By Brant James
March 22, 2011
NASCAR Power Rankings

Kyle Busch: win. Jennifer Jo Cobb: win. Kurt Busch: win-ish. Everyone with hopes of taking a Bristol trophy from Kyle Busch: lose. Rick Russell: lose. Another humdrum weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1 Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
No driver burns with a higher trajectory and hotter thrust than Kyle Busch in good times, especially considering his early success at NASCAR's top three levels. Such as now, such as at Bristol. He notched his second consecutive weekend sweep -- minus a Trucks win because there was no race on the docket this time -- and has five victories consecutively in all top-three NASCAR series at the half-mile. His sponsor re-signed this week. Carl Edwards didn't play his chip and try to dump him as they vied for the lead in the late laps. He was comparatively self-effacing afterward and asked on live television for fans to give what they could to disaster relief organizations aiding in Japanese recovery efforts. That's another sweep.
2 Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
One can imagine Busch pegging the agitation meter on Sunday, even amid so many positives. At a track he once dominated -- winning four of five races in a stretch from 2002-2004 -- on a day when he was again strong in the early laps, Busch couldn't push the leaders near the end and finished seventh. He claimed the points lead alone when Tony Stewart's poor showing shook him from their shared perch. He remained the only driver with top-10 finishes in every race this season, but he was reportedly irritated afterward, entering a meeting with team owner Roger Penske and crew chief Steve Addington, apparently displeased that he has been unable to parlay his consistent pouncing position into victory. Some could enjoy such troubles, but his point is well taken.
3 Carl Edwards and his sense of foreboding
Carl Edwards and his sense of foreboding
With a runner-up finish on Sunday, the resurgent Edwards has a win and two second-place finishes in four starts, but his allusion to a 28th-place result at Phoenix was compelling. Racing Kyle Busch for the win in the waning laps, Edwards relented to the faster No. 18 Toyota even though he said he still owes Busch one for the bump that ruined his day at Phoenix. Interesting. When will you play that card, Mr. Edwards?
4 Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
The bad news was just like several occasions last season, where Harvick found himself in trouble, this time spun late by Mark Martin. The good news was much like last season, he and his No. 29 Chevrolet team persevered, more than recouping a solid finish out of what could have been a disaster day, especially considering how Bristol amplifies mayhem. Harvick finished sixth, and is slowly ascending the driver standings after an engine failure and 42nd-place finish in the Daytona 500.
5 Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
Oh, great. Season's over. In the first truly Johnson-esque statistical performance of the season, the five-time defending series champion led a race-high 164 laps at Bristol on Sunday and collected his second third-place result in four starts. Busch's No. 18 Toyota was ultimately better late in the race, but Johnson was in good stalking position as Busch and Edwards jostled for the lead after the final pit stops. At seventh in points after a five-place leap, Johnson appears to be limbering into form, perfect timing heading to Auto Club Speedway, where he has won four times and finished third or better twice in the last seven events.
6 Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman
Droning consistency helped Newman qualify for the Chase for the Championship with fledgling Stewart Haas Racing in 2009 and a lack of it left him wanting last season. The methodical production of results has resumed, with Newman scoring his third top-10 finishing of the season.
7 Paul Menard
Paul Menard
Richard Childress Racing's newest driver remains on point with another beyond-expectations result. Menard's fifth-place finish was just his third top-5 in 151 Sprint Cup starts over parts of eight seasons. He has finished higher at NASCAR's top level just once, when he was second in the fall 2008 race at Talladega for Dale Earnhardt Inc. He is currently fifth in points after never finishing better than 23rd (last season). "There is a lot of talent up there," he said. "(Crew chief) Slugger (Labbe) built a hell of a race team and just having a lot of fun right now." That's plenty of information for now. Just let that soak in.
8 Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
The two-time series champion had forged a tie for the points lead by finishing seventh at Phoenix and second at Las Vegas, but his No. 14 Chevrolet proved too ill-handling to finish better than ninth on Sunday. Stewart ran as high as fourth after an early two-tire stop, but by the end of race he struggled to remain on the lead lap and finished 19th. Stewart surrendered his tie of the points lead to Kurt Busch and fell to third, although just 12 points back.
9 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Finished 11th, but would have been better without a speeding penalty. Gained a spot to ninth in the standings. Baby steps
10 Jennifer Jo Cobb
Jennifer Jo Cobb
The 37-year-old became the symbol of professional pride and integrity when she walked away from her ride in Rick Russell's 2nd Chance Motorsports Nationwide car minutes before the green flag on Saturday. Russell said they had an agreement in their five-race deal that she would park the car after running just a few laps. She denies it. Their very public, soon to be very litigious dispute, involving restitution for car repairs after a Vegas wreck, engine costs she supposedly defrayed, soon became public knowledge. Cobb, the highest finishing female in NASCAR Trucks Series history - sixth at Daytona - has been buttressed by a ground swell of support from the driver community, becoming somewhat of a Norma Rae in flame-retardant britches. She's already earned a ride for California with Rick Ware Racing after being released by Russell on Saturday.

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