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Monday, February 18, 2013
Power Rankings

By Ryan McGee
ESPN The Magazine

2013 Power Rankings: Preseason

Each week of the Sprint Cup season, ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee ranks the top 20 drivers in the series. Below is his first installment of 2013, the always anticipated preseason list. Last week's rankings in parentheses are last year's final power rankings, as are the top-10s.

Don't agree with McGee's list? Let him -- and the rest of the world -- know in the conversation section at the bottom of the page. But remember, make your mama proud.

Also considered

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jeff Burton, Marcos Ambrose, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Fireball Roberts

No. 1: Brad Keselowski

The only champs to repeat over the past three decades were Earnhardt, Gordon and Johnson. Like those legends, BK returns the core of his team, anchored by crew chief extraordinaire Paul Wolfe.

No. 2: Jimmie Johnson

Welcome to Five-Time 3.0. Some claim that the new Gen 6 car will be opportunity for the little guys to close the gap on Hendrick Motorsports, but history says big changes are best handled by big teams.

No. 3: Kasey Kahne

Ol' Blue Eyes is coming off a career-best points finish, despite stumbling out of the starting block in his first season with Hendrick. He's never had a wire-to-wire solid season. If he ever does, look out.

No. 4: Clint Bowyer

Common sense would say that MWR is bound for a letdown after its stunning 2012 campaign. Then again, common sense also said that MWR would have never pulled off that stunning 2012 campaign.

No. 5: Matt Kenseth

In this week's ESPN The Magazine, Kenseth tells me the biggest challenge of joining JGR has been finding the bathroom at the shop. Just wait until (if) he establishes himself as the team's No. 1 driver ...

No. 6: Kyle Busch

... Something that isn't likely to sit well with this guy ...

No. 7: Denny Hamlin

... Or this one.

No. 8: Greg Biffle

Started and closed strong in 2012, earning seal of approval on the pairing with crew chief Matt Puccia. Entering his 11th season I'm not going to say it's now or never for The Biff, but it's getting close.

No. 9: Kevin Harvick

This is a team that, at times, has felt like one big episode of "Maury." Happy giddily targeted the "lame duck" critics as he took the checkers Saturday night. Can they keep that up? Stay tuned ...

No. 10: Jeff Gordon

If Jimmie is Five-Time 3.0 then Jeff is Four-Time 12.0. He has been one of the most outspoken proponents of the Gen 6 car, but he did win five races in 2011-12 after only one win the previous three years.

No. 11: Tony Stewart

Last fall we waited for his annual late-season dash up the charts, and it never happened. Some whisper that Smoke has too much on his plate to focus on driving. That'll just make him mad. Mad = fast.

No. 12: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Before his concussion forced him to the sideline, Little E was en route to his best season in a decade. Now he's hinting that the new car is more like the early 2000s cars that created those early heydays.

No. 13: Carl Edwards

Don't ask Cuz for a brief explanation as to why last year went sour. Says Carl: "There's no short answer to that question." Expect a rebound in '13, but give it a few weeks before you start buying 99 stock.

No. 14: Martin Truex Jr.

The good news? The Clam Prince of New Jersey has had his once-promising career revived via a 2012 resurgence. The bad news? He still hasn't won a race since June 4, 2007.

No. 15: Ryan Newman

I won't go "now or never" with Biffle, but I will with the Rocket Man. He's in a one-year deal with Stewart-Haas in a car still needing sponsorship with Danica Patrick and Harvick moving in across the hall.

No. 16: Joey Logano

And if I'm willing to go "now or never" with Newman, you can bet a quart of Pennzoil that I'm also going there with Sliced Bread. It's crazy to think about everything he's already endured. He's still just 22!

No. 17: Aric Almirola

Elsewhere in the Finally Fulfilling Potential department, Almirola quietly tripled his career top-10 total from 2 to 6 in his first full Cup season. I expect him to win a race this year. Seriously.

No. 18: Mark Martin

Greatest. Part-time. Employee. Ever. I love that he's ranked in this Presidents Day edition of the Power Rankings because back in the day Martin was Millard Fillmore's favorite driver.

No. 19: Kurt Busch

Kurt closed out 2012 with three straight top-10s, a first for second-tier Furniture Row Racing. There is buzz that he could win a few races this year. There is also buzz that he could punch a few people out.

No. 20: Danica Patrick

I originally had Ricky Stenhouse Jr. here, but the Daytona 500 pole has to count for something, right? Do I expect her to stay in this spot for long? No. Do I expect her boyfriend to retake it soon? Yes.