NASCAR power rankings: Dale Earnhardt Jr. stays on top

Daniel Shirey

For the second week in a row Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds top spot in the NASCAR power rankings.

Ordering drivers based off a performance in a restrictor-plate race is an act of futility considering the volatile nature of racing at Daytona and Talladega. Especially so when two sizeable accidents comprising 41 cars (some twice) eliminates several favorites, and opens the door for an unlikely winner in Aric Almirola.

Nonetheless, and despite limited fluidity, the rankings for the week are in.

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

Cracking up his Chevrolet in the initial "Big One" prevented Earnhardt from completing the Daytona sweep. Interestingly, Earnhardt attributed being in the wrong place at the wrong time directly to a change in strategy, which stemmed from him not being more aggressive in May at Talladega. Is there credence to that? Sure, but considering the carnage Sunday it didn't matter where you stationed yourself -- up front or in the back -- there really was no definitive way to avoid either wreck.

2. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2)

Prior to the race Johnson said he was going to "let it rip," focused only on winning and nothing else. In hindsight, that was an appropriate mindset to have as the defending series champ got swept up in the first "Big One" and finished 42nd. His day was over after just 19 laps -- and a one-day delay for thunderstorms.

3. Brad Keselowski (LW: 3)

At least Keselowski didn't have to worry about his safety while standing in Victory Lane. The euphoria of Kentucky ended with him getting collected in both Daytona wrecks, resulting in an 18th-place finish, which is of little consequence.

4. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4)

Took blame for starting the first wreck, though in his defense Gordon really wasn't at fault as the crash was more circumstantial than anything else. Despite incurring some damage, the championship leader did manage to continue and finished 12th, adding three points to his lead.

5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 6)

While Harvick may have crashed out, at least he can take solace that the No. 4 pit crew didn't let him down again. Interesting note that his 39th-place finish Sunday was the fifth time Harvick's finished 36th or worse this season -- two more than the past four years combined.

6. Matt Kenseth (LW: 6)

The first victory of 2014 seemed like a possibility with Kenseth leading laps early. That opportunity was gone when Gordon tagged Tony Stewart on Lap 19, triggering a 16-car fracas which saw Kenseth sustain front end damage. But it's onward to New Hampshire, where the No. 20 team won last September, and should be among the contenders Sunday.

7. Joey Logano (LW: 7)

Logano is among many happy to put Daytona in the rearview mirror and move on to New Hampshire. The one-mile track is close to Logano's home state of Connecticut and where in 2009 he won his first career race -- the last rookie driver to do so in NASCAR's top division.

8. Kurt Busch (LW: 15)

Daytona netted a third-place effort for Busch, who is now finding some consistency after yo-yoing for much of the season. He now has five consecutive finishes of 13th or better and firmly solidified his position in the standings, no longer in danger of falling outside the top 30 in points. And with his knack for running up front, Busch is starting to garner some championship dark horse potential.

9. Kyle Busch (LW: 9)

While he may have been dangling upside down in Turn 3 waiting for track workers to flip the No. 18 car back over, at least Busch never lost his sardonic sense of humor. "Just having a good old time over here," he said. Crew chief Dave Rogers then responded with this gem: "Yeah, you're just hanging around."

10. Clint Bowyer (LW: 14)

Winning is supposed to be everything but don't tell that to Bowyer, who enjoyed a solid points day at Daytona. With almost everyone ahead of him in the standings wrecked, Bowyer finished ninth and jumped two spots in points to 12th.

11. Paul Menard (LW: 11)

Daytona has not been kind to Menard in 2014. Both February and this past weekend he had a car capable of winning, but each time was unable to escape someone else's mess. Still, Menard is 10th in points and poised to earn a first-ever Chase berth if the No. 27 team can maintain its consistency.

12. Ryan Newman (LW: Unranked)

Even without a victory Newman could very well make the Chase in his first season with Richard Childress Racing. He is currently eighth in the standings and with a comfortable enough points margin -- 40 over Austin Dillon, the last winless driver who would get if the postseason began today - whereas Newman might not even have to reach Victory Lane in the next eight weeks.

13. Jamie McMurray (LW: 10)

Through no fault of his own a good chance to win went by the wayside for McMurray at Daytona. Nonetheless, a lost opportunity is a lost opportunity for a driver who likely needs to win to make the Chase.

14. Carl Edwards (LW: 8)

Said on the radio he should have been more conservative in the early going, and Edwards was correct. If he had dropped back there would have been a greater chance of him escaping the first multi-car wreck. As it was, Edwards was in the thick of things and finished 37th. But then again, when you have a pair of wins and don't care about points, why not be aggressive and attempt to run up front?

15. Tony Stewart (LW: 12)

Only Stewart could say he loves someone like a brother in one breath and in the next calls them an idiot. In this instance the subject was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who shares a close relationship with the three-time Cup champion, but drew Stewart's ire for what he thought was Stenhouse's over-aggressiveness at too early a juncture.

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