The penultimate race of the Chase is over, and that means it's time for Power Rankings! But we're doing things a little differently now that we're in the postseason. It's all-Chasers, all the time. Good job, good effort for those of you that didn't make it, but we've got bigger fish to focus on. We'll be judging who's running well, considering not just finishing position but quality of run, expected potential, and general gut feelings. As always, we hate your guy and are biased against him. Now, enjoy.
1. Brad Keselowski. Man, what a turn of events for @Kes. Eighteen months ago, he was Kurt Busch's barely-known teammate, a guy more famous for who he wrecked than how he drove. Now? Amazing run to the very brink of a championship. He's got work to do, but not nearly as much as he might have. Last week: 2.
2. Jimmie Johnson. And what a turn of events for Vader. Last week, there wasn't a NASCAR fan alive who seriously thought Johnson wouldn't be gearing up for his sixth championship. Now? Well, we fully expect Johnson to make a race out of this, but it's going to be a huge hill to climb. Keselowski isn't going away. Last week: 1.
3. Clint Bowyer. A shame Jeff Gordon's temporary lunacy took out Bowyer, but it doesn't detract from what's been an outstanding season for ol' Rawhide. Plenty of people thought he was taking a huge leap downward by going from RCR to Waltrip, but as it turned out, the reverse was true. Bowyer brought home three wins and, along with Martin Truex Jr., raised MWR to respectability. Last week: 3.
4. Kasey Kahne. I had a radio host ask me this week if Kahne's final initiation into Hendrick would be to take out Keselowski early in the race. That'd be awesome, wouldn't it? Like Sons of Anarchy with twice as many wheels. Anyway, this year is a testament to Kahne's persistence; after his horrendous start, everyone had written him off, but he fought his way into the Chase and a probable top-5 season finish. That ain't bad for a start. Last week: 4.
5. Denny Hamlin. Five wins and one spectacularly ill-timed mechanical failure characterized the season for Hamlin. He's still looking for that elusive championship, but if he can carry the momentum he had for all but one of the races this year, he'll be someone to watch next year. Last week: 6.
6. Matt Kenseth. One last run for Roush Fenway, closing off a spectacular career there. It's been a strong year for Kenseth, though it had his traditional start-fast-and-then-slide run. Will Joe Gibbs Racing reverse that trend? Last week: 5.
7. Greg Biffle. Tough Chase for Biffle, but the regular season should demonstrate to everyone else that he belongs at the top of the rankings. Also, he continues his decade-long trend of winning two races every even-numbered year. Last week: 10.
8. Kevin Harvick. Nice job of salvaging the season with a victory at Phoenix, Happy! It was a forgettable 2012 on the track, but Harvick now heads into one of those strange lame-duck seasons. Good luck, everybody. Last week: 12.
9. Jeff Gordon. Like Bowyer, it's a shame that l'affaire Bowyer will define his season. He put on one of the better runs of sustained excellence in the late summer to get into the Chase, only to see it all blow up in Chicago. Last week: 7.
10. Tony Stewart. He started fast, getting three wins early, and then pretty much vanished from the conversation altogether. But as last year showed, he can come out of nowhere. Might be time to start, Tony. Last week: 9.
11. Martin Truex Jr. Tough go there for Truex in Phoenix, but it shouldn't detract from a breakout season. And he'll get that win one of these days. Last week: 8.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Look, Junior effectively gets a mulligan on the Chase because of his concussion. But what's indisputable is that his regular season was something worth noting. He's got that win monkey gone, and next year, we expect greatness. Nothing less. Last week: 11.
All right, you're up. Who goes where? Go!
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