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Junior, J.J., Edwards lead rankings after wild weekend at Talladega

NASCAR Power Rankings

A record tied for closest finish (.002 seconds). A record tied for lead changes (88). It was boring. It was exhilarating. It was dependent on the moment and the vantage point. It was Talladega. Have a comment? Send to siwriters@simail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/brantjames

1Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He dutifully worked with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson throughout the race and found himself the pusher when push came to shove in the final frantic laps. Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak stretched to 101 races, but he accepted the checkered flag from Johnson after finishing fourth and at third in points continued what is becoming his finest season with NASCAR's most successful team.
 
2Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
The five-time defending series champion collected his first victory of the season at a place where he has experienced decidedly mixed results. He and Earnhardt Jr. dissected the field throughout the race -- much to the eventual chagrin of runner-up Clint Bowyer -- perhaps indicating that their new partnership, at least in race shops, is establishing both a rapport and results.
 
3Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards
The points leader was riding Roush Fenway teammate Greg Biffle's front bumper and running point on what would have been a breakthrough day for Ford at Talladega, but he was passed by two, two-car Chevrolet pods on the closing lap and finished sixth. At least he finished wheels down. And sixth isn't bad, either, considering his average finish at Talladega is still 20.9.
 
4Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer
A winner at Talladega last fall, Bowyer suffered the ignominy of losing in what tied for the closest finish in NASCAR history since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993. There's no trophy for that, but Bowyer jumped two spots to 10th in points and within the Chase for the Championship boundary. That might eventually lead to an even better trophy.
 
5Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
He couldn't repeat as champion of the Talladega spring race, but a fifth-place finish enabled a five-place jump to fourth in the standings.
 
6Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
An 18th-place finish was unsatisfying in numerous ways. His inability to capture a restrictor plate win continued despite a resume of fine racing at Daytona and Talladega, and he angered numerous drivers with separate on-track incidents. Landon Cassill, teammate Brad Keselowski and Dave Blaney, who was racing for what would have been an inspiring top-10 finish, all tasted Busch's front bumper. Perhaps it tasted like PAM spray, like the bumper of ...
 
7Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
Caught in an accident on the backstretch with 47 laps remaining, Busch finished a miserable 35th and fell four spots to sixth in the driver standings. Apparently the non-stick spray he and many other drivers applied to their bumpers to ease abrasion while drafting didn't make mayhem slide off.
 
8Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
He won the pole and finished third in what was a banner weekend for Hendrick Motorsports. Creeping now just on the edge of the top 10 in driver points, the four-time series champion raved about his day-long experience drafting with teammate Mark Martin who finished eighth.

"We realized that you have to have somebody that you can count on, somebody that you trust, somebody that you can get on the radio and work with and who better to do that with than your teammates?" he said. "And in our case, this weekend, was Mark Martin. This is the first time we've done it. Now going through the experience, we'll be even better the next time. But I thought we did a really good job, and like I said, we put ourselves in position to win."
 
9Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman
His 25th-place finish wasn't as noteworthy as his two deft saves of the No. 39 Chevrolet. Newman was virtually sideways through Turn 3 late in the race as Denny Hamlin tried to link up for a push, but managed to right himself without wrecking anyone (just severely scuffing Juan Pablo Montoya), and stayed off a retaining wall just later when he suffered a flat tire.
 
10Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle
Helped a teammate, in Edwards. Finished seventh. Signed a three-year extension. That's a productive weekend by Talladega standards.
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