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 again...
1. Nobody: Every single week, hordes of people scream about these rankings and what a horrendous miscarriage of justice it is that their guy is ranked too low. (Never too high. You never see anyone saying their guy is ranked too high.) So we could go two ways: the Little League way, where everyone gets a #1 ranking and a juice box, or the angry-dad "I'm turning this car around" way. We're taking the latter, not just to prove a point but because no driver really deserves the No. 1 spot right now. Tony Stewart flamed out, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson were good but not good enough, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Last week: NR.
2. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is biding his time for the Chase. You know it. We know it. And everybody driving against him knows it. He snagged the pole and brought home a sixth-place finish at Kentucky, and that's not a bad weekend's work. Laying low is a solid plan for now. Last week: 2.
3.: One more reason why the end of the losing streak was such a wonderful thing: When Earnhardt closed to third place late in the Kentucky race, nobody even blinked or freaked out. And although nobody was catching Keselowski or Kahne, the fact that Junior brought home yet another top 5 is reason to believe. Last week: 5.
4. Matt Kenseth: It's a testament to how good Kenseth really is that his movement away from Roush Fenway has dominated headlines for so long. We don't know where he'll end up, even though he apparently does. But he's a marquee driver, restrained persona and all, and he'll do good things for [team name redacted]. Last week: 4.
5. Kasey Kahne: This is fairly unbelievable: Kasey Kahne holds the wild card spot right now. It wasn't that long ago that some people were writing him off as burnt toast. Not me, though. Never me. I believed in you the whole time, Kasey. Just don't go back and look at my earlier columns, okay? Last week: 7.
6. Tony Stewart: Smoke appeared on camera before the Kentucky race with a female companion. Smoke flamed out of the Kentucky race almost immediately with engine problems. This has led many in Smoke Territory to freak out at the thought of their beloved leader dividing his attentions between track and, uh ... live weight, I guess. Last week: 1.
7. Brad Keselowski: If you'd guessed which driver would be first to three wins in 2012, it's safe to say that Keselowski wouldn't have been in your top three. Maybe top 5. He can win a lot like that. I'm going to find him in Vegas, hit the craps table with him, make a mint when he's winning and then run like he's got the plague as soon as he craps out. Last week: NR.
8. Jeff Gordon: Yes, Gordon is still mired in the teens in the standings, and very well could miss the Chase. Which is a shame, because he's one of the best drivers in NASCAR at this very moment. Like that time you got caught spraying whipped cream down your pants and your buddies posted the picture on Facebook, you can't outrun the past, people. Last week: 8.
9. Greg Biffle: The cracks are starting to show for the Biffmeister. He's now 25 points out of first place. He should be just fine to make the Chase, even with a midseason swoon, but this is why that one win of his was so important. Think Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. wouldn't like to have that one right about now? Last week: 3.
10. Denny Hamlin: After two straight insanely ugly weeks, Hamlin comes back for a third-place finish at Kentucky, just after signing a fat new contract. Good news. Usually when guys sign those contracts, they go in the tank for a year or two. Last week: 12.
11. Martin Truex Jr.: It's not yet time for Truex or Kevin Harvick, the last remaining drivers in the top 10 without wins, to panic, but oh, it's starting to get a little dicey. The last thing you want is a couple of ugly finishes to start weighing heavily on your mind heading into that Bristol/Atlanta/Richmond stretch. Last week: 9.
12. Clint Bowyer: Somehow, Clint Bowyer, one of the most easygoing guys in the garage, got caught in the ongoing Joey Logano-Ryan Newman battle, which has to be one of the most ridiculous fights in the garage. Would love to see Bowyer-as-peacemaker mixed in with his bowhunting and car repair in those Five-Hour Energy commercials. Matter of fact, they should update those every week with new cool events, like shooting off fireworks and such. Last week: 6.
Dropping out of the rankings: Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick.
Lucky Dog: AJ Allmendinger. A ninth-place finish for the Dinger, and he continues to hold out hope of better days ahead. If nothing else, Shell has to be happy he's not dragging their corporate image through the foxing mud.
DNF: Carl Edwards. We are in dark days for the 99 team. They need a win, desperately, and they're farther than they have been in years from top-flight status. Edwards is as cool a customer as they come, but these are the times that could try anyone's soul.
All right, your turn. Fire away, friends.