By Brant James
April 12, 2011
NASCAR Power Rankings

Warning: These power rankings are likely to be turned upside by the checkered flag on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. For now, Carl Edwards has the lead and Dale Earnhardt Jr. might be setting up an extremely popular march through the South. Have a comment? Send to You can also follow me on Twitter at

1 Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards
A game third at Texas considering his level of gastric distress -- he blamed a concoction cooked up for him by his mother, Nancy Sterling -- he regained the points lead after holding it briefly earlier this season. Edwards' renaissance has coincided with Ford's as all of the Roush Fenway camp was strong last week.
2 Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth
He found the winner's circle for the first time since claiming the first two races of the 2009 season. Kenseth seems to finally be reaping the rewards from a pairing with crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
3 Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
A 16th-place finish at Texas interrupted a superb run of results -- first at Bristol, third at Fontana and Martinsville -- and cost him the points lead. You have to think he wants that back.
4 Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
The five-time defending series champion has yet to win a race this season, but has been coming along nicely in pursuit of one. He wrestled a loose No. 48 Chevrolet around Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday to finish eighth. Talladega has been a scene of low lows for Johnson -- seven DNFs in 18 starts, being spun by Brian Vickers on the final lap as he attempted to pass for the lead in 2006, Dale Earnhardt Jr. dubbed him an 'idiot' for his part in a 26-car wreck in 2005 -- but he should be very much a player on Sunday.
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The renewal of his career continues at glacial pace, but there seems to be progress and after several woefully unfulfilling seasons at Hendrick Motorsports, that will suffice. Earnhardt Jr. has enjoyed some of his greatest success at Talladega -- five of his 18 Cup wins have come there, best among any track -- and he is beloved there, even if his legions seem to live in the past. Visit a gas station in Alabama and you're likely to find by the register a rack of Crimson Tide key chains, Auburn key chains, and Junior key chains, in the Budweiser motif he left in 2007. Glacial pace, indeed.
6 Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman
As high as second in driver points three weeks ago, Newman needs to deploy the safety chute before he falls to worse than his current seventh. Talladega is a tough place to grope for stability, and Newman has crashed out of two of his last three there, but the two-car snuggle draft might clear out half the field for him early.
7 Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya
A runner-up, two-time pole-winner and third in both Talladega races last season, Montoya is primed to become the first Colombian former Indianapolis 500-winner to take the checkered flag at the hulking 2.66-mile track.
8 Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer
Won the fall race at Talladega last season, was a rousing second at Texas and a humorous instigator in the whole upset stomach incident with Edwards. He jumped four spots to 12th in the Sprint Cup standings with his Texas finish, but is nestled higher in the power rankings with anticipation of a first restrictor plate win.
9 Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
Fifth in points, but seemingly farther away than that. Busch led the points standings for two weeks but has struggled since, apparently because he and his team have failed to work the car into closing shape when it mattered most. Crew chief Steve Addington finagled the No. 22 Dodge into the lead for 50 laps on Saturday with some divergent pit strategy, but Busch eventually filtered down to 10th. Still slogging around the burdensome distinction of best restrictor-plate driver without a restrictor-plate win -- even teammate Keselowski has one, and that must be annoying -- Busch has an average finish of just 13.7 at Talladega. Perhaps a win on Sunday could buoy the effort.
10 Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
He came to Talladega last spring amid reports his relationship with team owner Richard Childress had fractured and he would leave the team as a free agent. And then he won the race. Harvick returns with a long-term deal, as a two-race winner, in a black car a decade after Dale Earnhardt's death, sponsored by Budweiser. That may just too much for a race-loving Southern man to watch without a tear in his beer.

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