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 in Power Rankings. Remember, this isn't scientific, as our formula is the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. And in honor of March Madness, we'll compare each driver with a team in the NCAA Tournament. So let's get on with it, shall we?
1. Brad Keselowski (LW: 1):
Keselowski gets to stay at the top spot again this week by virtue of his four top 10s in four races. And not only was he pretty good at Bristol, he was almost really good. If he doesn't spin his tires on that final restart, who knows if Kasey Kahne
doesn't get away for the win? Team comparison:
Louisville. The obvious pick would be to go with the other team from Kentucky had they succeeded this season, but they weren't too Keselowskiesque.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 3):
The only driver with a case to unseat @Kes for the top spot is the one and only Junior, also the only other driver to have four top 10s in the first four races. Alas, Keselowski has finished ahead of Junior in three of those races, so while there is a case, it's not impenetrable. Team comparison:
Gonzaga. A national darling every year who has never made a Final Four.
3. Kasey Kahne (LW: 6):
The Kahne Train is rolling! Like a college basketball team that's slayed top 10 teams in back-to-back games, Kahne makes the leap from unranked to third in just two weeks. Oh, we mentioned college basketball? Team comparison:
Indiana. Kahne got that Hendrick postseason experience last year, and after a taste of what it's like, is primed for a charge.
4. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2):
Bristol just shows that, once again, the 48 team is comprised of humans, right? It's crazy to think that a melted bead means that a guy with a win and three top 10s is now 15 points out of the points lead, but that's life at the top of the standings. Team comparison:
Duke. Do I even need to explain that one?
5. Clint Bowyer (LW: 10):
Clint Bowyer finished fifth? Yes, Clint Bowyer finished fifth. Three of the four drivers at the top of the standings were in the top three last year. Why are things not changing? Wasn't this new car supposed to shake things up? Team comparison:
Michigan State. Like Michigan State, Bowyer's been near the top, but not at the top. And even though he's not one of the oft-mentioned contenders for the title, it still wouldn't surprise you in the slightest to see Bowyer (or Michigan State) winning it all.
6. Kyle Busch (LW: 11):
Well, that fast car from qualifying and practice wasn't a fluke. For the third straight week, Busch found himself having to work his way from the back of the pack at some point in the race and for the second straight week, grabbed a top five. Team comparison:
Kansas. He's shown you enough to make you take him seriously as a contender, but there's that looming "What the hell?" moment (TCU anyone?) that makes you think twice before deciding to count on him.
7. Greg Biffle (LW: 12):
Blah, it's muddy down here again. The Fiffle was 11th, and given the cluster that was the final results at Bristol, it's good enough for a five place leap in Power Rankings. Team comparison:
Ohio State. Always good or really good, sometimes in contention, but never really great? I guess it could work.
8. Joey Logano (LW: NR):
Did you know he's 12th in the points standings? I bet you didn't. Logano gets here after that impressive drive after getting crashed by Denny Hamlin. Yes, it helped considerably that the integrity of Logano's spoiler wasn't compromised in the impact, but it was notable enough that Logano channeled that anger into a March through the field, even though it ultimately looked fruitless on the box score (17th). Team comparison:
Miami. Is this the year for the breakthrough? Logano's also the same age as the average age of Miami's team (22).
9. Paul Menard (LW: NR):
Nardburns is the highest ranked Richard Childress Racing driver. of course, that accomplishment isn't too much to brag about (Kevin Harvick is 17th, Jeff Burton 25th), though it is a step up from "highest ranked Stewart-Haas Racing driver." So Menard has that going for him. Team comparison:
Florida. The best in a down conference (or team), but there's not much buzz about the excellence extending into the tournament.
10. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4):
Flatline is probably getting penalized too heavily for something he had nothing to do with on Sunday, but them's the life in Power Rankings. He's been up front a ton so far this year, but has finishes of 37th and 35th. That's downright Gibbsian. Team comparison:
Syracuse. A tradition of excellence and flashes of it. But like his teammate above, you've seen enough so far to think twice.
11. Denny Hamlin (LW: 7):
Hush, little child. OK, yeah, I really wanted to type that. When do you think Hamlin's going to get the one that's coming to him? Obvious guess is in April at Martinsville, but I'll go with Loudon. Team comparison:
Georgetown. They're both sponsored by Jordan.
12. AJ Allmendinger (LW: NR):
The Dinger is getting it done in his opportunities in James Finch's No. 51. If he keeps it up, he'll be an every-other-week staple in Power Rankings. Running well on a part-time schedule is pretty hard to do. Team comparison:
South Dakota State. They may not be a favorite against Michigan (or Hendrick), but the matchup doesn't look too daunting.
Dropped Out: Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Aric Almirola.
Lucky Dog: Brian Vickers. Another strong Bristol run in his first Sprint Cup Series start of the season.
The Tony Stewart DNF: Dude's Bristol woes continued with a very early cut tire that led to a stint behind the wall. At least he's going to a track he won at last year.
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