Following a win at Las Vegas, Matt Kenseth jumps up this week’s NASCAR power rankings. But just as it was last year, the field is still chasing Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.
The 2013 season is looking a lot like the 2012 Chase, as Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson haven't been slowed by the conversion to the Gen-6 and have seemingly picked right up where they left off a year ago.
But which one of them deserves to No. 1 in the power rankings? Is it Keselowski, who rolled off three consecutive top-five finishes to start the year but hasn't won a race? Or should it be Johnson, who has finished in the top 10 every week including a win in the Daytona 500?
1. Jimmie Johnson (Last week: 1)
Atypical to see the 48 team have difficulty keeping up with the changing track conditions and slide down the running order. That being said, Johnson still did finish sixth and continues to sit atop the standings heading to Bristol where he finished ninth and sixth a year ago.
2. Brad Keselowski (LW: 2)
Considering he's the only driver to open the season with consecutive top-five finishes, a good case could be made that Keselowski should be ahead of Johnson. The difference, however, is Johnson has a win while Keselowski does not. But that could easily change at Bristol where the defending champ has claimed the victory in two of the last three races.
3. Matt Kenseth (LW: 5)
Darrell Waltrip in 1981 is the only driver in the modern era to win a championship in his first season with a new team. From what we've seen in only three races, it's fair to say that Kenseth has a realistic chance to do the same.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 4)
With the news Monday that Earnhardt Jr. will run the Nationwide race at Chicagoland, it falls in line with the comments he made this past weekend on how competing in NASCAR's No. 2 series helps him in Cup races. And it seemed to work in Vegas, where Earnhardt Jr. used what he learned Saturday and applied it Sunday, where he finished seventh.
5. Carl Edwards (LW: 6)
Edwards is doing a good job moving past last year, as he now has consecutive top-five finishes for the first time since the end of 2011.
6. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3)
Three races into the season, the tale of Hamlin's season has been having fast cars without the results to show for them. The latest example was the pit road speeding penalty at Las Vegas from which he was never able to recover. He ended up finishing 15th. Luckily, Hamlin has an excellent chance to change all that at Bristol, where he won last summer.
7. Tony Stewart (LW: 8)
It may not look like it in the box score, but that was a gritty effort the No. 14 team turned in at Vegas. Like most others, Stewart dealt with a loose condition throughout and spent most of the day running in the 20s. But after getting his lap back with 67 laps to go, Stewart drove through the field and left with an 11th-place finish.
8. Mark Martin (LW: 9)
How cool would it be to see Mark Martin come out this week and say, "You know what, maybe I will take one last swing at winning a championship." Sadly, it's not going to happen; Martin has been adamant that he is sticking to his part-time schedule, with Bristol being the first of 12 point races he will sit out this season.
9. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7)
You know you're in for a bad day when you hit pit road with what you think is a loose wheel, but instead it's just that your car is that ill-handling. That was Bowyer's Vegas race in a nutshell, where he finished two laps down in 27th.
10. Kevin Harvick (LW: 12)
After finishing 42nd at Daytona, Harvick continues his steady climb up the standings and now sits 19th overall after his first top-10 of the season (ninth). But he hasn't had much success at Bristol recently with just one top-10 in his last eight starts on the half-mile oval.
11. Kasey Kahne (LW: Unranked)
Like Harvick and Busch, Kahne continues to slowly pull himself out of the points hole he found himself in following Daytona. Unlike Harvick and Busch, Kahne left Las Vegas with a runner-up finish that also saw him lead the most laps.
12. Kyle Busch (LW: Unranked)
When Busch cracked his radio mid-race telling his crew that he thought something was wrong with his engine, you'll have to excuse him if he thought, "Here we go again." Fortunately for him, for the first time all season, he escaped a weekend without a motor issue, and not surprisingly, posted his first top-10 finish of the year (fourth).
13. Jeff Gordon (LW: 10)
With a car so off that he finished a lap down in 25th, Las Vegas is one of those races where Jeff Gordon is just going to want to erase it permanently from his memory. Yes, it was that bad.
14. Greg Biffle (LW: 11)
Successive weeks of finishing 17th represents a bit of a slow start for Biffle, who last year collected more points during the regular season than anyone else. He has been stout at Bristol in the past, but in his last three races there he's finished no better than 13th.
15. Aric Almirola (LW: 13)
It isn't sexy, but Almirola is just quietly going about his business on the track and finishing between 13th and 16th every week. Whether he can continue to do so throughout the year is up for debate, but right now it's a recipe that is working as he finds himself 10th in points heading into Bristol.
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