Commentary

Power Rankings: Darlington

Updated: April 10, 2014, 3:03 PM ET
By Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine

Each week of the Sprint Cup season, ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee ranks the top 20 drivers in the series. 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.

New this week

Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola

Dropped out

Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, AJ Allmendinger

Biggest movers

Kyle Larson jumps from unranked to 14th, Joey Logano from 10th to fourth

Biggest loser

Kevin Havick falls from seventh to unranked

Also considered

Jamie McMurray, Johnny Rutherford

1. Jeff Gordon

The Artist Formerly Known as Wonder Boy is back in the points lead for the first time in five seasons and headed to a racetrack where he's won more than anyone not named Earnhardt or Pearson.

2. Kyle Busch

Shrub "only" has one Cup win at Darlington, but that's certainly not for a lack of running up front. Over his last six starts he's led an average of 98 laps per race, including 265 of 367 one year ago.

3. Matt Kenseth

You can include Darlington on your list of racetracks where Kenseth was always hit-or-miss until he made the move to Joe Gibbs Racing. So far he's batting 1.000 in the 20 car, winning one year ago.

4. Joey Logano

Last week I said his lack of a race win was forcing me to slide him down. Problem solved. No matter how you feel bout JoLo, it was good to see him take back the win that was nearly taken from him.

5. Carl Edwards

Even after a decent day from Cuz and Biff, there still seems to be uneasiness at Roush Fenway over its 1.5-mile program. Expect the RFR nerds to swing for the setup fences at Kansas and Charlotte.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Note to self: today's rules prevent any attempt at recreating your father's "Pass in the Grass."

7. Jimmie Johnson

Oh, you poor Jimmie fans, so used to winning all the time that when your guy hasn't visited Victory Lane in nine races you fall into a downright panic. Says Junior Nation: "Must be nice."

8. Brad Keselowski

Hard to fault a guy for swinging for the fences and going for the win, especially with a Chase spot all but locked up. However, it's easy to fault the jet dryers for blowing the hood off his car before the race.

9. Brian Vickers

After being forgettable at Texas throughout his career, The Sheriff has posted two straight TMS top-10s. Could it be a similar story at Darlington? In '12 he scored his only top-10 in nine tries.

10. Tony Stewart

A month ago Smoke was 27th in points. Now he's 14th, though still looking for a win. In other words, he's taking the total opposite of the have-a-win-but-not-much-else approach of his teammates.

11. Greg Biffle

Very quietly, the Biff is getting his act together, easing back toward the top 15 in points. He's also very quietly pretty good at Darlington, with two wins, though it has been a while.

12. Clint Bowyer

It took Bowyer six weeks to earn his first top-10 of the year. Now he has two in a row. By the way, at Willie's Duck Diner, is duck all they serve?

13. Denny Hamlin

He looked good at Texas, but again finished outside the top 10 thanks to a speeding penalty. Still, like Gordon, Johnson, etc., a win feels imminent. His 5.4 career average Darlington finish leads active drivers.

14. Kyle Larson

He's so good on the fast racetracks. And though he's still going to have bad weeks, it feels like he'll win much sooner than later. It reminds me so much of another sprint car rookie, Kasey Kahne in '04.

15. Paul Menard

Sideburns Lanahan has dour top-10s in secen races, only five shy of his career best for a single season. A Texas top-10 seemed to be a mathematic impossibility so I'm not sure how to take his highly generic Darlington stats.

16. Austin Dillon

As Larson picks up steam, Dillon has settled into an 11th-to-21st finishing pattern. That's not bad at all. In fact, he's still 12th in points. But he needs to hit a hot streak of his own to keep up in the RoY race.

17. Ryan Newman

Newman is the middle stanza in the RCR three-car song, as they rank 10th (Menard), 11th (Newman), and 12th (Dillon) in points. But if the team is going to make the Chase they need Rocket Man to win.

18. Kasey Kahne

One week he looks awful. The next week he spends all day as a solid top-10 car. Inevitably, he will soon have a race where he looks invincible, followed by another week of awful. That's how he rolls, y'all.

19. Aric Almirola

Almirola takes a turn in what's becoming a Richard Petty Motorsports yo-yo spot, replacing teammate Marcos Ambrose thanks to a 12th-place Texas finish. In two Darlington starts he's finished 19th and 20th.

20. Kurt Busch

In the closing laps at Texas, Busch freefell from a decent finish, through the Power Rankings, and dropped all the way to 25th in points. Hey, at least he's still one spot better than teammate Kevin Harvick.

Ryan McGee | email

ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR

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