JJ's dominance makes it late early

Tuesday March 2nd, 2010
NASCAR Power Rankings
1 Jimmie Johnson
Last Week: 1
Jimmie Johnson
Did the Chase begin early? Seriously, it feels like go time in Camp 48. The four-time defending champ took a four-tire stop when leader/teammate Jeff Gordon took just two and used the extra grip to ply through the field -- passing Gordon with 16 laps left -- for his second consecutive win. My, how the Twittersphere and fandom are growing bored already. JJ appears to finally be instructing them to deal with it. The good news for those oh-so-polled-coddled-cajoled fans: it's early. Actually, it's not. Johnson is squirreling bonus points to pad his lead when the standings are reseeded and he really begins to dominate. When's the World Rally Championship start?
2 Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 2
Kevin Harvick
He's still the points leader, although it doesn't really feel like it, and he had a handle on another fine No. 29 Chevrolet while finishing second. As long as Richard Childress Racing keeps birthing strong race cars, Harvick stays in the shotgun position. Without the bobble while chasing Johnson down at California last week, he might have a win, but he leaves the West with two runner-up finishes and a solid first month.
3 pothole
Last Week: 4
Clint Bowyer
Finished eighth at Las Vegas and snuggles second in points as RCR maintains its grip on the top two spots. The No. 33 Chevrolet has been in the mix in each of the first three races and it seems like a matter of time before Bowyer records his first win since 2008, when he finished fifth in points. A clever pit call by Shane Wilson stole some track position on Sunday and Bowyer made it work.
4 Jeff Burton
Last Week: 3
Jeff Burton
RCR's three-pronged reclamation project was strong again at Las Vegas, with Burton 11th and running well. He's seventh in points and apparently settling in for the kind of year-long run of consistency that had been his hallmark until last season.
5 Mark Martin
Last Week: 5
Mark Martin
Fourth at Las Vegas (three of four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished there or above; Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the exception) and now third in points, Martin continues to lurk. He was wallowing in the standings by this time last season, but managed to lead the field into the Chase. It would be no surprise to see him in Victory Lane soon.
6 Greg Biffle
Last Week: 6
Greg Biffle
The veteran finished tenth for the second straight week and remained a respectable sixth in points, but a costly pit road situation where he had to remain in his stall to avoid a collision with A.J. Allmendinger cost 20 spots -- in crew chief Greg Erwin's estimation -- and soured a potentially good day. "We thought we had a lot better car than a tenth-place finish today," Erwin said. "We worked our way up into the top five when that incident occurred, but the safer call was to hold Greg. The 43 just wasn't checking up and if I would have sent him, we would have gotten hit. I'm disappointed." Biffle picked up major real estate elsewhere, becoming part owner of ¾-mile, clay Sunset Speedway in Bank, Ore., where he plans to field the 22-race DAA Spec Motor Series as a feeder system for drivers from the Northwest. It will run 22 events on six tracks with a $25,000 season points fund. Good dude, that Biffle.
7 Matt Kenseth
Last Week: 7
Matt Kenseth
Another strong showing (fifth) under crew chief Todd Parrott had the normally reserved Kenseth reminiscing about the good old days of Roush dominance. "(Teammate) Carl (Edwards) and Greg and myself were all up there and it felt like a few years ago, so it seemed like all the cars had a lot more speed this weekend," he said. "It feels like we're on the right track."
8 Jeff Gordon
Last Week: NA
Jeff Gordon
Crew chief Steve Letarte will be portrayed as outsmarted by counterpart Chad Knaus for taking two tires instead the four affixed to JJ's No. 48 on the decisive final pit sequence in Vegas. But seriously, JJ could have taken four Tonka wheels and won. It must be frustrating existing not only in Johnson's universe, but under the same roof at Hendrick Motorsports, only to have the protégé continue his dominance. "While it's in-house, it's still another competitor," Gordon said. "It drives us. It inspires us. It motivates us. The reason you saw us perform the way we did today is because of those guys pushing us. We don't take that lightly. We came here on a mission. Unfortunately, the two-tire stop just didn't work out for us." Still, Vegas showed Gordon can have a say in how the championship is contested. Perhaps he's indicating he might become "Five-Time" first.
9 Joey Logano
Last Week: 8
Joey Logano
The 19-year-old must have had one productive debrief with crew chief Greg Zipadelli after the Daytona 500, because he's suddenly looking like the next greatest thing ever, as promised. A week after finishing fifth at California, Logano was a solid sixth at Las Vegas and is suddenly talking about that next Sprint Cup win instead of trying to establish some footing.
10 David Reutimann
Last Week: 9
David Reutimann
Ninth in points, 13th in the race, but still moping. "We just seemed to be off today," he moaned. "There were times when we got it pretty decent, but it just seemed like track position was everything." That's 50 downer points subtracted from his power ranking tabulation.

Dropped Out: Kurt Busch

Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/brantjames
SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.