Time for this season's final 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 here's how it all wrapped up...
1. Tony Stewart. Let's call Stewart's run what it was: simply the most exceptional stretch run in the history of the Chase, if not all of NASCAR. Five wins in 10 races? Coming from nowhere to take the Cup? That's damn impressive, and Stewart deserves praise for getting as hot as you can get at exactly the right time. Last week's ranking: 1.
2. Carl Edwards. Did you know that if Jeff Burton hadn't let Tony Stewart blow right past him at Phoenix, Carl Edwards would have won the Cup by one point? One point, with zero wins in the Chase to Smoke's five. I like Edwards, I think he showed class in defeat, but I'm almost glad that didn't happen, 'cause that would have been apocalypse. Last week's ranking: Also 1.
3. Kasey Kahne. The Kahneiac holds the distinction of being the only driver not named Stewart or Edwards to finish in the top 2 in the last three races. He sent Red Bull off into the night the right way, and gave some hope that maybe Hendrick Motorsports will get off its long championship-less slide (now at an unbelievable 52 weeks) and get back in the hunt. Last week's ranking: 3.
4. Matt Kenseth. I'm honestly really almost out of comments here for these guys. Kenseth is very cool, I gained new respect for him this year. But 12 drivers + 3 subcategories x 38 weeks of the season = 570 little capsules like this, and friends, we're well outside our fuel window. So you'll excuse me if we wander a bit in the next few entries ... Last week's ranking: 5.
5. Kevin Harvick. Would've loved to see what Harvick would have done to win, but he never got close enough to get a chance. Now, let's talk Thanksgiving. Is there any other meal that you simply cannot have at another time without it seeming weird? Like, if you served turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce in, say, June, you'd have people looking at you like you were insane. But they'd still eat it. Last week's ranking: 4.
6. Brad Keselowski. Keselowski raised the bar for all NASCAR young'uns. Take a season or two to get your feet, and then get rolling. Now, more Thanksgiving rants. Has anybody ever had cranberry sauce not at Thanksgiving? I know this is hack-comedian material ("Why don't they make the whole plane out of the black box?") but still ... have you? You haven't, and if you say you have, I say you're lying. Which means the cranberry sauce you eat Thursday may have been sitting on shelves since the last time Tony Stewart won a Cup. Last week's ranking: 6.
7. Jimmie Johnson. Nice way to close out an era, Vader, even if you sputtered to a close there at the end. Next on my hit list: Peppermint Patty. Have you ever, EVER seen a more ungrateful jerk than Patty in that "Peanuts" Thanksgiving special? Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Linus whip up a whole friggin' meal of toast, pretzels and jelly beans that probably has more nutritional value than anything I ate in college, and this witch has to complain about it? Chuck should've invited her to his grandmother's house ... and then dumped her out halfway and made her walk home. Last week's ranking: 7.
8. Clint Bowyer. Hey, Clint. What's shaking? Nice way to close out your RCR career. Next on my hit list: leftovers. I LOVE leftovers. I will actually murder to get a good set of leftovers out of the fridge on Thanksgiving Friday. I get all the dishes and bowls and whatnot out of the fridge, and I'm a maestro at whipping up a turkey sandwich on toast, layering the stuffing into the mashed potatoes like setting bricks in mortar and then garnishing it all with a glaze of cranberry sauce from 2003. Worth dealing with all the mess of Thanksgiving just to get that delicious sandwich the next day. I'd eat that every meal. Last week's ranking: 9.
9. Jeff Gordon. Good job finishing out the Chase, Rainbow. Too bad they don't give mulligans for the first few weeks, 'cause you would have killed it then. Now, on to football. Is there any day of the year when you can just sit and say, "I don't give a damn who's playing, I'm watching football because it's my right as an American" and you can't be contradicted? It's the law: on Thanksgiving, you watch football. Last week's ranking: 11.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior kicked ass this year, relative to last. I'm too lazy to look it up, but I bet he had the highest year-over-year jump of anyone. That's saying something. Quick hit on this: the parade. I HATE watching the Thanksgiving Day parade, but my family loves them. So I'm stuck watching lame Broadway acts and overcaffeinated hosts when I'd rather be playing some Playstation or, you know, sleeping in. But then Santa shows up at the end and makes it all right. Last week's ranking: 10.
11. Martin Truex Jr. Gotta be honest, Truex might just be my dark horse Chase pick for next year. And I had absolutely no idea he'd placed third at Homestead. When he came into the media center, my first thought was, "What the heck is Truex doing in here? Did he get lost?" But no, he got third place. Which, in this case, is like taking first place in the Who Cares Division of NASCAR. Last week's ranking: NR.
12. Ryan Newman. Hey, Newman's back! Congrats, Ryan. Last rant: Turkey Bowl football. I'm not talking about NFL, I'm talking about playing in your back yard. I love that. Try this play: first play from scrimmage no matter what, everybody streaks long straight for the end zone, QB lofts it. Works every damn time. Last week's ranking: NR.
Dropping out of the rankings: AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch. Rough time to be a Busch brother, and even rougher time finding sympathy these days.
Next up: Daytona! But we'll come up with some other kinds of Power Rankings between now and then. Send your comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, via email by clicking here, and via Facebook at The Marbles page.
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