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 familiar with the front of the pack...
1. Matt Kenseth: This NASCAR season is doing everything it can to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Think the sport's in a rally? Psyche! Here's one-third-full Bristol stands! Think that it's only Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart that deserve the spotlight? Psyche! Here's a guy who has trouble getting a full-year of sponsorship nearly winning his second race of the year! Up is down! Black is white! Last week: 6.
2. Greg Biffle: The Biffster's streak of third-place finishes stopped at three, but no harm done. He held down the pole at Bristol, and while he wasn't able to sustain for the whole race, he certainly seems a lot more legit this year than he has in recent seasons. Of course, "start fast, fade to midpack" can be applied to a whole season, too. Uh-oh. Last week: 1.
3. Kevin Harvick. Harvick got caught up in the monster HurriKahne wreck early in the race, yet his crew worked him up so fast that he was able not only to stay in the race, but stay on the lead freaking lap. That's impressive. I'm going to take my car over to the 29 shop, see if they can give me a little automotive makeover before Richard Childress sees me and takes off his watch. Last week: 5.
4. Tony Stewart: A few years back, I postulated the idea of Good Tony and Evil Tony, Good Tony being the go-along, get-along good sport and Evil Tony being, well, evil. Not sure which one it is that's the race winner, but both of them seem to show up with regularity, sometimes even in the course of a single race. Wouldn't you love to have a scanner to hear what goes on in that guy's head? Last week: 3.
5. Martin Truex Jr.: Other Junior is putting together his best season yet. We know that. What we want to know is, how large is Michael Waltrip Racing's ad budget? Seriously, between the horror that is the "Napa Know How" commercials, the awkward Mark Martin-Mikey "Odd Couple" ones, and the new Clint Bowyer Five-Hour Energy ones where he apparently darts from activity to activity like a caffeinated ferret, Waltrip is definitely winning the public-exposure war. In an ad sense, I mean. Last week: 10.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior: great race ruined by a last-second pit-road penalty. Isn't that the story of his career? Not sure what else to say about Junior right now, and since we'll be talking about the Junior/Gordon incident later, let's do this: What can Junior do to liven up his press conferences? Seriously, the guy seems bored out of his skull, and I can't say I blame him. So what should he do? I think he ought to conduct each conference in a different accent. And you? Last week: 4.
7. Denny Hamlin: Did you catch Denny Hamlin's "Teach Me How To Dougie" moment at Bristol on Sunday? No? Check it out here. (We'd embed it, but that'd be kind of illegal, rights issues and all. And I don't feel like getting fined.) Anyway, we can goof on Denny all we like, but he had the guts to do that in front of grandstands filled with at least 200 people. So, you know, good on ya, Denny. Last week: 2.
8. Brad Keselowski: Old-school race fans love to gripe about how awful it is that these kids are tweeting their Facebooks and whatnot, but I guaran-damn-tee you that if Facebook and Twitter were around when Dale Senior was running, he'd be all over it. That guy was a master marketer. And I'm frankly a little surprised we haven't seen an Intimidator Twitter feed pop up yet. (That would be what's known as a "hint.") Last week: NR.
9. Jimmie Johnson: It was like Bizarro World at Bristol on Sunday. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards? Out of the race! Jimmie Johnson? An utter nonfactor! What's going on this season? Making things a heck of a lot more exciting around the NASCAR circuit, am I right? Me, I am excited for California! Last week: 7.
10. Kyle Busch: You ever wait tables? I used to hate going into work, being there for a dead hour or two, and THEN having people show up. It was like, crap, I was all wound down and I have to work now? I wonder if that's how the guys who get wrecked early feel. Screw it, I'll get home and watch the end of the race on TV. What? You've got it running? And I'll only be 103 laps down. Oh, great. Fire it up. Last week: 9.
11. Carl Edwards: The next time I interview Edwards, I'm going to see if he can get a relevant sponsor mention in with every question. Seriously. I'm going to ask him about ancient Roman history, Kony 2012, "The Walking Dead," the new Van Halen album, Rick Santorum and whatever else I can think of. And I bet he'll work in a Subway or Frosted Flakes reference to every answer. Last week: 8.
12. Jeff Burton. The Senator, everybody! The one senator that any of us could stand to be around for any length of time! It's always good to see Burton run well; we're not supposed to root for anybody, but we do root for good stories ... and Burton makes for a good story every time he's up front, if only because he'll give you a good quote about any subject under the sun. Last week: NR.
Dropping out: Mark Martin, Joey Logano.
Lucky Dog: Brian Vickers. No doubt. You come off a three-week layoff (NOT as a result of being kicked out of NASCAR, no matter what Michael Waltrip might tell you) and you lead laps and bring the car home in fifth? That's not bad, VapoRub. Not bad at all.
DNF: Kasey Kahne, who's damn close to getting this award named after him. Kahne is now only a handful of points ahead of Vickers ... who's run three fewer races than him. That's not so good.