Power Rankings: It’s like 1998 all over again

Jay Busbee

Time for our latest round of Power Rankings. Each week throughout the season, we'll size up who's rising and who's falling, based on current standings, behind-the-scenes changes, expected staying power, recent history and general gut feelings. Break out your Spin Doctors CDs, it's time to go back to the '90s ...

Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon

1. Jeff Gordon. Any questions? Seriously. Gordon's performance at Atlanta was one of the most dominating race runs we've seen all season, and despite everyone's expectation that he, his pit crew or his crew chief would figure out a way to give it all away at the end, they didn't ... and what we have is a legit favorite heading into the Chase. Last week's ranking: 4.

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson

2. Jimmie Johnson. Good news for Vader fans: he's running as well as he has all season. He's leading the points, and there's no reason to assume he won't put together another all-out run at a Cup. Good news for Vader detractors: Gordon is proving that Johnson isn't invulnerable. He's still only got one race win this season. That might be enough, but then again, with Gordon and others eyeing his crown, it might not. Last week's ranking: 2.

Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski

3. Brad Keselowski. Jet Ski continues his remarkable run. His fall from first to third shouldn't be construed as any verdict on his Cup chances; the guy got bumped by the two best drivers of the last two decades. No shame in that whatsoever. And the way he ran on Tuesday, Keselowski has without a doubt arrived as a Sprint Cup-level driver.  Last week's ranking: 1.

Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards

4. Carl Edwards. Edwards certainly has fun on his radio while he's driving. Between singing rain songs, speculating on whether he should take the high or low line on restarts, or chattering away with Matt Kenseth, he can't seem to stay quiet. But like Johnson, he could use another trip to victory lane, and fast. Last week's ranking: 6.

Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth

5. Matt Kenseth. Flatline and Cuz ran 1-2 for much of the afternoon, and they sit separated by just one point in the standings, which is why Edwards gets the nod right here. But while Kenseth is as restrained as Edwards is yappy on the radio, they're both hellbent on winning. And oh, would they have been mad if the rain had given that race to J.J. Yeley.  Last week's ranking: 5.

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch

6. Kyle Busch. Two straight less-than-dominating weeks for Busch at tracks where he's got victories already in the bag. Cause for concern? Sure, if you're prone to panic. Busch will be fine once the Chase begins, provided he can treat losses as mere setbacks rather than impending apocalypse.  Last week's ranking: 3.

Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch

7. Kurt Busch. Everyone was so focused on the Gordon-Johnson battle that no one really paid much attention to the guys following them. Kurt Busch finished fourth, a nice rebound from his recent weeks of difficulty. It's further proof that while Johnson is going to have all the eyes on him as the Chase begins, there are plenty of guys who will be able to jump up and grab a win.  Last week's ranking: 9.

Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick

8. Kevin Harvick. The struggles continue for Harvick, who hasn't notched a top-5 since Pocono in June. Yes, he got a 7th-place finish, and yes, once the Chase resets he'll be right back up in the rankings. But top 10s don't cut it, and Harvick needs to rediscover his mojo in a hurry if he wants to be a factor in the 2011 Chase.  Last week's ranking: 8.

Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman

9. Ryan Newman. So for the first time since, oh, April, Tony Stewart looked better than his employee. Newman didn't have a terrible race, just an unspectacular one. Hey, it happens to all of us now and then. Nothing to be ashamed of. He's in the Chase, so all's good.  Last week's ranking: 7.

Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin

10. Denny Hamlin. The best of a rocky lot, Hamlin is finally managing to show something of a pulse. He's still a long way from being considered a Cup competitor, but once he gets into the Chase, he can turn it on. Which is exactly how it always happens, right?.  Last week's ranking: 11.

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart

11. Tony Stewart. Just when you're ready to write off Stewart as done for the year, he comes through like he did on Tuesday, firing through the field to capture the most unexpected third-place finish of the year. He's getting close to a Chase lock, but has he waited too long to start, you know, winning? Last week's ranking: NR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. You know, we see the comments and we read the emails and we hear all the screaming about Junior, and sometimes it's enough to make you wish that Junior would just win a damn race just to shut some people up. (Or lose 200, to shut the other half up.) Either way, Junior continues to be the most frustrating driver in NASCAR, though it certainly appears he's going to make the Chase.  Last week's ranking: 10.

Dropping out of the rankings: Clint Bowyer. Blame Juan Pablo Montoya or blame Bowyer himself; either way, it looks like he won't be getting that desperately-needed Chase slot without a win.

Lucky Dog: Brian Vickers, who started high and finished just outside the top 10, a desperately needed good run for a guy still looking for a job.

DNF: David Ragan, whose slim chances at making the Chase (and holding onto UPS?) grew skinnier by the second at his home track.

Charging upward: AJ Allmendinger, who notched a top-10 finish and could sneak into the Chase ... provided, you know, Hamlin goes to Dover or something.

Next up: Richmond, where everybody's going to be scrambling for a teeny bit of track position. Send comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, email by clicking here, and via Facebook at The Marbles page.