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Elder Busch tops the standings as Edwards makes points leap

NASCAR Power Rankings

Tony Stewart's angry, but Kyle Busch is not. Carl Edwards is back in Victory Lane again, and getting that 2008 feeling, and may be due to admit he's a title-contender again. Matt Kenseth is laying waste to his peers. It's too early to be this odd. Have a comment? Send to siwriters@simail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/brantjames

1Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
NASCAR's new points system will supposedly reward winning, but three races into the experiment and the most consistent -- but winless -- driver shares the Sprint Cup points lead with Tony Stewart, who is also winless and plenty agitated about it. After finishing fifth in the Daytona 500, eighth at Phoenix and ninth at Las Vegas despite an early slide, Busch is the only driver to log top-10s in every race. He was certainly yearning for better in his hometown, but Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a dysfunctional home environment for Busch for quite a while. In 11 starts, Busch has an average finish of 20.7, two DNFs and a best result of third in 2005.
 
2Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards
Three wins in his last five, a second-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a nine-slot leap in the points standings. Not a bad little run for Carl Edwards. Can he make it last, oh, 33 more races?
 
3Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
The two-time series champion was lip-quivering furious over losing the lead because of a pit stop gaffe after running up front for 163 of 267 revolutions around LVMS. Edwards took the lead on Lap 245 during green flag pit stops by taking two tires and Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet crew had to take four on Lap 236. Such was the case after crew chief Darian Grubb used a two-tire stop earlier to compensate for an air hose violation that resulted in a penalty that sent Stewart back into the pack. Stewart recovered to finish second but was disconsolate, demanding over his team radio how the race had been surrendered. "I probably should feel good about that, but that's not in my makeup," Stewart said. "I mean, it kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven't won at yet. This was a big deal today, and when you lead that many laps and have a car that's that fast and you lose it."
 
4Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
His travails have been so severe and so publicized since leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. for powerful Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2008 that any forward progress elicits breathlessness. An eighth-place finish -- after starting 35th and running inside the top 5 in the waning laps -- on Sunday and an outward projection of hope and excitement from Earnhardt Jr. again gave a legion of fans hope. Tenth in driver points, Earnhardt said after the race that he was finally having fun. Winless in 96 straight races, he also painted a bleak portrait of the alternative if he cannot be successful with a team that has won five consecutive championships with Jimmie Johnson and made several accommodations to improve his performance, as well as that of teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.

"Failure at this point is completely unacceptable, and I've got to put it all out on the line, do everything I can to make this work," Earnhardt Jr. said. "If it doesn't work with [Steve Letarte, his third crew chief in four seasons], I've got nowhere else to go. I've got no other options, really, other than race myself into oblivion with my own team and (cousin and former crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. and those guys and what the hell. But I want this to work. I want to race Cup. I want to be in the COT the rest of my career as long as I can. I want to be successful and so I'm just trying to work hard, man."
 
5Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.
He vaulted nine spots with a sixth-place finish and was the top Toyota. Truex Jr., who disappointed in his Michael Waltrip Racing debut last season, is gushing over the workmanship nature of his team.
 
6Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya
Third at Vegas, the former open wheel star is third in points. That's no small feat considering how his 2010 season was harpooned after as many events last season, when he finished 37th in two of the first three events, including Las Vegas. Montoya was 26th in points after Vegas a year ago. And there's been some other progress, he said. Nobody answers his questions anymore, so he must be getting too experienced to help. "I think I've been accepted from day one," he said. "I think actually before I could have gone and asked people and they would tell me anything, and now I don't think they tell me as much, so that has changed. That's a positive, I guess, in a way."
 
7Paul Menard
Paul Menard
He's sixth in points and the highest Richard Childress Racing driver in the standings ... by a wide margin. Kevin Harvick is in 20th position, 25 points back. NASCAR's new, simplified points system should make clear the magnitude of that margin.
 
8Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman
Consecutive top-5 finishes have Newman back inside the top-10.
 
9Matt Kenseth's mean streak
Matt Kenseth's mean streak
The 2003 series champion with the wry wit and reserved demeanor has suddenly become demonstrably passive-aggressive. His tap of Brian Vickers two weeks ago at Phoenix preceded a 14-car wreck when the No. 83 Toyota went spinning, even though Kenseth later said one could "kick a car harder." Vickers, apparently still feeling aggrieved, failed to answer a text, Kenseth said, likely meaning his televised assertion that "it will come back to" Kenseth still stands. Kenseth's move on fellow Daytona 500-winner and belle of the ball Trevor Bayne left him far less wiggle room for deflecting blame. It pretty much looked like a dump job from a frustrated veteran on a slower youngster. So be it.
 
10Jeff Gordon's image
Marcos Ambrose
The Tasmanian's 10-point jump in the standings, following a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas, was the largest in the series this week.
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