A new year means a new set of Power Rankings! After every race, we'll opine about who we think is at the top of the Sprint Cup heap and how and why they got there. Remember, this isn't scientific, as our formula is the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. So let's get on with it, shall we?
1. Jimmie Johnson (Last Week: 1): Wow, Jimmie, you're acclimating yourself quite nicely to the top spot. Sure you don't need anything? Drinks? Food? A hot towel? You're good? You're sure? Wow, it's like you've been here before. You're an old pro at this. Anyway, I know it's reeeeeeeally early, but would anyone be surprised if Jimmie Johnson led the points standings the entire regular season?
2.Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 4): Did you know that Junior finished fifth on Sunday? That's two top fives to start the year for the driver who could formerly be known as NASCAR's Most Popular Driver. He hasn't done that to start the season since 2004, a year he finished fifth. Yeah, he's driving the second-best car in his shop. So what? Look at the points standings.
3. Brad Keselowski (LW: 3): You have to wonder if his previous conflict with Carl Edwards crossed Keselowski's mind at any point during the race's final caution flag. Yeah, Jetski and Carl have gotten along lately and there was no need to resuscitate that tiff over the two laps at Phoenix. But can you imagine the craziness that would have prevailed if Keselowski would have pushed Edwards into the wall instead of into the lead when the green flag waved?
4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 11): What? The Hamster is higher than Edwards? Well, previous performance has to have some bearing in these rankings, and he was here last week. And we loved that apron-cutting pass on the final lap so much that it merited a power rankings bump. Especially given that Hamlin started the race in the back of the pack because of a pre-race engine change.
5. Carl Edwards (LW: Not Ranked): NASCAR is rigged! They made it so the Subway car won the Subway race! How could they be so obvious?! If you actually believe that theory, then you should bet heavily on Jimmie Johnson at Las Vegas. It was a nice Daytona bounceback for Edwards, who might have changed tires fewer times at Phoenix than he crashed cars in Volusia County.
6. Clint Bowyer (LW: NR): Finishes of sixth and 11th in the first two races of the season will put you in fourth place in the points standings, sixth in the power rankings and who-knows-where in the hearts of NASCAR fans. Depends on how fast those hearts are beating from the rabid consumption of 5-Hour Energy, I guess.
7. Mark Martin (LW: 5): Yeah, Martin finished 21st, but leading 75 laps is good for something, right? Yeah, but those 75 laps were at the beginning of Sunday's race, and then Martin was never in contention after the halfway point. Does that sound anything like 2012?
8. Matt Kenseth (LW: NR): Can we safely put to bed any of the theories that Kenseth will struggle early in his transition to JGR? Yeah, he got bit by the JGR motor gremlins while leading at Daytona, but we've seen that they're not very discerning.
11. AJ Allmendinger (LW: NR): Not a bad season debut for Allmendinger, eh? With his partial schedules in both the Sprint Cup and IndyCar Series, Allmendinger has a chance to become the first driver to post top 10s in the same year in both series since Tony Stewart.
12. Casey Mears (LW: NR): His 14th place finish was his highest since a 12th at Martinsville in 2011. And perhaps most importantly for Geico, he got a ton of TV time from the numerous replays showing Junior having to slow down on pit road to avoid Mears pulling into his pit stall.
Dropped Out: Danica Patrick, Regan Smith, Michael McDowell, JJ Yeley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Lucky Dog: Oh man, you got any ideas?
The Front Row Racing DNF: Front Row Racing! It's been a brutal opening two races for the team. All three cars were involved in the same accident at Daytona, and the Davids Gilliland and Ragan crashed again at Phoenix while Josh Wise finished 35th.
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