NASCAR power rankings: Balancing winning and consistency

Todd Warshaw

Winning may trump all, but consistency still has a place in this week’s NASCAR power rankings.

Amid the hullabaloo of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Daytona triumph, Kevin Harvick's dominating victory at Phoenix and Brad Keselowski's statement win at Las Vegas were strong starts for a trio of drivers.

Then there is Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano, who have combined for an average finish of 6.3 and have yet to place outside the top 10.

However, while their respective consistency is all well and good, they're still winless and that creates a problem. Because in a year where winning is all encompassing, consistency is like finishing second in a beauty pageant: It's nice, but in the end what's it really worth?

NASCAR Power Rankings

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

As Earnhardt posts another high finish the impending departure of crew chief Steve Letarte becomes all the more ominous. In fact it wouldn't be all that surprising to see Junior Nation soon begin staging protests and other forms of demonstrations. Seriously, how long before the first "Please Don't Go, Steve" T-shirts appear?

2. Brad Keselowski (LW: 5)

Few crew chiefs like to use alternative strategy more than Paul Wolfee, who has a well deserved reputation for being unconventional with his calls. And now that Keselowski has scored a victory, virtually ensuring himself a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, all bets are off as to the extremes Wolfe will go to collect further wins. It's the NASCAR equivalent of playing with house money.

3. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2)

It's very magnanimous of Johnson to share the early-season headlines instead of hogging the spotlight for himself. As ever so quietly -- which is hard to do when you're the defending Sprint Cup champion -- Johnson has gotten off to a terrific start with finishes of fifth, sixth and sixth.

4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4)

For a driver-crew chief tandem that entered the season with uncertainty about its long-term viability, the three consecutive finishes of ninth or better has certainly alleviated some of that pressure.

5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3)

The importance of Harvick's victory at Phoenix was underscored Sunday when mechanical troubles sent him to the garage early. Instead of getting in a tizzy about a great run gone sour and the accompanying loss of points, Harvick brushed aside the troubles, understanding in the grand scheme of things he is still well positioned.

6. Joey Logano (LW: 6)

All signs pointed to Logano regressing in his second season with Team Penske, and thus far that certainly hasn't been the case. And although Sunday was a bit dicey at times with Logano becoming quite agitated with his inability to pass, he did leave Las Vegas with a fourth-place finish.

7. Carl Edwards (LW: 10)

After an off-week at Phoenix, Edwards rebounded nicely with a fifth Sunday. And this is enhanced when you consider how much Roush Fenway Racing struggled at Las Vegas, with Greg Biffle (22nd) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (27th).

8. Matt Kenseth (LW: 7)

A year ago the intermediate tracks were ruled by Kenseth and as a whole, Joe Gibbs Racing. In the first race on a 1.5-mile track of the season that dominance was absent. Kenseth never got his car to handle like he wanted and finished a ho-hum 10th.

9. Kyle Busch (LW: 8)

One of the few who could make and complete passes Sunday, which proved advantageous when Busch dropped to the rear following a mishap on pit road. He would eventually race his way to the front, but then backslid late and finished 11th. Similar his JGR teammates, Busch is just a smidge off in performance though not to a level to be alarmed about.

10. Ryan Newman (LW: 14)

From all appearances Newman has adjusted nicely with his new team. He was fast at Daytona before getting wrecked, then posted back-to-back top-10s at Phoenix and Las Vegas.

11. Denny Hamlin (LW: 9)

The magic the No. 11 team had throughout Speedweeks is long gone with reality having now set in. That reality is Hamlin, like Kenseth and Busch, is hindered by the JGR program still finding its way through the early portions of the year.

12. Jamie McMurray (LW: 12)

McMurray has finishes of 14th, 10th and 15th this year. Which is right on par for a driver who hovered between running 10th and 15th every week last year and has always struggled finding sustained success.

13. Kasey Kahne (Unranked)

With his three teammates having yet to finish outside the top 10, Kahne was the Hendrick Motorsports outlier entering Las Vegas. That changed with an eighth-place run Sunday, and now it's off to Bristol where in 2013 Kahne had a win and a second.

14. Paul Menard (Unranked)

Menard raced to third Sunday for his best result since October 2012. He did so with his wife due to give birth to the couple's first child and with Matt Crafton standing by just in case. The only thing he was missing was a sign saying "Baby on board," which surely will be in place this weekend at Bristol.

15. Greg Biffle (LW: 11)

All things considered he isn't really deserving of a spot in this week's rankings, but a dearth of candidates keeps Biffle here for another week. As an aside, it's a good thing his contract renegotiations with Roush are almost complete, as his performance of late doesn't give him a whole lot of leverage.

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