It's a new season, and that means a new year 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. It is not scientific, nor is it meant to be. And remember, whoever your favorite driver is, we're biased against him and like someone else better. We continue with a guy who's as good as it gets right now...
1. Tony Stewart: This is really kind of a default No. 1, since Stewart didn't run particularly well and nobody below him really warrants getting the top spot. Still, he was classy enough not to play hardball when Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lapped him late in the race. Stewart picks his spots. Last week: 1.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Where else are we supposed to put him, huh? He's the photo-negative of Tim "All He Does Is Win" Tebow: Junior does everything BUT win. Proof that this year's run is different from before: In previous years, Junior's fuel strategy would have bitten him. This year? Another third-place finish. Ho-hum. Last week: 5.
3. Jimmie Johnson. Oh, he had this one in the bag. Jimmie was guaranteed, if not a win, at least a top-2 finish. (It's our belief Gordon was going to take him.) Still, he's shaken off the last of his early season penalty-bustin' blues, and he seems primed to make that run at No. 6. Last week: 8.
4. Matt Kenseth: Sometimes, the best thing to do in NASCAR is stay out of the messes that others create. After early race trouble, Kenseth climbed steadily back upward, and thanks to The Reutimann Affair, managed to notch a fourth-place finish. He's doing everything right to lock in for another quiet, respectful run for the Cup. Last week: 2.
5. Martin Truex Jr.: One of the interview questions I'll often bring out with drivers is asking them the worst thing they've ever had to do for a sponsor. (Not a current one, of course. Those folks are worth their weight in GOLD.) But I'm scared to ask any Waltrip driver, for fear the question will drive them to the fetal position, weeping. Last week: 6.
6. Kevin Harvick: You see Harvick obliterate the competition in the truck race? That's got to feel good, but part of me wonders if it feels a bit like beating up on little kids when you're playing basketball against them. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing quite like going all Dwight Howard and stuffing a 7-year-old's shot back in his face, but it leaves you with an empty feeling. Well, if you have a soul. Last week: 3.
7. Ryan Newman: Best part about late-race wrecks? The Zapruder-esque analysis everybody puts on who caused what and who screwed over whom. On Sunday, it appeared that David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer took the majority of the blame, while Newman, who pinballed Bowyer up into the Hendrick boys, skated to the win. Love it when that happens. Last week: 12.
8. Greg Biffle: This is what Biffle didn't need to happen: The rest of the field starting to find its feet before he got that win. He's in first place in the standings now, but one ugly race and he could be well out of the top 5. NASCAR is cruel like that. No mercy. Can't they just give everyone a trophy? Last week: 4.
9. Denny Hamlin: As soon as Denny made his comment on Friday about being able to race a soapbox derby car to the lead at Martinsville, I cringed. That's the kind of comment that makes the racing gods take revenge. Then again, the way that he finished up on Sunday, maybe he should've raced that soapbox derby car after all. If it'd pulled a Reutimann, he could have just picked it up and walked home. Last week: 7.
10. Brad Keselowski: Was one of the victims of the Bowyer/Newman scramble on Sunday. Of course, he wouldn't have had that problem if he'd been farther back in the pack. He'd have gotten around all that with no problem at all. It's like we've always said: running up in the front never works. Last week: 11.
Clint Bowyer11. Clint Bowyer: How much Five-Hour Energy could one man really drink? Would it add, or would it multiply? If you drank three Five-Hour Energys (note: not recommended or endorsed), would you have 15 hours' worth of energy, or would you have three times as much energy for five hours? Curious. Last week: NR.
Jeff Gordon12. Jeff Gordon. Oh, it was so close. Gordon ran so well for so long at Martinsville, and it appeared he was headed for a win, or at least a season-turnaround second-place finish. But no! And that, friends, is why we watch. Or cringe in horror, if you're a Jeff Gordon fan. Last week: NR.
Dropping out: Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch. Wow ... when's the last time those two guys were out of the Power Rankings at the same time?
Lucky Dog: Aric Almirola. Nice job to bring home a top 10 for Almirola and the RPM No. 43. Good thing he's not driving a number that draws a lot of attention.
The Kasey Kahne DNF: David Reutimann. Poor Reut, going from established vet to Root of All Evil in just a few short weeks. His heartfelt postrace interview seemed to mitigate a lot of the concerns about what happened, but he probably should make sure his car is in working order any time he's around the 48 or 24 haulers. (Honorable mention: Kasey Kahne.)