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From The Marbles

Power Rankings: There's no way Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't at the top

Nick Bromberg
From The Marbles
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during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 23, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

 

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.: Gotta give the guy who won the Daytona 500 some love. But had Junior not won the 500 and simply finished second for the fourth time in five years, he wasn't going to be far from the top. The No. 88 bunch was on top of its game during Speedweeks; the only bad spot was the crash with Marcos Ambrose in the Sprint Unlimited. And that wasn't weakness, that was a fluke. Anyway, Junior is now on Twitter. But if you're on Twitter, you probably already knew that. And if you're not on Twitter, does it really matter to you?

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2. Denny Hamlin: If this is based off of the Daytona 500 alone, Hamlin's a worthy second. If this is based off of the entirety of Speedweeks, Hamlin is also a worthy second. And even has an outside argument for first. Hamlin made a great move on the backstretch on the penultimate lap to get to second, but couldn't get any further. Had he been closer to the front when the restart happened, he might have been the only driver to challenge Junior for the win. Instead, Hamlin had a second-place finish and some emotional confusion.

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3. Brad Keselowski: Was the White Deuce the third-best car of the weekend? Kes had both single-car and drafting speed, and once his Duel went south on Thursday, he had very good reason to sit back and simply finish the race and save the car. It was bad fast. Plus, the Duel brought us the "High Life' and "Miller Lite" pit strategies, though we're still not sure what they both mean. And now we think every team needs to base pit calls off of their sponsors.

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4. Jimmie Johnson: After getting his rear-view mirror issues sorted out before the monstrous red flag for rain, Johnson was up near the front of the field at the end of the race and a contender for the win while also pushing Dale Earnhardt Jr. And the latter is a prime example of why "team orders" and the like will never really leave NASCAR. Johnson was in a situation where he could go for the win given a strong opportunity for the pass and also play defense for his teammate. As the defending champion of the Daytona 500, we'd all do the same thing in that situation, right?

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5. Jeff Gordon: Here's our third Hendrick car in the top five. Gordon was strong on both Thursday and Sunday, sneakily finishing third in his Duel and fourth in the 500. But for as good as he was in both races, he really never felt like a threat for the win even as he pushed Junior on the restart, did he? That's kind of a metaphor for the last few seasons. If he wants title No. 5, it better not be a metaphor for 2014 either.

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6. Matt Kenseth: If you're going to mess up and crash, do it when it really doesn't matter. Kenseth mentioned multiple times how badly he felt after causing contact that led to crashes in the Sprint Unlimited and in Daytona 500 practice. But neither affected anything for the Daytona 500 -- well, because Kenseth's car survived that practice crash intact -- and he won his Duel race and finished sixth in the 500.

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7. Austin Dillon: Are we weighting the pole run and first-crash save too heavily here and not weighting the contact that caused two other crashes enough? Dillon got shuffled to the back of the pack after the rain delay, but steadily made his way back forward and had an incredible save in the wreck that took out Danica Patrick. He got tagged in the right-rear quarterpanel and somehow got the car pointed in the right direction after he did a 360. However, he then made contact with Kyle Larson and the No. 42 and his teammate Ryan Newman checked up in front of him and went spinning off Dillon's bumper.

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8. Greg Biffle: There wasn't a more aggressive driver in the Daytona 500 than Biffle. Well, if there was, it wasn't very obvious from the press box. Biffle had a very fast car and wanted to use it as much as he could to maintain his position at the front, swapping between lanes and making moves whenever he could. Though one of his best power moves -- a sweeping lane change in the trioval to go for the lead in the last half of the race -- didn't amount to anything as he couldn't hold the lead down the backstretch.

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9. Landon Cassill: After qualifying for the Daytona 500 via his Duel race, Cassill preached sanity and safety regarding his team's approach to the Daytona 500. His small Hillman Racing team has one speedway car, and Cassill said that it was in their best interests to run a smart race and bring the car home intact. As the Daytona 500 went on, that smart race was one run at the front of the field. Cassill was a mainstay in the top 15 for most of the evening and his 12th place finish was no fluke.

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10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse gets more bonus points for his stone-faced pre-Nationwide race demeanor than his top-10 in the Daytona 500. During the interesting national anthem before Saturday's race, TV cameras showed Stenhouse standing next to girlfriend Danica Patrick. Patrick had a big grin and a "what is going on?" look on her face. Stenhouse was either zoned out or doing a really good job of not cracking up.

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11. Kevin Harvick: Strong runs on Thursday and Sunday both ended in disappointment. Harvick was feet from a Duel win and subsequently failed post-race inspection and had to start 38th in the Daytona 500. He ran strongly Sunday, but then was in the middle of the crash off the final corner and slid across the finish line with a battered car and a 13th place finish. But hey, he was the highest-finishing Stewart-Haas car.

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12. Reed Sorenson: The kids were so close to eating free! Much like Cassill, Sorenson's run in the top 20 wasn't a fluke either. He may not have had the best car -- a line with Sorenson at the front probably wasn't going to make a run at the lead -- but he hung well in the draft and made the right decisions. He just ended up lodged in the infield as the checkered flag was waving.

Lucky Dog: We'll give it to Kurt Busch who was in the proverbial Lucky Dog spot after his spin out that didn't cause a caution with nine laps to go. We understand NASCAR's desire to keep the race green in that circumstance, but we do wonder how often an incident like that is a caution on, say, lap 10. Busch's radio reaction was pricelessly predictable, however. And rated NC-17.

The DNF: Clint Bowyer delivered the quote of the night after his car blew up Sunday night. Think he was a little jealous of Martin Truex Jr., whose car went kaput before the rain came?

“It’s just a frustrating day first from the rain -- if it was going to blow up, I wish it would have blown up four hours ago.  I could have been home watching.  Just disappointing -- the guys work so hard for this race.  Everybody is out there having fun and we broke our toy.”

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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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