Posted: Tuesday May 3, 2011 1:25PM ; Updated: Tuesday May 3, 2011 2:22PM
Brant James
Brant James>NASCAR POWER RANKINGS

Edwards still leads the rankings, as Ky. Busch nips at his heels

NASCAR Power Rankings

Carl Edwards was begrudgingly content. Jimmie Johnson, too, and for different reasons. Kyle Busch had plenty of time to consider his emotions as he ran off with the Sprint Cup victory at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night, and maybe some extra time to consider how he was rounding into a title contender. And maybe a little time to snicker at his brother. Have to live a little, after all. Have a comment? Send to siwriters@simail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/brantjames

1Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards
The points leader has locked into a consistent streak of nice finishes this season, producing his fifth top-5 and seventh top-10 with a fifth-place showing on Saturday. Having done so on every type of track the Sprint Cup series contests, except a road course, bodes well for his likely positioning heading into the Chase for the Championship, when the series returns to Richmond in the fall.
 
2Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
The younger and suddenly the most diplomatic of the Busch brothers made a third straight spring win at Richmond with a dominant performance to end the race, leading 235 of 400 laps to collect his second victory of the season. His performance, in a business-like collaboration with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin -- who finished a much-needed second -- propelled Busch to three spots to third in driver points.
 
3Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
While some of his fellow title-winning peers (read: Busch, Kurt), unleashed impressive tantrums while dealing with an ill-responding race car, the five-time defending series champion persevered (albeit with some frustration released on the radio), came from a lap down and milked an eighth-place finish out of a possible disappointing race. Johnson has finished outside the top-10 just once -- an 11th at Martinsville -- in the past six races, remained second in points and is tacking along with Edwards. America's Cup reference. Nice.
 
4Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer
His average finish was 23.5 and he wallowed in 24th place in points through four races, but the Richard Childress Racing driver has responded. A runner-up at Texas and Talladega (by a record-tying margin of just .002 seconds to Johnson), he's not finished outside the top-10 in the last five races. Subsequently, he's vaulted to seventh in points and looking like a strong challenger again.
 
5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The mini-run -- second at Martinsville, ninth at Texas, fourth at Talladega -- ended at least temporarily on Saturday with a 19th-place finish. The next interesting facet of what has so far been an encouraging season for NASCAR's most popular and scrutinized is how he and crew chief Steve Letarte respond, possibly make his second-worst finish of the season an aberration. Going from one of the fastest in practice to a non-factor in the race is disconcerting. He's finished fourth twice at Darlington, but no better than 18th since his last runner-up there in 2008.
 
6Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick
A victim of pit strategy that caught him a lap down, Harvick expected to collect more points at Richmond, where he has a win and 13 top-10s in 21 starts, but a 12th-place will have to suffice.
 
7A.J. Allmendinger
A.J. Allmendinger
A season-best seventh-place finish on Saturday fortified the belief that the former Champ Car rising star is finally a Sprint Cup rising star. He's yet to manage a top-10 finish this season, but he's tantalizingly close to the top-10 in driver points at 11th.
 
8Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch
This figures to be a key week in the career of Kurt Busch at Penske Racing. The 2004 series champion, obviously frustrated with his race cars the past five races, blasted a Penske official over the team radio during the race and shambled to a season-worst 22nd-place finish. Busch has plummeted from first to sixth in points the last six weeks, but feels a lot closer to terminal velocity than that.
 
9Dave Blaney
Dave Blaney
All right, all right. He finished 13th at Richmond and is not even on the horizon of the Chase boundary. But the finish put Tommy Baldwin Racing inside the top-35 in owner points and locked it into the next race for the first time in its history.
 
10Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin
He came home to Richmond in dire need of an emotional or professional boost and got both, winning his charity Late Models event and the Nationwide race, then finished second in Cup.

 
SI.com
Hot Topics: NBA Draft Yasiel Puig NHL Playoffs NBA Playoffs Mark Cuban Jabari Parker
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines, your California privacy rights, and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint