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. And after the debacle that was Martinsville, there were only two...
1. Carl Edwards. Consistency or victory? This is the battle we're setting up for, friends. Edwards has run more consistently than anyone else all season, both early in the year and in the Chase. And yet, and yet, and yet ... is one win enough to convince the doubters that he's a legitimate Chase contender? I say yes, your mileage may vary. Last week's ranking: 1.
2. Tony Stewart. This is the equivalent of a wild-card team fighting all the way through the playoffs against tougher expected opposition to capture a championship. And shoot, that hasn't happened since ... oh ... three days ago in St. Louis. Still, it could work out exactly right for Smoke. Heaven help us all. Last week's ranking: 3.
3. Matt Kenseth. Wow, it was so close for Kenseth. He was not only in position to make a run at the Cup, he was leading the standings during the much-loathed "as-they-run" standings as Martinsville unfolded. And then he ran afoul of Kyle Busch, and that was that. New rivalry! Last week's ranking: 2.
4. Brad Keselowski. This is how close the Chase is, and how precarious it is: Keselowski was within sight of the lead when a late spin dealt a possibly crippling blow to his Chase hopes. Still, even if he doesn't win, or even challenge, he's gone from afterthought to legit Chase expectation, every single year. Last week's ranking: 4.
5. Kevin Harvick. You've got to love the way that Kevin Harvick has only one setting: bull-in-China-shop. Well, I guess you don't have to love it, particularly if you happen to own the China shop, but it's fun from the outside to see how Harvick absolutely sets up camp in whoever's head he zeroes in on. Greg Biffle, you're in the crosshairs. Last week's ranking: 5.
6. Jimmie Johnson. Vader's performance Sunday, in which he very nearly won the race, should remind all the Johnson-haters of one thing: just because he isn't winning this year doesn't mean he can't win next year. While a new champion may be a shot in the arm for NASCAR, you can bet that Five-Time won't be going away anytime soon. Last week's ranking: 7.
7. Jeff Gordon. Somehow Jeff Gordon got left off last week's Power Rankings. I have no idea why. But I'm going to blame Brian Vickers. Seems like the thing to do, and who's going to argue with you? Plus, it's all-purpose. Texas Rangers choked? Vickers' fault. Gridlock in DC? Vickers' fault. Crappy candy on Halloween? Yep, Vickers' fault. I'm using that from here on out. Last week's ranking: NR.
8. Kyle Busch. Busch-haters are tired of the "new, more mature Kyle" articles that crop up around June of each year. We get that. But surprisingly enough, they have no problem with the "Kyle falls apart every year in the Chase" articles that crop up around September of each year. Funny how that works, huh? Last week's ranking: 8.
9. Denny Hamlin. Hamlin's worst problem is that he can't get out of his own way. He was griping on the radio about not getting respect from Tony Stewart. Here's the deal, though: the moment you complain about not getting respect, you're no longer worthy of respect. Kind of a toothpaste-out-of-the-tube thing. Funny how that works, huh? Last week's ranking: 11.
10. Kurt Busch. This was a painful weekend for Kurt, who saw the last flickering hopes of a Cup vanish. But more importantly, this was the weekend for me that Kurt crossed over into "I Don't Even Know Anymore" territory. There appeared to be times when he was complimenting his crew, but it sounded exactly the same as when he was sarcastically thanking them. Probably time for everyone on the 22 team to just go cool off. Last week's ranking: 10.
11. AJ Allmendinger. You think Dinger will be able to run better next year? 'Cause it seems like he's so very, very close; I think that the new streamlined RPM has helped him tremendously. He's inconsistent as all hell, but when he's on, he's a legit top-10 threat, and he's been on more often than not the last few months. Last week's ranking: NR.
12. Jeff Burton. Two straight top 10s for The Senator, and you know what? We're putting him on here even though you might be able to make a case for some other drivers. Burton gets the good-guy nod; there's a lesson to be learned here. And that lesson is: media bias! Media bias! (Aw, come on. You're really going to deny Burton this spot after the year he's had? You're soulless.) Last week's ranking: NR.
Dropping out of the rankings: Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Dave Blaney.
Lucky Dog: You, if you happened to sit through all that early-race mess on Sunday. The payoff was 40 laps of the best, most edge-of-your-seat racing we've seen in years. We literally had no idea who was going to win that thing or end up in the wall next. Seriously, you could have told me that J.J. Yeley was going to sneak away with this one and I'd have believed you.
DNF: Jamie McMurray, who got taken out by Vickers and yet couldn't respond effectively ... because his battery was sitting on the track. Yeah, that'll cause problems.
Charging upward: The Junior Brigade. Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both drove with purpose Sunday, though Earnhardt's purpose appeared to be knocking the hell out of whoever was around him. Whatever, it added to the fun.