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: Seriously, any doubt who the best driver and team is in NASCAR right now? Sure, they're not at the top of the standings, but that's a mere technicality. Everything is clicking exactly right for the 48 team now. Not saying they're going to run away with the title, but once the Chase hits, there will be no room for mistakes against Johnson. Last week: 1.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The fact that Earnhardt tied Jeff Gordon for the most consecutive lead-lap finishes in NASCAR history on Sunday (21) is fairly impressive and speaks to the nature of his season: consistency above flashiness. This is the kind of run that validates a lot of people's faith in him for all these years. Last week: 1.
3. Matt Kenseth: Look, I'm not trying to start anything here, but did anybody find it curious that Joey Logano took out Matt Kenseth and cost him the points lead? The same Logano whom Kenseth may well be replacing? It could be just random coincidence, but screw that: conspiracy! Last week: 2.
4. Denny Hamlin: Good early-race run by Hamlin, but seriously: nobody was catching Jimmie Johnson on Sunday. He could've had a podium finish in the Indy 500 the way he was running. Hamlin, though, is surely looking forward to this weekend at Pocono. Hey, somebody has to. Last week: 4.
5. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski's save during a restart on Sunday was one of the best moves of the year, NASCAR-wise, and shows that these guys actually can do a little more than point the car straight and turn it left. Anybody else in the mood for some more dirt-track racing. Last week: 7.
6. Greg Biffle: Biffle's not at the top of the points any longer, but he's not fading, either. He's got success in the Chase, so he'll need to keep storing up info on these tracks for future reference. But we won't be coming back to Indy this year. Aw, too bad. Last week: 6.
7. Kasey Kahne: An unexpectedly unspectacular run from Kahne after what had been a sustained stretch of excellence. Still, he remains in the driver's seat (sorry) for the wild card, and should be well-positioned come Chase time to make a run at whatsisname in the 48. Last week: 3.
8. Jeff Gordon: Yes, yes, why is Gordon so high in the Power Rankings when he's so low in the standings? Because Gordon is, hands down, one of the best drivers at the moment. Problem is, the NASCAR season stretches aaaalll the way back to February, and in the early part of the year, Gordon was, well, awful. He'll need more than top-five finishes to make any more noise this year. Last week: 9.
9. Tony Stewart: Does any Stewart fan really care how he finishes the regular season? I mean, he's in the Chase. And he's shown that he can flip a switch and put on a 10-race sprint sprint to grab himself a Cup. What more do you need, huh? Till then, it's all just riding around. Last week: 8.
10. Kyle Busch:
You know, we haven't had any crazy stories out of Kyle in quite some time. I'm not prepared to do a "New Kyle" article yet; we've been burned before there. But I will say that if he gets into the Chase (IF), he should be better from the lack of distractions. In theory. Last week: NR.
11. Ryan Newman: I didn't give Newman much of a chance on Sunday, but he did well enough to keep himself very much in the wild card hunt. He's going to need some good luck or a bad break to befall his rivals, but for the moment he's right there. Just keep bringing us the Bloomin' Onions, Ryan, and all will be right with the world. Last week: 11.
12. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer provided one of Sunday's few carnage highlights, spinning across the grass and ticking the wall. Even so, he still managed to salvage a decent finish. He's a guy who seems like he would have run well in any era of NASCAR, from the run-what-you-brung 1940s to the Jupiter 500 days of 2200. Last week: 10.
Dropping out of the rankings: Joey Logano.
Lucky Dog: Mark Martin, who brought home another strong finish. Why's this cat not racing full time again?
The Carl Edwards DNF: Carl Edwards, who began the Chad Norris era with an ignominious engine misfire. Getting tighter around the 99 camp...
All right, your turn. Fire away, friends.
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