By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on March 4, 2014 | 7:36 A.M. EST
A runner-up finish at Phoenix International Raceway keeps Dale Earnhardt Jr. atop Pete Pistone's Power Rankings. (Photo: Getty Images)
With finishes of first and second to start the season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains on top of the Power Rankings as the Sprint Cup Series gets ready to head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Followed his Daytona 500 victory with a second-place Phoenix finish. Earnhardt was aggressive thanks to already having a win and a spot in the Chase virtually guaranteed. There's no reason to believe that mindset won't stay intact throughout the regular season.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 127.8
Point Standings: 1st
Previous Ranking: 1st
2. Kevin Harvick: Scored his first win with Stewart-Haas Racing in only his second official start for the team Sunday and continued his mastery of Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick is by far the best of the SHR stable so far and his communication with crew chief Rodney Childers is spot on.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 117.5
Point Standings: 4th
Previous Ranking: 10th
3. Brad Keselowski: After winning the pole in the first Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying session, Keselowski followed with a strong showing in Sunday's Phoenix race. While he admittedly did not have enough to challenge Harvick for the win, the 2012 champion was impressive for a second straight week.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 116.5
Point Standings: 2nd
Previous Ranking: 4th
4. Jimmie Johnson: Always tough at Phoenix, Johnson wasn't as good as he's been in the past. He notched a sixth-place finish and came home with a decent day even though there wasn't a serious challenge for a fifth career win there.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 106.5
Point Standings: 5th
Previous Ranking: 3rd
5. Jeff Gordon: Two races and two top-five finishes to start 2014. He put on a furious charge in the final nine-lap dash to the checkered flag to gain a couple of spots and looked very aggressive in doing so.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 105.4
Point Standings: 3rd
Previous Ranking: 5th
6. Denny Hamlin: He was a curious non-factor throughout the Phoenix weekend. Hamlin has been one of the best at PIR in recent years but struggled in practice, qualifying and finally Sunday's race as did most of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 96.9
Point Standings: 8th
Previous Ranking: 2nd
7. Joey Logano: Led 71 laps and was another one of many aggressive drivers aiming for Victory Lane. Logano and Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski have opened 2014 with a pair of strong performances at both Daytona and Phoenix.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 114.2
Point Standings: 6th
Previous Ranking: NR
8. Carl Edwards: The defending Phoenix race winner couldn't make it back-to-back victories but still came away with a top-10 finish. Edwards was by far the best of the Roush Fenway Racing stable with teammates Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle finishing outside the top 15.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 91.8
Point Standings: 9th
Previous Ranking: 9th
9. Matt Kenseth: The good news is Kenseth's day in Phoenix wasn't anywhere near as bad as his performance last November. But like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Kenseth was a bit off over the weekend and was forced to settle for a 12th-place finish.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 94.1
Point Standings: 7th
Previous Ranking: 6th
10. Ryan Newman: A top-10 finish in his first Phoenix start as a member of Richard Childress Racing. Newman has always been good at PIR and after qualifying 15th was able to make his way to a seventh-place performance.
Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 79.6
Point Standings: 15th
Previous Ranking: NR