Brant James
Tuesday March 23rd, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings
1Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 2
Jimmie Johnson
Three wins in five races. Fourth-fastest driver to reach his 50th career win, doing it in just 296 starts. A first win at Bristol on Sunday that helped soothe some disappointing performances in the past. Johnson had some luck here, some great strategy there, and some on-the-wheel driving acumen there. The four-time defending series champion may not be in the points lead yet -- Kevin Harvick has held the top spot since the Daytona 500, holding off Matt Kenseth by a point -- but he seems very much in command.
2Jimmie Johnson-itis
Last Week: N/A
Jimmie Johnson-itis
Kurt Busch seemed absolutely crestfallen on Sunday. Yes, he led a race-high 278 laps, but finished third at a place where he?d won a career-best five times. He was also denied a second consecutive Sprint Cup victory after winning at Atlanta two weeks ago. But his pale, vacant stare came to symbolize the frustration the garage is feeling toward Johnson right now. While, in the two weeks leading up to Bristol, media outlets were concerned with the schoolyard bickering of Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski and NASCAR?s attempts to mitigate their spat, Johnson just kept on disheartening his peers, including Kurt Busch. The sick, yet strangely enjoyable part of the whole process is that Johnson seems to finally be enjoying the moral-sucking routine, or at least vocalizing it more. "I told (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) before the year was over, I don't have a number of wins, but I wanted to win a lot to frustrate the competitors," Johnson said on Sunday. "I think over the last few years, we've been able to get in some guys' heads and I think it's been helpful. I don't want to lose that advantage if we can prevent it."
3Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 1
Kevin Harvick
The points-leader stayed the points leader by rallying from a 33rd starting position to an 11th-place finish at Bristol. But why does it feel like he?s treading water?
4Kurt Busch
Last Week: 5
Kurt Busch
He has a win, two top-5s and three top-10s in five races this season and is a solid sixth in points. If the Chase started tomorrow, he?d be second after the reseed ... but, of course, Johnson would then just pull away and ruin his mood all over again. But there is a silver lining in Busch?s cloud if he chooses to embrace it: his relationship with crew chief Steve Addington.
5Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 4
Matt Kenseth
A sneaky second in points is just where Kenseth thrives. He?s never won more than five races in a season, captured just one in 2003 when, as the yarn goes, he ruined the old points system and prompted NASCAR to instill the Chase for the Championship format. As with Busch, a crew chief switch has been fruitful, as he and Todd Parrott have three top-5s (including a runner-up effort in Atlanta) and top-10s in four races together this season. Kenseth has led just nine laps this season ? a trait of most of his Roush Fenway peers so far ? but he is solidly in the mix and has established himself as one of the breakaway top four programs so far in 2010, with Johnson, Harvick, Busch and Greg Biffle.
Last Week: 3
Greg Biffle
The wily veteran and his Roush Fenway teammate are the only drivers in the Sprint Cup series to finish in the top 10 in every race so far this season. He led the Daytona 500 before a late caution prompted a green/white/checker finish and a better choice of dance partners might have put him in Victory Lane instead of third. Biffle led the final restart at Bristol with 10 laps left, but he faded to fourth when a two-tire gamble on the ensuing pit stop didn?t work out. He seemed less upset about that than squeezing Mark Martin into the wall and prompting an earlier accident when his radio failed and prevented his spotter from relaying information about the on-coming No. 5 Chevrolet.
7Tony Stewart
Last Week: 8
Tony Stewart
He was the final victim of Johnson?s last sequence rush from sixth to the lead on Sunday, yielding to the No. 48 Chevrolet and finishing second. It was Stewart?s first top-5 finish of the season.
8Jeff Burton
Last Week: 7
Jeff Burton
He ran as high as fifth until the final caution pushed him back in the field, but maneuvered the mess of a multi-car crash on Lap 342 and other perils inherent to Bristol to capture a productive 10th-place finish. Burton dropped one spot to seventh in the driver standings but actually pared nine points of Harvick?s lead.
9Paul Menard
Last Week: 9
Paul Menard
The journeyman remained in rare company with an 18th-place finish at Bristol. He held his own within the top 10 for parts of the race, even leading a lap. Hey, give him some credit, he?s only led 41 in 116 Cup races, and remains ninth in points.
Last Week: NA
They?re back. The wing has been deposed, much to the joy of purists and chronic complainers. Two days of testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway will precede the bolting of the blades back on Sprint Cup cars for racing this weekend at Martinsville. There shouldn?t be a drastic different noted with the slower speeds on the .526-mile paper clip.

Dropped Out: Clint Bowyer, Bile

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