NASCAR power rankings: Is Earnhardt No. 1 after Daytona triumph?

Tom Pennington

The NASCAR power rankings makes its 2014 debut and despite his win at the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not ranked No. 1.

A new season means a new weekly installment of NASCAR power rankings. But the more things change -- and boy, have they changed a lot in the last few months -- the more they stay the same, with an all-too-familiar face atop the rankings. That said, there are others who certainly deserve consideration for being in the No. 1 slot, as Dale Earnhardt and Denny Hamlin each had an exceptional Speedweeks. But if either is to unseat Johnson, they're going to have to back up their Daytona performances at Phoenix.

1. Jimmie Johnson

After wrecking twice and entering the Daytona 500 in his third Chevrolet of Speedweeks, Johnson said he wasn't deterred because his third car was better than the first. Apparently so, as he ran 66 percent of the race in the top 15, and if it hadn't been for his teammate, could have easily been celebrating his second consecutive victory in the Great American Race. Instead he had to settle for a measly fifth-place finish.

2. Denny Hamlin

A case could be made that no one had a better Speedweeks than Hamlin, who with another hundred yards and a better restart would have become the first driver to pull off the Daytona trifecta - winning the Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duel and Daytona 500. As it were, Hamlin answered a lot of questions and strongly reasserted himself as a contender.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It's hard to have a better week than the one Earnhardt just experienced, as he led the most laps, won Daytona for a second time, joined Twitter and became a social media sensation. And can we all collectively agree to give it a few weeks before the inevitable questions about when Earnhardt is going to win again? Let's try and wait until at least May.

4. Matt Kenseth

Kenseth entered the Daytona 500 on the short list of favorites to win. However, the speed he flexed in winning his Duel never materialized Sunday, as he never led a single lap en route to a seventh-place finish. Then again, it's hard to quibble with top 10, considering the chaos that consumed the latter portions of the race, which Kenseth deftly avoided.

5. Brad Keselowski

A very sold solid Speedweeks for Keselowski, who was competitive in every event he ran including the Daytona 500, where he finished third. If there is a driver and team that could use a win early on, it's the No. 2 group, as it would re-establish them as contenders following last year's slump.

6. Jeff Gordon

If Gordon could have gotten a better final restart it would have been fascinating to see how he approached the white flag lap. Does he go for his fourth 500 win, or does he play wingman and protect Earnhardt?

7. Kevin Harvick

Not the debut he was looking for with his new team, as Harvick was the catalyst for the wreck that knocked out teammate Danica Patrick. He then got together with Kyle Busch on the final lap, costing both a potential top 10. The frustration of the night was perfectly surmised in a tweet from Harvick's wife, DeLana: "Hey assholes I'm not driving the car... You try driving 3 wide at 200 miles per hour PERFECT every single lap!" she wrote.

8. Carl Edwards

Quiet all week until the Lap 145 caution involving Danica Patrick, the Fords of Edwards and Biffle then asserted themselves as players. They would hang tough, but the tandem of Earnhardt and Johnson eventually separated themselves and made it a Chevy battle for the win. Edwards finished 17th after getting collected in the final lap melee.

9. Greg Biffle

After assuming the lead following the Lap 145 caution, Biffle was doing a nice job of controlling the pace and dictating the flow of both lanes. But with 26 laps to go he made a mistake coming off Turn 2 when he failed to stunt Earnhardt's momentum. It proved costly as Biffle backslid and finished eighth.

10. Kyle Busch

Yanking a jack out of his pit box cost Busch a lap, but the deficit wasn't insurmountable. Thanks to the aid of a caution, he found himself back on the lead and in contention late. What he couldn't overcome, however, was getting spun coming to the checkered flag. Understandably, Busch was in no mood to talk post-race, quickly dismissing reporters on his way out of the garage.

11. Joey Logano

Although he and teammate Keselowski were both running near the front as the laps trickled down, Logano could never make anything happen and he finished 11th. Perhaps even better he didn't rile anyone up like he did a year ago, when Hamlin took to Twitter to critique his drafting ability.

12. Kurt Busch

It looked like Busch might get his first win in a points-paying restrictor-plate race until a late spin onto pit road. And because he was able to get going right away, NASCAR never displayed the caution flag. As you can imagine, Busch took this news well, directing several expletives toward officials for the non-call.

13. Tony Stewart

In his first full race back from injury, Stewart never got a chance to show much of anything. A fuel pickup problem cost him several laps in the garage, and he finished 35th, 26 laps down.

14. Austin Dillon

During his qualifying race Dillon exercised patience and smarts, thusly dodging any potential mishaps. That wasn't the case Sunday, however, as the pole-sitter triggered not one but two multi-car wrecks, one of which collected two of his teammates. On the plus side, Dillon did record his first career top-10 (eighth), and afterward readily admitted his mistakes.

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

What is supposed to be a breakout season for last year's Rookie of the Year recipient got off to a solid start with a seventh-place finish. And dating back to last season, it was Stenhouse's fourth top 10 in his previous 12 starts.

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