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. Sonoma dealt a tough blow to several of our competitors. Let's survey the carnage, shall we?
1. Kevin Harvick. You want a reason why Harvick might just win the Sprint Cup? It's because of races like this, where he does little of note and yet still manages to put himself in a possible position to win. In that final lap, with just a bit more of a push from Menard, Harvick would have his fourth win on the year. He piles up enemies, but he piles up results, too. Last week's ranking: 3.
2. Carl Edwards. This is why no lead is going to be safe this year; the NASCAR gods have a way of reeling in those who get too far ahead. Almost as if this were a giant video game, and the computer was giving everyone a chance. Hey, wait a second ... that sounds spookily close to reality! Conspiracy! Last week's ranking: 1.
3. Kurt Busch. Probably had a No. 1 ranking locked up if he'd finished top 10. Alas, he got his driver's-side door ripped off by Martin in that last wreck, and fussy ol' NASCAR won't let you drive with a piece of sheet metal the size of an American flag hanging off your car. Last week's ranking: 2.
4. Matt Kenseth. Kenseth ought to get a share of the victory, as should anyone who pushes a car to a win, right? That's some fine teamwork there; Kenseth might just have put a third Roush car into the Chase, kept UPS as a sponsor and kept Ragan in the No. 6 seat. Which means Ragan owes Kenseth at least a fruit basket or something. Last week's ranking: 5.
5. Kyle Busch. How in the hell did Kyle end up finishing fifth? I mean, he and Logano looked as awkward out there as two middle-schoolers trying to couples-skate with each other. All that was missing was the soundtrack to "Endless Love" and somebody's mom embarrassing both of them by asking if they had a good time on their little date. Last week's ranking: 4.
6. Jeff Gordon. The biggest knock on Gordon throughout the first half of the season was his lack of consistency. Over the last five races, he's run fourth, first, 17th, second and sixth. That's consistent enough for Chase purposes. Point made, Mr. Gordon. Last week's ranking: 8.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seriously, can we all just pitch in and get Junior a win? This is getting a little sad here. We all like the guy, right? Even if some of you hate his fans, he's not a bad dude. He needs some help. If every one of his fans donated just one horsepower, he'd have enough to outrun the field, easy. Look into your hearts, friends, and make a donation. Last week's ranking: 7.
8. Jimmie Johnson. Gotta admit, I like the fact that Twitter allows NASCAR drivers to realize just how batcrap-crazy many of these NASCAR fans are. (Not you, friends. Never you.) Johnson reacted touchily after he got barraged with criticism. (Around here, we call days like that "weekdays.") That masks the fact that he still is without that one dominating performance yet this year. He must be pretty sure he can turn it on in the Chase again. Last week's ranking: 6.
9. Denny Hamlin. Hamlin had a halfway decent chance of a good finish this week, but trouble always seems to befall him and Ryan Newman whenever they pair up. Which stands to reason; every time I've tried to FedEx burritos, it's gone badly. (Yes, I know Newman wasn't running the Tornados car this week. Roll with it.) Last week's ranking: 10
10. Clint Bowyer. You can't really blame anybody that gets caught in a wreck at Daytona, any more than you can blame someone for getting wet when it rains or feeling violently ill when hearing a Ke$ha song. It just happens. Still, Bowyer has to start looking in his rear-view mirror; with David Ragan's win, the cliff for non-winning drivers now is position 10, not position 12. Last week's ranking: 7
11. Tony Stewart. At the moment, Ryan Newman sits in 10th position, four points ahead of Stewart. But Newman dropped off this list, and Stewart's still here. Barely. It's kind of a tallest-leprechaun contest between these two at the moment. Fun aside: just imagine those two in leprechaun outfits. Last week's ranking: 9
12. Joey Logano. Logano is 59 points out of 10th place, which means to make the Chase he's going to have to give the rest of the field directions to the wrong track in Kentucky. (Which could happen. Nobody's ever been there before.) Anyway, he's got three top-6s in his last six races, which is good enough to get you into the Power Rankings for a week at least. Last week's ranking: 12
Lucky Dog: David Ragan, who has suddenly vaulted his way into the Chase with the right win at the right time. Just like how it was supposed to work, right?
DNF: Mark Martin. Not really his fault, but the pole-sitter at Daytona may have killed his Chase chances with an ugly wreck that dropped him all the way to 18th in the rankings. But he was still smiling afterward. Impressive.
Dropping out of the rankings: Ryan Newman. The long slow fade continues; Newman is now in 10th place and looking vulnerable.
Charging upward: Juan Pablo Montoya fought his way up to 14th, which means that Indy and Watkins Glen loom large. A win at either one of those and he might just secure a Chase spot. Which he would tell you he deserved all along. Also, Kasey Kahne is doing kind of OK.
- Matt Kenseth
- Ryan Newman
- Kevin Harvick