is for third as Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski separate themselves from the pack

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. still leads Brad Keselowski in Power Rankings. (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): We touched on it in the Chrome Horn Debrief, but it's worth mentioning again that crediting the new Chase format for Junior's decision to gamble on fuel is unfair to NASCAR history, even if Junior says the decision was motivated by the format. This is not the first time in NASCAR that someone has gambled on fuel mileage to attempt to win a race, nor is it the last. And besides, it's not like the No. 88 was three laps short and threw a Hail Mary.

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2. Brad Keselowski (LW: 2): When you've got two guys separated by a single point in the standings and they each have a win this early in the season, we're going to the lowest finish tiebreaker. Keselowski's is third, while Junior's is second. Sorry Brad, you stay in second. But we promise that you're even a closer second than you were last week. Have a Girl Scout cookie.

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3. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 5): Speaking of Girl Scout cookies, what's with the reaction to this ad? Check out some of the tweets that Johnson responded to. Good grief. On the track Sunday, Johnson finished sixth, his third straight top-six finish to start the year. Yes, it's even possible that Johnson and the No. 48 crew is having an "underrated" start to the season. Part of it is the exceptional performances of the two drivers ahead of him and part of it is the fact that Johnson still thinks his team is a tick off. Scary.

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4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4): Three races and three top 10s for Gordon. If yo're tiering the points standings, he's right with Johnson in the second tier. And hey, the early returns are promising over these first three races about the disappearance of the Gordon restart, in which Gordon loses multiple positions immediately after the green flag waves. But don't ask us if that has anything to do with the new points system, because we don't want to see how deep the abyss is.

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5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3): Once again, Harvick was the strongest Stewart-Haas car, but this time he didn't get the highest finish. After a broken left-front hub, Harvick was relegated to a 40th place finish and was actually last amongst his SHR comrades. Yes, he finished below Tony Stewart, though it's not impossible to think that Stewart wasn't racing the final half of Sunday's race. That car just disappeared.

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6. Joey Logano (LW: 6): After finishing fourth, having Logano sixth doesn't seem fair. We'll totally admit it. But at the same time, can you really vault him above Harvick? He's ahead of Gordon by one point in the standings, so there's a slight argument there. And he's of course ahead of Harvick too. But if we're going to take the strength of Harvick's races (outside of the hub) and stack them against Logano's, Cupcake gets the edge. And besides, we need some variety.

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7. Carl Edwards (LW: 9): We also mentioned this too on the Chrome Horn Debrief, but don't be too quick to jump on Edwards' Vegas performance as an endorsement of Roush. He was far and away better than Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all weekend. As an endorsement that Jimmy Fennig and Edwards are the best team at the shop? Sure. But nothing more than that at the moment.

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8. Matt Kenseth (LW: 8): This was not the most compelling of race-title defenses by Flatline. He wasn't bad by any means -- he did a good job working his way up from a starting position that was settled in the first round of qualifying -- but it wasn't what we became accustomed to last year from this team either. Oh, and we'll also point out here that Kenseth didn't take tires and made a track position gamble for the win with 41 laps to go last year at Vegas. On Sunday, the final restart was with 42 to go.

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9. Ryan Newman (LW: 12): It's two straight seventh-place finishes for Newman. We asked in last week's power rankings if he'd quasi-assume the role of Kevin Harvick in being far ahead of his two teammates. Well, after Sunday's race, there's been a different Richard Childress Racing car toting the bucket. If there's parity at RCR and it's not because one team came down to the level of the other two, it's great news for the organization.

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10. Denny Hamlin (LW: 6): After the second-place finish at Daytona, Hamlin's finished outside the top 10 the last two weeks. But is it really that big of a concern? He's got two good tracks coming up in the next three weeks as well as one that he was a few football fields from winning at last year. On that note, how many times are we going to relive the Logano-Hamlin Bristol/California dustup over the next two weeks. 100?

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11. Kyle Busch (LW: 11): Busch's car was super-fast over the first 100 laps of Sunday's race. From then on, yeah, not so much. After one restart late in the race, Busch's aggression made him some quick gains and you wondered if the car was back to where it was at the beginning of the race. But as soon as Busch made those passes, he started sliding backwards.

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12. Paul Menard (LW: NR): PFM's first top-three finish since 2012 is worthy of an appearance in Power Rankings. Menard was an early-2013 Power Rankings staple before sliding out as the summer hit. Will he be able to repeat the effort in 2014? All it'll take is a few more top 10 finishes

 

The Lucky Dog: Martin Truex Jr. finished 14th after a not-so-stellar first two weeks of the season.

The DNF: He finished the race, but Stewart gets it this week.

Dropped Out: Greg Biffle

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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