From the Marbles

Power Rankings: Stunningly, Jimmie Johnson is tops again

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 now, shall we?

1. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2): Gee. This was really tough. All Jimmie did was lead the most laps to get his fourth win of the season and become the first driver since Bobby Allison 31 years ago to sweep Daytona. Plus he extended his points lead to more than a full race ahead of second place. That's not that impressive is it?

2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4): At one point during the telecast of Saturday night's race, talk of Kevin Harvick's average finish at the first two restrictor plate races of the season came up as a reference point of Harvick's, uh, struggles, at plate tracks this season. Well, two crashes will do that to you. But lest we forget that Harvick won the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Dual race. He hasn't been a *gasp* lame duck this season. Cupcake was third on Sunday, and as Geoffrey Miller noted, is the only driver to gain points on five-time since Talladega.

3. Clint Bowyer (LW: 3): Rawhide goes out, stays out of trouble, gets a top five finish and loses eight points to Jimmie Johnson. Yeah, that's how it works in the Cup Series. And while going out and getting a top five is nice, especially at a restrictor plate track, that's not Bowyer's gameplan anymore. With the chasm in the points standings, he's in the Chase. It's time for a few bonus points.

4. Matt Kenseth (LW: 1): Always tough to penalize a driver who ran well and got caught up in a crash, but that happened to Johnson last week to Kenseth's benefit, so this week it's Kenseth's turn to slip. But serious props to Flatline for whipping that car hard to the right and spinning it when Denny Hamlin suddenly skidded up in front of him. Yeah, he took out Jeff Gordon, but that was a far lesser impact than what it could have been.

5. Kurt Busch (LW: NR): Kurt replaces Kyle in the top five and makes his second Power Rankings appearance of the year. Are Kurt's three straight top six finishes indicative of the speed he's shown all season and a precursor of things to come? Or are the goofy things that have marred fast cars and good runs more of an indicator and Kurt's top 10 position is just a mirage?

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 6): Most surprising thing of the evening Saturday night? That Junior beat the commercials in whatever the heck that interactive Twitter thing was. And was that even real? A certain driver who shall remain nameless but who is very popular was conspicuously absent from the track graphic. You'd think that be almost impossible.

7. Kyle Busch (LW: 5): Busch's chances at the win were done when Denny Hamlin went spinning the first time and Busch ran into him. Before that, Busch was no stranger to being up front. Afterwards, even with the damage taped up, Busch had a strong enough car to run well, but not well enough. Paint scheme looked sweet though.

8. Tony Stewart (LW: NR): Here's where it gets all sorts of screwed up. The bottom six drivers in last week's edition of Power Rankings all got crashed, so we'll go with the guy who finished second and who is heading to a track that he runs very well at. Is the most accurate reflection of the No. 14 right now the two 20something finishes before Daytona or the four top 10s before that? It's probably somewhere in the middle.

9. Carl Edwards (LW: 7): OK, Carl, you're not going back to Daytona until February. Everything's going to be OK. Through exactly half of the Cup Series schedule, Edwards has 15 top 20s, a 21st... and then finishes of 29th and 33rd at Daytona. You can take a deep breath and relax.

10. Kasey Kahne. (LW: 12): What? A driver who got wrecked is moving up? Yes. And besides, Kahne might have had the only car that could challenge Jimmie Johnson in the late stages of the race on Saturday night. Ambrose had a gap between Johnson and Kahne, Johnson made a late-race restrictor plate move and, well, Kahne received the brunt of the punishment.

11: Jamie McMurray (LW: Lucky Dog): After finishes of second and seventh, McMurray is suddenly in the thick of the muck of the teens in the points standings. His last four trips to New Hampshire haven't been pretty, however, with nothing higher than 20th. He's going to have to buck that trend or he'll get swallowed by the swamp.

12. Greg Biffle (LW: 10): Two crashes and a 17th place finish? That's pretty good all things considered. However, the Biff's spot in the top 10 in points is pretty tenuous, thanks to four finishes of 30th or worse in the first half of the season. With how crowded the field is below him, number five could be very costly if it happens in the next eight races.

Lucky Dog: It's quite the nice sponsor tie-in, but it's not the reason we're putting Michael Waltrip here. It's because he finished fourth after he said post-race that his team had to drop the car on a piece of wood to raise the splitter after sustaining some damage. Is there video of that somewhere?

The DNF: In this start-and-park age, it's not too often that a driver from a competitive team scores just a measly point. Not too often happened Saturday for Paul Menard and the fire under his hood might have (bad pun alert) extinguished his Chase chances.

Dropped Out: Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano.

Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Hot/Not: Jimmie Johnson drawing ire for his success
Daytona success helps Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch climb into top 10
Cameraman hit by tire on pit road

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