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. Brad Keselowski (LW: 3): The champ is off to the finest start he’s ever had in his career, but I’m sure you’ve heard that already. What vaults him to the top spot is not only that, but the fact that the Sprint Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, a track that Brad isn’t too shabby at. By the way, with the announcement that Prevost motorcoaches are the “official luxury motorcoach” of NASCAR now, does that mean Keselowski has to give up his decidedly un-Prevost motorcoach?
2. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1): Vader can’t get no respect. The guy finishes sixth and is atop the points standings and falls out of the top spot in power rankings. Come on, you’re so biased against Jimmie Johnson. 1. I was actually accused of being the opposite during Sunday’s race chat and 2. I’m just going with what my proprietary formula says.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 2): To be in the top three of Power Rankings, you need to either be having the best start of your career or be Jimmie Johnson. I don’t think Dale Earnhardt Jr. is Jimmie Johnson, so congratulations, Junior! Though what if Dale Earnhardt Jr. was Jimmie Johnson? If you thought the NASCAR fanbase was warped already, the potential cluster that would bring would be incredible.
4. Matt Kenseth (LW: 8): To the victor goes the spoils, the birthday cake, the AARP registration card from Jeff Gordon’s car, a discount at Dollar General and probably free shipping on M&Ms or something. Kenseth’s win did poke holes in the “driver driving the race sponsor’s car wins” theory, as he’s sponsored by Husky Tools. And yeah, it’s a circumstance unique to racing, but it is kind of funny that a week after the race sponsor’s car wins, the race sponsor’s rival brand wins.
5. Carl Edwards (LW: 5): Fifth goes to the fifth place driver from Las Vegas who also happened to be in fifth last week. Daytona sure seems longer than two weeks ago, doesn’t it?
6. Kasey Kahne (LW: NR): Congratulations on your first Power Rankings appearance of the season, Mr. Kahne. I have a feeling you’ll be here a while. We know how good Kahne has been throughout his career at intermediate tracks. He led a race-high 114 laps on Sunday. You want to draw conclusions? Well, start putting him at the top of the Chase standings at the end of the year.
7. Denny Hamlin (LW: 4): This is where it really starts to get messy. You can make a case for about 15 different drivers over the next six spots, and Hamlin gets to be fifth simply because he was in the top four last week and led some laps on Sunday. Yeah, yeah, that was because of pit strategy and he got a speeding penalty that killed his chances for a win. But that pit strategy did contribute significantly to the 2,400 green flag passes during Sunday’s race.
8. Mark Martin (LW: 7): At one point in the second half of Sunday’s race, there was a reference to Martin moving towards the front. What? Martin moving towards the front in the second half of a Cup race in his MWR tenure? *Checks box score* Oh, he finished 14th. Carry on.
9. Aric Almirola (LW: 9): Once again, we say that if the season ended today, Almirola would make the Chase. Seriously though, this is a nice start for the 43. He hasn’t finished in the top 10 (yet) but his finish of 16th on Sunday was the lowest of the season. If he keeps those mid-teens finishes going, he’s going to be on of the guys on the periphery of the top 12 through the summer.
10. Clint Bowyer: (LW: 6): I don’t think they’re going to put Clint’s freefall through the field as something you can do with the help of 5 Hour Energy in one of those commercials. Though while Bowyer won’t agree with us, that freefall was infinitely more tolerable than than debut album guy.
11. Kyle Busch (LW: NR): Busch would be considerably higher if he didn’t have the pre-race engine change (and two subsequent wall-slaps) at Phoenix that forced him to the back of the field. But JGR engines will be JGR engines and bygones will be bygones so here we are.
12. Greg Biffle (LW: 10): Was Biffle in Sunday’s race? Yes. Was his car gray? I think so. Was it a very nondescript day? Definitely.
Dropped Out: AJ Allmendinger, Casey Mears
Lucky Dog: Tony Stewart, who got the Lucky Dog en route to salvaging an 11th place finish.
The Ryan Newman DNF: Front Row made it through the entire race without a crash! So until further notice, our DNF is named for Ryan Newman who blew a motor a week after blowing two right front tires.