By Brant James
April 05, 2011
NASCAR Power Rankings

Coffee is for closers. Have another cup, Kevin Harvick. Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1 Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
A powerful force is an unsatisfied points leader. Busch felt he had the best car in the field on Sunday but wasn't fast enough when it mattered most. He was nudged gamely out of the way in the waning laps by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was eventually overtaken by winner Kevin Harvick. Busch finished third, but was left empty. "I sucked," he said. Busch gets bonus points this week because his Truck series team was announced as the new NASCAR destination for 2007 Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen. Maybe that'll make him feel better.
2 Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
Harvick, who finished third in driver points last season, completed his second straight late dash to the checkered flag by passing Earnhardt and deflating a legion of the faithful. Just 15 points behind Busch in fifth place, his two wins this season put him in an interesting position with -- sorry -- 20 races left until the Chase for the Championship. Already squarely in the playoff field in points, he also leads the series with two wins, which would making him the wild card leader unless he slumped outside the top 20 in points. That equals greater leeway in experimenting, gambling for more wins instead of racing for points. Like he'd change anything now, anyway, though.

"My dad always told me the pay window didn't open until the checkered flag was flown, and we survived and raced off what we won each week," Harvick said. "My first year, I tore my Late Model up and we only got to run seven times because he wrecked it every other week. The second time we wrecked one time and we won the championship because we were always around at the end and would take advantage of other people's mistakes. I guess it's just the way I was taught to race. You have to be around at the end to win these races."
3 Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards
An 18th-place finish cost him the points lead, but he's perfectly safe at second overall, five points out. The thought of his three wins in 12 Cup starts at Texas might be comforting. That he's crashed out of two of his last three ... less so.
4 Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
Penalized for speeding on pit road late in the race and relegated to an 11th-place finish, the five-time defending series blasted NASCAR for what he felt had to be an error or misapplied sanction and suggested greater transparency regarding the data it uses to police pit road. Johnson recanted on Tuesday, admitting that he had actually been nabbed in a different part of pit road than he assumed. He's still all for publicizing the data, but is otherwise moving on.
5 Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya
The former open wheel champion continues to stalk his first oval victory since September 2000 at Gateway International Raceway in the CART series and first since coming to NASCAR from Formula One in 2006. He's getting closer, finishing fourth on Sunday at Martinsville despite starting from the 27th position. That's 17 top-5s on ovals, all kinds of ovals. It won't be long. On the downside, he can expect a ton of open wheel transition questions as Raikkonen explores NASCAR.
6 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Second and viable at Martinsville, NASCAR's most popular driver is eighth in points and showing signs of perhaps finding some traction as he approaches 100 winless races. He's not won since 2008, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.
7 Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
Four straight top-10 finishes have been followed by a 17th at Fontana, Calif., and 16th at Martinsville. Busch was carping aplenty about missed opportunities early in the season, and now even those opportunities seem to have vanished.
8 Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman
Undone by a broken header pipe and a flat tire that caused a spin, Newman wasted a second-spot qualifying effort but salvaged a 20th-place finish.
9 Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
Finished sixth, stands ninth in points. And Edwards didn't make him flinch. Good day.
10 Mark Martin
Mark Martin
Tenth in the race, 10th in points, the veteran produced his best result since the Daytona 500, where he was also 10th.

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