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From the Marbles

Power Rankings: A (Junior) Nation rises

Nick Bromberg
From The Marbles

It's time for 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. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 2): Heeeeeeeere's Junior! He's the only dude to finish in the top five in every race this season and there's absolutely no way he can't be atop Power Rankings as we head into the first week of the offseason. If his potato chips are as good as he's performing, then he's really rocking it right now. And maybe the Gonzaga comparison in last week's rankings was a bit unfair. The Zags collapsed late on Saturday night. Junior surged forward on Sunday.

2. Kasey Kahne (LW: 3): Kahne quickly moved his way to the front after starting 16th and was one of the handful of drivers who tattooed (ha!) the wall off turn two thanks to the oil that was put down from Timmy Hill's car. But unlike most everyone else in that incident, Kahne got back towards the front despite the tape on the right side of his car and only finished 9th because of the drivers behind him that took tires during the final caution flag.

3. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 4): Yes, Vader gets to move up a spot after a 12th place finish. Why? Because he probably didn't deserve to finish 12th. It's kind of like what Junior and Steve Letarte have done over the last few years. And now I could spout a cliche about how those types of finishes define championship teams, but you've heard that before. But, it is true, good teams know how to make salad out of you know what.

4. Brad Keselowski (LW: 2): Does Keselowski now drive for Joe Gibbs Racing? We kid, but it was not a good weekend in the engine department for the champ. He blew an engine in practice and started at the back of the pack and then saw his engine go sour late in the race on Sunday. In between, he had a rocketship of a race car early in Sunday's race. Like Kahne, he hit the wall in Hill's oil. Unlike Kahne, his car wasn't as fast afterwards.

5. Kyle Busch (LW: 6): Is that the first race that you can remember that Busch has come from (relative) nowhere to win? Maybe it's because the images of Busch leading a ton of laps are burned in our brains, but it was a bit of a late laps role reversal for Busch. Of course, he also led 125 laps, so that wasn't all that new. It was just the combination of all the laps led and the win that's so striking.

6. Joey Logano (LW: 8): If Kyle Busch drove the best race on Sunday, Logano was a close second. He hung near the front all day and was the only driver to consistently challenge Busch, and on the low side of the track to boot. And perhaps more importantly, it was a great statement race for Logano to show that he can drive with his former teammates and he wasn't backing down from Denny Hamlin. Though it's not much of a stretch to think that Logano would have driven turns 3 and 4 on lap 200 exactly the same if it wasn't Hamlin on his hip. He was going for the freaking win!

7. Denny Hamlin (LW: 11): Our best wishes go out to Hamlin for a speedy and full recovery from his L1 compression fracture. Back injuries are no fun, especially for someone who already has dealt with them in the past. And hopefully any potential layoff from the car for Hamlon doesn't deprive us of a brewing rivalry that has the potential to be one of NASCAR's best in recent memory and a longstanding one to boot.

8. Carl Edwards (LW: NR): It's almost unfathomable to think that through five races Edwards has as many top five finishes in 2013 (3) as he in 2012. But it's true, thanks to Edwards' fourth place finish on Sunday. Edwards crept near the front, but was never a threat for the win. But you know what? He was near the front. That wasn't uttered often last year.

9. Greg Biffle (LW: 8): Just like the @Kes, Fiffle started at the back because of an engine change. And also like Kes, he moved through the field pretty quickly. Here's where they diverge though: Biffle took tires late and finished sixth. It's an odd-numbered year, which generally means that Biffle is off his game. But so far so good.

10. Paul Menard (LW: 9): ALL ABOARD THE PFM TRAIN! An eighth place finish has Menard... eighth in the points. It ain't spectacular, but it sure is solid, much like Menard's RCR career. At this rate, he's going to be again in contention for the Chase. Except he won't be in the "also has a mathematical shot but we know it's not going to happen" category.

11. Matt Kenseth: (LW: 10): It almost feels unfair to Kenseth for dropping him a spot after finishing seventh, but finishing one spot ahead of the great PFM isn't enough to leapfrog him in Power Rankings this week. And besides, we're trying to elicit a good Matt Kenseth one liner on Twitter out of this. Flatline needs to start tweeting more!

12. Kurt Busch: (LW: NR): Welcome to Power Rankings, Kurt! Did you bring us any furniture? Perhaps that couch you sat on at your media tour stop? Sweet, you did. Have a seat. Now will you be here for the long haul or are you just keeping the cushion warm for Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon or someone else?

Dropped out: AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer

Lucky Dog: Let's give a shoutout to Casey Mears, who finished 15th. He's a spot ahead of Stewart in the standings. You could have gotten really good odds on that in Vegas.

The Tony Stewart DNF: Goes to Tony Stewart again! (Yeah, it wasn't much of a DNF, but that was one heck of a slide backwards) That frustration you saw from Smoke was one fueled by frustration at that freefall through the field over the last 11 laps. Had Smoke finished in the top 10, he might have had some choice words for Logano in his postrace quotes, but that would have been that.

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