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:
1. Jimmie Johnson: Remember when everyone said that if Jimmie Johnson was so great, he'd have won at Bristol? Then he won Bristol and shut everyone up. He didn't win this week, but he came awfully close. So, yeah, he can pretty much do whatever you tell him. Hey, Jimmie! If you're so great, take a couple races off in the Chase! Let's see how well you do then! Last week: 2.
2. Denny Hamlin: So, like, two weeks ago everybody was saying Denny Hamlin was done, an afterthought, and now he's being touted as a championship contender. Here's the thing: there's absolutely nothing contradictory in those two statements. NASCAR is so tightly bunched right now that you can go from hero to goat to hero in the space of a fuel run. Last week: 11.
3. Greg Biffle: You know what the tragedy of Biffle winning a championship would be? People would still find a way to call it "the Cup Jimmie or Tony lost," not the Biffle's just desserts. No respect, man, no respect! Though he did make the Chase and still leads the points, so you've got to respect that. Last week: 3.
4. Jeff Gordon: This is the state of NASCAR 2012: One of the hottest drivers on the circuit has a dwindling chance to make the Chase. Yes, the whole season does count; were it not for his early-season stumbles, Gordon would be comfortably ensconced in the Chase picture. As it is, it'll be a nervous few weeks for the 24. Last week: 8.
5. Brad Keselowski: You've got to approve of Keselowski speaking out against both the Hendrick regime and Bruton Smith, even if you don't always agree with what he says. Anybody that busts through the "boys back at the shop" nonsense that most drivers spout when they answer the phone is welcome. Last week: 1.
6. Martin Truex Jr.:
There are only two guys in the Chase without a win, and of those two, Truex looks much closer to breaking through than Kevin Harvick. Truex isn't quite championship-caliber yet, but all it takes is a couple wins at the right time, and hey presto: you've been truexed. Last week: 6.
7. Kasey Kahne: Kahne brings home another top 10 and edges closer to snagging that 10th Chase spot. It'll be tough to do, but the way that Tony Stewart has been faltering of late, it could happen. If that happens, expect Kahne to dance like a fool over those bonus points ... because, last year notwithstanding, bonus points really aren't worth all that much right now. Last week: 5.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nothing much exceptional from Junior this week; a few laps led a decent-enough top-12 finish. He made the Chase, though, which is pretty big news in itself. But his daddy would've made it back in July, of course. We all know that. Last week: 4.
9. Clint Bowyer: Last week I begged Clint Bowyer to do something interesting to give me something to write about. So what does he do? Goes out and has a routine seventh-place finish. Thanks for nothing, Clint. I'll remember this when it's time to do next week's rankings. Last week: 9.
10. Marcos Ambrose: If I were Ambrose and his team, I'd be thinking of every single legal trick I could conceive of to get that second win. How amazing a story would that be if he could leapfrog Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards? NASCAR would be ready to kick a kitten, of course, but for Ambrose's sake it'd be pretty sweet. Last week: 10.
11. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth isn't the kind of guy you want to get mad. He seems like he'd remember an insult for a long, long time. Like, say you cut in front of him at the grocery store and take the last six of decent beer. He'd hold that memory for years and years ... until one day you're old and in a hospital bed, and he comes and steals your IV. OK, maybe he wouldn't be cruel like that ... but maybe he would. Last week: 7.
12. Tony Stewart: And here we get to it. Mr. Stewart. No surprise he ended up next to Mr. Kenseth, is it? Got to admit, Tony's helmet-sling was one of the best moments of the NASCAR season. Between that and a shoe, we're starting to run out of non-vital clothing to toss on the track. Someone's going to throw a firesuit, and then it's going to be a nightmare. Last week: 12.
Dropping out of the rankings: Nobody. But Kyle Busch is close to getting back in.
Lucky Dog: Brian Vickers. Seriously, this guy is a model of how to get yourself back into Cup: make the very most of the opportunities you have in front of you. He'll be back, perhaps in an unexpected place. (The #48? Admit it, that'd be unexpected.)
The Carl Edwards DNF: Ryan Newman, who took a severe hit to his Chase chances when he and Juan Pablo Montoya tangled early and Newman ended up on the truck.
All right, your turn. Fire away, friends.
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