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. We're starting to sort matters out now, and like Winston Churchill once said about a woman of potentially dubious honor, we're down to negotiating numbers. Let's see who's where, shall we?
1. Carl Edwards. Although it would've been a much cooler story from a speculation standpoint had Edwards signed with Joe Gibbs Racing, the truth is he did exactly the right thing by re-upping with Roush. He's got an outstanding chance to win a championship, and the last thing a guy like him needs is to be perceived as disloyal. Now, if he goes and wins two or three of these? He's gone, baby! Last week's ranking: 1.
2. Kyle Busch. Do yourself a favor and check out the postrace interviews after a particularly edgy race, as with Sunday's Pocono one. While Kurt Busch was needling the media for focusing on the gossip aspect of his spat with Jimmie Johnson, Kyle sat back and observed, happy to answer the softballs like whether it was disappointing to come in second. (Surprisingly, he said yes.) Last week's ranking: 6.
3. Kurt Busch. More on the Kurt-Jimmie thing: Kurt Busch has this way about him that makes you wonder whether you ought to believe him or not. Sure, he sounds sincere, and he's a great pitchman, but he could walk up to you, tell you your own name, and you might wonder if it was the truth. All of which makes Sunday night's ... oh, wait, hang on, we'll continue this next entry. Last week's ranking: 4.
4. Jimmie Johnson. ...fight worthy of a little closer look. Johnson is a levelheaded kind of guy, but perhaps that's the problem; perhaps NASCAR needs a little more of the edginess that the Busch boys bring to the table. It's like having a honey badger for a pet. It's cool to admire when it's behaving, but every so often it goes insane and rips up the house. Which is fun to watch, as long as it's not your house. Oh yeah, and Jimmie got a fourth-place finish last night with a misfiring clutch. He's good. Last week's ranking: 5.
5. Jeff Gordon. Anybody who doesn't see Gordon as a legit championship contender just isn't paying attention. He's here, he's strong, and he and his crew have sorted out their inconsistencies and miscues. He drops two spots from last week's ranking, but don't freak out, 24 fans; everybody in the top five is an eyeblink away from each other. Last week's ranking: 3.
6. Ryan Newman. Another week, another solid outing for Newman, who appears just about locked into the Chase. He's like Matt Kenseth in that you don't always notice him, but you turn around and he's standing right there. Like a very quiet but still lethal badger. Last week's ranking: 8.
7. Matt Kenseth. Every time I use the "b" word in connection with Kenseth, I get angry emails from Kenseth fans screaming that yes, maybe he's not the most dynamic public speaker, but he's a good racer, darn it. Look, we know that. We've already said he's a dark-horse championship contender, even if he had a pretty rotten week this week. But hearing Matt Kenseth talk about a Pocono race? I thought we were about to drop into some kind of looking-glass wormhole. We were lucky to escape that one, people. Last week's ranking: 2.
8. Kevin Harvick. Harvick has exactly two kinds of weeks: ones where he dominates the headlines, either by winning or fighting, and weeks where he's so invisible you wonder if he made the trip. This week was one of those second ones; perhaps Harvick used up all his mojo in his dominating trucks win on Sunday morning. Whatever, he was almost invisible in the afternoon. And probably ready for a nap, too. Last week's ranking: 7.
9. Tony Stewart. You get the sense that this just isn't Smoke's year? Things really aren't clicking for him the way they ought to, and while he's running decently enough, "decent" isn't enough. On the plus side, as a result we're starting to get some more salty radio transmissions out of Stewart, which is always a nice bonus. Last week's ranking: 9.
10. Brad Keselowski. Jet Ski is fast becoming the model for how to transition from enfant terrible to respected NASCAR driver. A couple years back, you'll recall he was getting into scrapes with pretty much everybody, and took a lot of grief for not having the garage's "respect." Winning twice in a season, including once on a fractured ankle, is one way to get respect in a hurry. Expect a couple other drivers to take hammers to their ankles this week in a bid for sympathy at Watkins Glen. Last week's ranking: 11.
11. Denny Hamlin. Hmmm. This isn't quite how the story's supposed to go. Hamlin was totally dialed in at Pocono and yet finished an ugly 15th. Cars can change over the course of a race, yes, but Hamlin has to be a little bit worried about how much his car changed. It's the equivalent of [insert hack sexist analogy to picking up attractive woman in bar and finding she's not very attractive in daylight here]. Last week's ranking: 10.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Week to week. That's where we are now for Junior's Chase hopes, week to week. He's basically down to racing just two guys now: Tony Stewart, who's one point ahead of him in ninth, and Denny Hamlin, who's 23 points behind him in 11th. Beat just one of those guys, and he's in the Chase. Last week's ranking: NR.
Lucky Dog: Paul Menard, who followed up his win last week with a 10th-place finish this week. Were it not for Keselowski's win, he'd be in line for a Chase berth. Now he's gonna have to work for it.
DNF: Joey Logano. There was that nice, shiny rain-shortened win sitting there in his hands, and then they came and grabbed it away from him. I could swear I saw Greg Zipadelli running a garden hose on the roof of the NASCAR hauler, and now I know why.
Dropping out of the rankings: Kasey Kahne, who got taken out by Juan Pablo Montoya late in the race but hadn't really done much to justify a 12th-place ranking before that. We're not at the marking-time point for Kahne yet, but we're close.
Charging upward: Greg Biffle surged forward with an 8th-place finish, but is it too late for the Biffster to make a run for the Chase? (Spoiler: probably.)
- Matt Kenseth
- Kurt Busch
- Jimmie Johnson