The race is done, and that means it's time for 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 back in the front yet again...
1. Jimmie Johnson: Help me out here. Who goes here? Matt Kenseth is leading the points, but he had a weak Loudon. Tony Stewart? Hottest driver in NASCAR was a nonfactor. Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin are too buried in the standings to make the leap. So we're going with Jimmie Johnson because he had a halfway decent race, and you can't do anything about it. Last week: 4.
2. Matt Kenseth: This was one of the first races of the year where Kenseth wasn't ever a factor. He'll likely be back in form at Indy, but this was an uncharacteristically dull race for a guy who ... nah, you know what, that's too easy. Last week: 1.
3. Kasey Kahne: There are four or five drivers out there who can just come from out of nowhere and thoroughly dominate a race. Denny Hamlin is one of those. Unfortunately for him, so is Kasey Kahne. It's too early to consider Kahne a title contender, but he's looking a whole lot more like a legit Chase candidate than several of the guys still in the top 10. Last week: 6.
4. Denny Hamlin: I love how Hamlin just lets every single emotion spill right out of him like a middle-school drama queen. Despite how that sounds, that's not a slam. Well, not much of one. We love emotion in NASCAR, and we'll even take the kind that makes Hamlin sound like he's listening to Adele on the plane ride home. "Maybe someday I'll ask for two tires just like youuuuuu..." Last week: 10.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Hey, Dale. 'Sup. Good little run on Sunday. Pretty sweet moment there when all four Hendrick guys were in the top 5. Not leading the race, but still...you can't have everything. Anyway, that's all I've got to say about Mr. Notched-Another-Top-Five-Sorry-For-Party-Rockin'-You-Haters. Last week: 5.
6. Greg Biffle: What the heck happened to the Roush guys on Sunday? Are we entirely certain they made the trip back north from Daytona? As dominant as they were last Saturday, they were utterly forgettable this Sunday. Not what we expected to see. Last week: 3.
7. Brad Keselowski: I usually have a lot to say about Kes, but not this week. So I will say that Kes is the driver whose standups have probably seen more crime than any other. Seriously. They're all over dingy, creepy gas stations in the middle of nowhere. Heaven only knows what horrors those things have seen. Last week: 7.
8. Tony Stewart: All right, I give: don't bet Tony Stewart after a win. Seriously, the guy wins and then goes into the tank. He'll be just fine in Indy, but wow, was he awful at Loudon. All right, all right: his car was awful. He was the same ol' precious cuss we all love. Last week: 2.
9. Jeff Gordon: As you read these words, Gordon is headed to the Congo as part of his charitable efforts. Worthy, worthy cause. But I do have to wonder if he'll be greeted by a horde of kids wearing "Carl Edwards 2011 Sprint Cup champion" shirts. (Yes, I will keep re-using that joke every year until you laugh, dammit!) Last week: 9.
10. Clint Bowyer: TNT was beyond problematic this season, what with all the commercials (more on that in a moment), but one of the better moments of the race on Sunday was the clip of Bowyer's crew chief Brian Pattie yelling something indecipherable at his crew. As stressful as it surely is being a crew chief, you have plenty of opportunity to work off that stress. Last week: NR.
11. Ryan Newman:
Decent day by the Rocket Man at one of his better tracks. Now, the commercials: we can't escape 'em. But TNT made the unfortunate choice to go with shorter commercial breaks staggered more frequently, which means that we were seeing commercials literally every five minutes. That didn't go over so well. Last week: NR.
12. Joey Logano: Not a great run by Logano, but he's running better than Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and others we left off the list. If Logano is able to get into the Chase, he'll be able to tap-dance on the heads of his detractors. Last week: 9.
Dropping out of the rankings: Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr.
Lucky Dog: Brian Vickers, who put in another strong effort in the rotating No. 55 seat. Dude is making a strong case for a ride next year ... if there is a ride to get.
DNF: Carl Edwards, who began his stretch run to the playoffs with an uninspiring, virtually anonymous 18th-place finish. He needs that win, pronto.
All right, your turn. Fire away, friends.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Denny Hamlin
- Kasey Kahne
- Tony Stewart
- Matt Kenseth
- Jimmie Johnson