1. Jimmie Johnson: People love to throw around conspiracy theories for why Johnson is doing so well. Next time someone does, ask them this question: Why? Why would NASCAR benefit a driver who, while popular, clearly isn't the biggest draw in NASCAR? I mean, unless they were TRYING to benefit Junior and Jimmie kept swiping his cars out of the garage and putting a 48 on them. Wait a second... Last week: 2.
2. Matt Kenseth: Another strong afternoon for Kenseth; he was the best of a bunch of cars chasing Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Kenseth fans have a pretty big chip on their shoulder about how their guy doesn't get much media coverage. They have to just settle for having their guy run right up front every single race. That must really suck for them. Last week: 6.
3. Kasey Kahne: Anybody ever watch that HBO show "Oz"? It was the last of the pre-"Sopranos" HBO shows where the creators could do whatever insane ideas popped into their heads without the whole world watching. One of the worst dudes on the show was a vicious white supremacist named Vern Schillinger, and he was played by the same guy that's the professor in those Kasey Kahne University of Farmers commercials. All of which is to say: Kasey, don't ever turn your back on that guy. Last week: 3.
4. Greg Biffle: Hey, Biff. It's Busbee. Look, I'm sorry. I picked you this week. I really thought you were going to come through. I really thought this was the continuation of something special for you. Instead, I doomed you to an 11th-place finish. Really, really sorry about that. Last week: 1.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior is now piling up top-10 after top-10, and you know what? The haters are still out in force. It's like they're redoubling their efforts. If Junior actually does win, they'll say he doesn't win enough. And if he wins the Cup, they'll say he still has to win six more to catch his daddy. In other words, the fact that Junior doesn't go door-to-door with a crowbar ought to qualify him for sainthood. Last week: 5.
6. Denny Hamlin: The Ham-n'-Eggers (the name for Hamlin fans that I just made up) tore me a new one last week for ranking him so low. And then he goes out and posts an 18th-place finish, barely hanging onto the lead lap. Moral of the story: don't ever cheer for anybody, anytime. They'll immediately tank the very next week. Last week: 7.
7. Kyle Busch: You know who's looking the best in the whole "Kurt Busch has gone crazy" fiasco? His bro Kyle. At this point, Kyle could go kick an orphan (note: not recommended) and people would say, "Yeah, that wasn't very nice, but at least he didn't cuss while he did it." That's a good place to be, when your brother is a bigger mess than you. My brothers tell me it's very nice. Last week: 4.
8. Kevin Harvick: At last, Harvick returns to the top of the leaderboard, posting a second-place finish but still, like, miles behind Johnson for the win. Harvick did this while sliding through the pit box. That's some serious wheeling there. I think it's probably due to the Jimmy John's sandwiches. Harvick knows they've got their eye on Jimmie Johnson (may not be true), and so is doing all he can to stay on their good side. Last week: 12.
9. Martin Truex Jr. On Twitter, Truex got upset that ESPN called his little bro "Ryan Truex Jr." Dude! Don't get upset about that! You two need to bond together and make one package driver, RyTin Truex Jr.! You guys could dominate! (...yeah, I haven't got much to write about Truex this week.) Last week: 10.
10. Brad Keselowski: Fairly quiet weekend for @Kes, who finished 12th and didn't make a whole lot of noise, for good or ill. It's not yet time for him to begin worrying about the Chase, since there is that wild card, but he needs to turn these 12th-place finishes into 7th-place ones to be secure. Last week: 8.
11. Tony Stewart: This is Smoke's power: both Landon Cassill and Regan Smith were visibly terrified of him in TV interviews. Smith admitted to a wreck that wasn't even his fault. That, my friends, is power. Tony doesn't even need to use the ol' Chrome Horn; the very threat of doing so is enough to scare at least the back half of the field into line. Last week: 11.
12. Clint Bowyer:
What's up, Rawhide? Looking good here after a 5th-place finish. Bowyer's "Here I Go Again" karaoke is the latest in awkward driver-singing commercials. Wouldn't it be great if one driver had a killer voice? My bet is on Mark Martin. I'll bet that guy sings like Barry White. Last week: NR.
Dropping out of the rankings: Carl Edwards.
Lucky Dog: Aric Almirola. There are certain drivers whose names raise an eyebrow when they show up in the top 10 during the race. You assume it's during pit stops or something like that. But lo and behold, Almirola showed up in the top 10 and stayed there, finishing 6th on the day. The missing "E" in his first name is for "excellent."
DNF: Juan Pablo Montoya got caught up in the early-race wreck and was never a factor afterward. Poor guy has done absolutely nothing to kill those "jet dryer" jokes, and probably never will. Unless he hits a bus or something. (That's not a suggestion, JPM.)