NASCAR power rankings: Dale Earnhardt Jr. moves to No. 1

Jared C. Tilton

NASCAR’s most popular driver rides a wave of consistency into the top spot in this week’s power rankings.

A new week means a new No. 1, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes over for Brad Keselowski, who finished outside the top 10 for the first time this season. And on the move is Kyle Busch thanks to three consecutive top five finishes.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Last week: 2)

Winning is paramount, but it's consistency that is the name of the game, and on that front Earnhardt is excelling, as he's the only driver to post a top 10 in every race. More impressive, and perhaps a better indicator of where the 88 team is at, is how strong Earnhardt looks in the closing laps -- a weakness not too long ago for both driver and team.

2. Brad Keselowski (LW: 1)

Was the rash of engine-related problems Ford endured at Fontana a blip on the radar or a sign of a greater problem? The answer won't likely come up again until mid-April when the circuit travels to Texas and Kansas in consecutive weeks. Regardless, it was enough to drop Keselowski out of the No. 1 spot both in the standings and the power rankings.

3. Kyle Busch (LW: 6)

With a win, a second and a fourth in the last three weeks it makes the engine troubles at Daytona and Phoenix seem like a distant memory. Surprisingly, as good a short-track driver that Busch is, he's never won at Martinsville, though he did finish second last fall.

4. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 3)

There is always that one race every year where no matter what adjustments you make to your car it simply doesn't respond and you're destined for a poor result. Johnson had that kind of race of at Fontana but still managed to scratch out a 12th-place finish. That speaks volumes.

5. Carl Edwards (LW: 8)

Was below the radar all afternoon until it counted the most and then sneaked in and snagged a fourth-place finish. And in a testament to how much Edwards has rebounded from an atrocious 2012 campaign, through five races he has the same number of top five finishes (three) as he had all of last year.

6. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4)

Had a car capable of winning but an unscheduled pit stop cost Kenseth a lap and he had to scramble just to finish seventh. With the exception of Las Vegas, it's been that kind of season for the '03 champ.

7. Kasey Kahne (LW: 5)

What Fontana represented was a workman-like effort from Kahne and his team, who recovered from an earlier scrape with the wall to finish ninth.

8. Greg Biffle (LW: 10)

After having to change an engine and forfeit his second starting spot, Biffle said he wasn't concerned and that he would be near the front by halfway. Lo and behold that's exactly what happened and he left Southern California with a sixth-place finish.

9. Paul Menard (LW: 13)

Menard's eighth-place finish was his third top 10 in as many weeks. However, that streak will likely come to an end at Martinsville where in 11 starts he has never finished better than 12th and has yet to lead a single lap.

10. Kurt Busch (LW: 15)

There was some head scratching when Furniture Row Racing jettisoned Regan Smith in favor of Kurt Busch and what the team was getting itself into. But the results have been overwhelming as Busch's fifth-place effort at Fontana following a fourth at Bristol represent the first time the 78 has finished in the top five in back-to-back weeks.

11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7)

It was the No. 15 car's fiery engine explosion with 16 laps to go that set up the dramatics that were the closing laps of Fontana. Unfortunately for Bowyer, it cost him a likely top 10 and dropped him 10 spots in the standings.

12. Joey Logano (LW: Unranked)

NASCAR's new No. 1 villain (at least for this week any way) will have to adjust to driving with a target on his back. Whether Logano has the maturity and the fortitude to handle the backlash that will inevitably come his way, will determine if he succeeds or fails.

13. Denny Hamlin (LW: 9)

Here's to a quick and full recovery so that Hamlin can make the summer months interesting as he pursues a Chase berth for the eighth straight year.

14. Kevin Harvick (LW: 11)

This team has run well in spurts, but it has yet to put together a full race where Harvick has been a fixture up front from the green flag to the checkered flag.

15. Ryan Newman (LW: Unranked)

It's been feast or famine for Ryan Newman this season, as he has either finished in the top 10 or hasn't finished a race at all.

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