The debate has been ongoing pretty much from the moment NASCAR unveiled its new criteria to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Would the week-to-week consistency that was valued for so long still maintain a presence in the sport even as winning took center stage? There is no definitive answer, though the early returns suggest consistency still has a place.
Although he may not have a win, Jeff Gordon has been in contention quite frequently, which is why it's no surprise he leads the Sprint Cup standings after seven races and also why he moves to No. 1 in this week's power ranking. Others may have shown an ability to win and be in contention regularly (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, etc.) but consistency does matter and thus far Gordon is the one who has shown it the best.
1. Jeff Gordon (Last week: 6)
Seven drivers have won a race this season and Gordon is not among them. However, the high-level consistency shown by the four-time champion simply can't be ignored; his worst finish is 13th, which came at Fontana where he was leading with two laps to go before a caution jumbled the running order. Yet as has been the case for the last couple of years, Gordon needs to win with greater frequency if he is going to obtain that elusive fifth championship.
2. Joey Logano (LW: 9)
Does Logano have a case for being ranked No.1? Absolutely. He has a win, four top-five finishes, sits fourth in points and is third overall in laps led. For now though this spot feels appropriate, but another strong effort at Darlington and we'll reevaluate.
3. Kyle Busch (LW: 5)
With four fresh tires and lined up fourth on the day's final restart the driver of the 18 car seemed poised to repeat his feat at Fontana, where he charged to the front to claim victory. Unfortunately for Busch there was no déjà vu and he settled for third, which is where he is ranked this week.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 1)
Give Earnhardt credit, he made a mistake and readily admitted his blunder. Compounding his frustration was that his teammate was swept up in the aftermath of his mistake, essentially ruining the race for both himself and Jimmie Johnson.
5. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2)
A jet dryer damaged his hood before the race ever really began, a teammate triggered a wreck that he got a piece of and a tire went down under green. Yeah, it would be fair to say Johnson had a bad case of the Mondays.
6. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4)
A quiet, uneventful day netted Kenseth an eighth, which is good. As is his 8.3 average finish, which is second only to Gordon (7.4). What's not good for Kenseth is that it has become obvious that the dominance Joe Gibbs Racing exhibited in 2013 on the 1.5-mile tracks has not manifested itself this year.
7. Carl Edwards (LW: 3)
For Edwards, mile-and-a-half tracks used to be where he shined with 10 of his first 19 victories coming on similarly sized ovals. But it's been three years since his last win, and as evident Monday where he registered a nondescript 14th-place finish, this is certainly no longer the case.
8. Brad Keselowski (LW: 8)
Team Penske had a 1-2 finish within its grasp until Keselowski pushed it a little too much leaving pit road and was dinged for speeding on his last stop. Regardless, when you have a mark in the win column being aggressive on pit road are the things you can do and not be too concerned by the consequences.
9. Kyle Larson (LW: 13)
With his background in sprint car racing and his propensity for the upper groove, the similarities between Larson and Kasey Kahne are noticeable. One difference: Larson, a rookie, is outperforming the more experienced Kahne this season, as he now has two top-fives on the year -- including a fifth at Texas -- while Kahne's best finish is a pair of eighths.
10. Denny Hamlin (LW: 15)
Hamlin arguably had the fastest car at Texas and was leading when he was hit with a penalty for speeding on pit road. From there out he was in scramble mode and never and fully recovered, finishing 13th. It's a bit alarming that not since Daytona has the No. 11 team put together a full race from green to checkered flag.
11. Brian Vickers (Unranked)
While his teammate Clint Bowyer continues to be hounded by bad luck and miscues in the pits, Vickers has been on a roll as of late. His fourth at Texas was the third time in four weeks he's finished in the top-10. And it's worth noting this is coming from a driver who's running the full schedule for the first time in three years.
12. Tony Stewart (LW: 12)
Stewart started on the pole and led 74 of the opening 76 laps, but the changing track conditions proved to be problematic and he finished 10th. Nevertheless, Texas was another solid run for a driver continuing to recover from a horrific injury and a team still jelling.
13. Paul Menard (Unranked)
That Menard is off to a strong start this season isn't a surprise, as that has been his modus operandi since joining Richard Childress Racing. What is a bit of a shocker is that Menard has consistently been the best performing driver at RCR, outpacing both Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon.
14. Kevin Harvick (LW: 7)
How do you judge a team that has continually shown more speed than any in the garage, yet at the same time has been besieged by mechanical failures? On one hand Harvick owns a dominating victory at Phoenix and could easily have two or three other wins to his name. Then again, he has finished 36th or worse in four of the past five races. For another week Harvick deserves a spot in the power rankings, but his standing should be considered tenuous at best.
15. Kurt Busch (LW: 10)
In a season that mirrors that of his teammate, Harvick, Busch has been equally brilliant and inconsistent. The proof: He has finished on the lead lap in only two of seven races this season, but those two finishes are a win and a third.