NASCAR power rankings: Carl Edwards makes case for No. 1, unseats Dale Earnhardt Jr.

All Carl Edwards had to do this week to leapfrog Dale Earnhardt Jr. for No. 1 in the NASCAR power rankings was withstand a rainstorm and an inopportune caution.

How difficult is it to compile this week's NASCAR power ranking? Well, in four races there have been four different winners and the most consistent driver so far is clearly a notch below those who have already paid a visit to Victory Lane.

NASCAR Power Rankings

Which brings us back to the debate had in this space a week ago: Despite NASCAR greatly incentivizing winning, is week-to-week consistency still the barometer for gauging whether a team is championship caliber?

1. Carl Edwards (Last week: 7)

When the yellow flag waved on lap 462, it seemed a given Edwards would pit for tires considering how imperative fresh rubber had been throughout the night. Crew chief Jimmy Fennig thought otherwise, and the decision seemed dubious. But as the events played out the gamble worked, as Edwards was able to put some distance between himself and those who had pitted and was never seriously challenged -- even though a mysterious caution kept things interesting.

2. Brad Keselowski (LW: 2)

Last week's winner at Last Vegas appeared poised to make back-to-back trips to Victory Lane. But when Kevin Harvick's car began emanating smoke and dropping oil it created an accordion effect behind him, and with nowhere to go, Keselowski, who was running fourth, rear-ended the third-place car of Jamie McMurray. Surprisingly, despite significant damage he thought was unrepairable, Keselowski still managed to finish 14th.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 1)

Earnhardt's streak of top-two finishes was bound to end at some point, but what transpired at Bristol was quite ugly. Things were so woeful on Sunday, he was convinced something had gone amiss within his car, specifically a broken front shock. A prolonged stop on pit road dismissed this notion, and the 88 team labored to a 24th-place finish. And after closer inspection upon returning to the shop, Earnhardt shared the real culprit for his poor showing: the team simply missed the setup. It happens.

4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4)

For the first time in his illustrious career Gordon has rolled to four consecutive top-10s to begin a season. But as consistent as he's has been thus far, the fact Gordon's led all of four laps is glaring and points to a gap that the 24 team must close on the guys above if Gordon is to harbor hopes of winning a fifth championship.

5. Matt Kenseth (LW: 8)

In the history of 13th-place finishes, Kenseth might have had the most eventful. It all began when his No. 20 car was slammed into from behind by Timmy Hill ... while leading ... under caution. The damage, although extensive, wasn't terminal. From there Kenseth fell to 30th after repairs, only then to claw his way back to the lead. The troubles weren't over though, as later debris on his tires caused him to slap the wall numerous times. And when it was all said and done, Kenseth left Bristol with a car looking like it had been in a demo derby.

6. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 3)

The No. 48 machine was among the fastest Sunday. But Johnson never got a chance to mount a bid for his second Bristol win, as his right-front tire unwound with air still in it and he fell a couple of laps behind.

7. Kevin Harvick (LW: 5)

A broken oil line led to an encounter with the wall, which led to Harvick's No. 4 car becoming engulfed with flames. And just like that and for the second week in a row, a promising run ended with an early trip to the garage. The good news is unlike many on this list, at least Harvick has a win to fall back on and already punched his Chase ticket.

8. Joey Logano (LW: 6)

The No. 22 Ford may have been the class of the field at Bristol, but power steering problems right before the red flag dampened Logano's chance to win. Regardless, for a driver and team not always known for consistency, the strong start to the year bodes well. Is it time to view Logano as a challenger on a weekly basis? Not yet, but the signs are certainly present.

9. Denny Hamlin (LW: 11)

The trials and tribulations his teammates endured bypassed Hamlin, who made it to the finish with a relatively unscathed car. Now it's off to Fontana, and the one-year anniversary of his last-lap crash that all but ended his season.

10. Kasey Kahne (LW: 13)

The good news about Kahne finishing eighth is that there will be no debate whether he should have used the bump-n-run to win. Much was the case in the August Bristol race when, after finishing second to Kenseth, Kahne had to defend himself and his clean driving style.

11. Kyle Busch (LW: 9)

Like many, Busch had a car capable of winning -- he led 73 laps. But like many, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver suffered numerous problems and finished well outside the top 10 (29th). The most adverse of Busch's problems was when he spun coming out of Turn 4 and, miraculously, wasn't broadsided.

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Unranked)

If it meant winning, would Stenhouse really have put a fender on Edwards? Because of what's at stake, Stenhouse says undoubtedly yes, regardless of the implications. The intriguing question about this scenario is not whether Stenhouse would spin his teammate to win, but what Edwards' reaction would have been had that transpired.

13. Ryan Newman (LW: 10)

Crew chief Luke Lambert is a proponent of rolling the dice when it comes to track position. But his early gamble to skip taking four tires proved costly, as Newman dropped like an anchor through the field and never recovered. He had to scramble just to finish 16th.

14. Jamie McMurray (LW: 12)

Perhaps this spot should go to Tony Stewart, who finished an impressive fourth Sunday and sent a reminder that if his cars are right he's still a player. But let's give McMurray the benefit of the doubt. He was running in the top-five and positioned to maintain his streak of finishing every race 15th or better before Keselowski clobbered him.

15. Greg Biffle (LW: 15)

The low man on the Roush Racing totem pole at Bristol, Biffle finished 12th Sunday. Which underscores an interesting subplot to watch unfold this season: Can Roush sustain three viable, consistently contending teams? You'd think yes, but this is something the organization has struggled with in recent years.

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