It's a new season, and that means a new year 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. 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 as good as it gets right now...
1. Tony Stewart: Time to start opening the conversation of where Tony Stewart fits all-time among NASCAR drivers. Top 10? Absolutely. Top 5? Hmm. Could be. His win at Fontana wasn't a thing of beauty, but it also wasn't a cheap rain-out win either; he fought his way up to the front and earned that bad boy. Last week: 4.
2. Matt Kenseth: You can't really give too much credit one way or another to rain-shortened races, because who the heck knows whose car would have run better in the final third of the race. So we're not going to count Kenseth's 18th-place finish too much against him. But a little. We're catty like that. Last week: 1.
3. Kevin Harvick. Any time you get a top-five finish, you've got to be happy, but still ... rain, dude. Rain. But Harvick is doing exactly what he's supposed to this year, staying close in every race and keeping the leader within sight. It worked to perfection for Carl Edwards last year. Well, almost. Last week: 5.
4. Greg Biffle: Five races, four top 10s for Biffle. That's a solid beginning by any estimation, but as we're seeing, it's absolutely essential to get out to a hot start to prevent the inevitable in-season fade. Think Jeff Gordon wouldn't want to trade places with Biffle? (Bad question. Jeff Gordon would want to trade places with the guy selling hot dogs right about now.) Last week: 2.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Funny how nobody's crying foul about Stewart winning a rain-shortened race, but if Junior had won this one? Oh sweet heaven, it would be a crime against nature, humanity and the church. Still, the fact that Junior brought home the NASCAR equivalent of a podium finish (top three) is another sign that it's clicking for the 88. At this point, we hope he wins the championship without winning a race. Last week: 6.
6. Martin Truex Jr.: Worst part about driving better than you've ever driven in your career? Everybody's wondering when the other shoe is going to drop and you're going to revert to your usual mid-teens spot. Sure hope Other Junior isn't reading the media. Except us. We love you, Other Junior! Last week: 5.
7. Denny Hamlin: What a fake Tony Stewart threw on Denny Hamlin! Sure, he ended up only 11th, but as we've seen, every point can be sacred in NASCAR. If I were Tony, I'd try the old got-your-nose trick every time I saw Denny. Bet it'd work at least half the time. Last week: 7.
8. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is starting a Twitter hashtag, #6pack, that is nice and all, but brings back horrible memories of that movie of the same name with Kenny Rogers and the kiddie pit crew. That would never work in the real world. For one thing, what kid knows how to modify a C-post? And ... full circle scene. Last week: 9.
9. Kyle Busch: Kyle led more laps than anybody at Fontana with 80, but a little wall scrape killed his chances of taking a rain-shortened victory. Still, of all the losers, second place is the least loser-y, or something like that. Kyle's going to be just fine. Last week: 10.
10. Carl Edwards: Talked with Edwards last week for an upcoming interview. He was in a Texas Subway and nobody recognized him. I know a few celebs that would go total diva and demand that the staff give them a free sandwich or whatever. Edwards probably just back flipped off the counter to prove he was who he said he was.. Last week: 11.
11. Brad Keselowski: You've got to give @Kes a lot of credit for speaking his mind on Bristol. Sure, he's a little biased and all, having won at the reconfigured track, but he's shown he's not afraid to go after some big names. More importantly, he knows his stuff, which helps. Now, when he takes on the France family, we'll be really impressed ... or we'll wonder why he suddenly got tapped to start the NASCAR Antarctica franchise. Last week: 8.
12. Ryan Newman. Was driving around the other day and heard Ryan Newman on a commercial sounding as enthusiastic as I've ever heard him. (Always weird hearing/seeing NASCAR drivers when I'm not working. I want to scream, "No! I'm off duty!" But that tends to get me looks.) Anyway, Newman must have been hopped up on some of Clint Bowyer's go juice, because he couldn't have been more thrilled to talk about ... whatever it was. Guess it wasn't that great of a commercial. Last week: NR.
Dropping out: Jeff Burton
Lucky Dog: Kurt Busch. KuBu has had some success with rainout races, so it was no surprise to see him snagging his first top-10 of the year. Bringing home a complete car? Now that was a surprise.
DNF: Jeff Gordon. Oh, Jeff. Your whole season is on the verge of imploding. We feel for you, brother. Then we remember you go home to your Manhattan apartment and your beautiful family and we think you could probably do with dragging a few more gas men in your life. Still, nothin' but love for ya, baby.