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 it's feeling a lot like 2010 ... and 2009 ... and 2008 ... and 2007 ...
1. Jimmie Johnson. There are times when I'd like to have the Power Rankings naysayers over for a little chat. Oh, did we get grief last week for ranking Johnson first. "He's not ready! He's had one good race! You're an idiot and I never liked you!" And that was just the email from my mom. Well, what are you saying now, friends? Anybody seriously think Johnson isn't right in line for a sixth straight Cup? Yeah, that's what I thought. Vengeance is mine! Last week's ranking: 1.
2. Carl Edwards. While everyone's all "oh my lord Jimmie's gonna win again I'm gonna leave NASCAR forever this time I really mean it," it'd behoove you to take a look at the record of one Carlton LeRoy Edwards. (Is his middle name LeRoy? It is now.) Since Michigan in mid-August, his lowest finish was ninth. Lowest. He's notched 4-8-3-5 in the Chase, and this after getting a pass-through penalty last week and a misfiring car this week. Edwards is right on Johnson's bumper. Last week's ranking: 2.
3. Kevin Harvick. The concern this season was that Harvick was too focused on settling scores and preserving grudges to focus on the Chase. Guess what? Since Bristol, Harvick hasn't finished lower than 12th. He's aaaaaalmost running at an Edwards level, and he's showing every sign of being in the mix at Homestead for another year. Think Edwards will melt like Hamlin did last year? Yeah, me neither. Last week's ranking: 3.
4. Brad Keselowski. Yep, he's going to fade. Any day now. He's going to fade. Set your watch by it. Or not; Keselowski is long past the "surpassing expectations" point and now well into the "legit Chase challenger" category. We need to harvest Keselowski's blood and inject it into certain other drivers/athletes/musicians who could use a shot of maximizing-your-potential juice. Joey Logano? Alex Rodriguez? Jack White? Answer your phone. Last week's ranking: 4.
5. Matt Kenseth. There are times when I'd like to have the Power Rankings naysayers over for a little chat and say I'M SORRY. I screwed up, placing Kenseth ninth last week when he should've been higher. Man, I haven't seen that much monotone wailing since Harrison Ford in the last Indiana Jones movie. Happy, Kensethians? Last week's ranking: 9.
6. Kyle Busch. We've got Kyle ranked a little higher in the Power Rankings than he is in the standings, where he's the last of the drivers with a realistic chance at the Cup. You get the feeling that if Kyle can get his mojo, he'll be right back in this. He hasn't fallen out of contention yet, but he hasn't done anything to scare anybody, either. Last week's ranking: 7.
7. Kurt Busch. Say this for Kurt Busch: He's at least creative in the way he hammers his crew for somehow managing to screw up each week. This time around, he insisted that someone had installed banana peels under his tires, which seems like something that inspection would have caught, but hey, what do we know? You think Kurt's crew just wears earplugs once the green flag drops? I do. Last week's ranking: 8.
8. Tony Stewart. The curse of the early Chase winner lives on. After looking like a legit Cup contender for a couple weeks, Stewart has settled back to earth and has fallen into the lower half of the Chase. Kind of sucks for him and his fans, but hey, they can't all be fuel-mileage races, can they? Always a chance to get back in this, but not if he keeps racing back in the pack. Last week's ranking: 5.
9. Jeff Gordon. Oh, it all seemed so right, didn't it? Jeff Gordon stepping up and taking the Five-Time title back from the guy who took it from him. Alas, it's not to be, as Gordon has burned through his mulligan and is now deeply into "wait 'til next year" territory. Bad luck at the worst possible time. Last week's ranking: 5.
10. Clint Bowyer. Don't look now, but Michael Waltrip Racing's newest recruit has three top 10s in his last four races. Perhaps getting all that contract mess settled was all Bowyer needed to run well. Shame it couldn't have happened a few months earlier, then, huh? Bowyer's going to be a lot of fun to watch next season, if only to see what kind of commercials Waltrip gets him booked into. Last week's ranking: 8.
11. Ryan Newman. Look, I'm sorry, 39 fans, but I really have nothing new to write about Newman. Seriously. He's almost certainly out of Cup contention, and he's turning laps that just aren't particularly inspirational. So, how 'bout that "Breaking Bad" finale Sunday night? Never saw that ending coming, that it was all a dream in his fifth-period Chem class -- aw, crap, I'm sorry, SPOILER ALERT. Last week's ranking: 10.
12. Marcos Ambrose. Hey, check it out! Kangaroo Meat notched his second straight ninth-place finish! That ain't bad. This is the time of year when you find out what non-Chase drivers are made of; the best will keep scrapping away, the worst will find "vibrations" or switch over to listening to audiobooks in their car as they ride around on Sunday afternoons. Last week's ranking: NR.
Dropping out of the rankings: AJ Allmendinger, who somehow missed driver introductions. No, I don't know why. Also still out: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin.
Lucky Dog: Mark Martin, who checked in from 2009 to notch one of his final top 10s in a Hendrick car. (Awwww...)
DNF: The Michael Waltrip Racing axles, which both broke on Sunday. Still excited about heading there, Clint?
Charging upward: Kasey Kahne, who darn near got himself a win against his future teammate. Well done, sir.
Next up: Charlotte! It's the closest thing NASCAR has to a home game. Saddle up for the Queen City and send comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, via email by clicking here, and via Facebook at The Marbles page.
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