The first race of the Chase is over, and that means it's time for Power Rankings! But we're doing things a little differently now that we're in the postseason. It's all-Chasers, all the time. Good job, good effort for those of you that didn't make it, but we've got bigger fish to focus on. We'll be judging who's running well, considering not just finishing position but quality of run, expected potential, and general gut feelings. As always, we hate your guy and are biased against him. Now, enjoy.
1. Brad Keselowski: We kept looking to Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards as the logical rivals to Jimmie Johnson, but is it possible we were looking at the wrong teams? Keselowski has now outthought and outdriven some of the biggest names in the sport, and he's got a series-leading (tied with Hamlin) four wins. That's about as definitive a statement on his arrival as you can make. Who else is thinking he's going to be around until Homestead?
2. Jimmie Johnson: Be afraid, everyone. Be very, very afraid. Sure, the 48 lost the race, but that's only because of one key decision. Other than that, Johnson et al. ran a flawless Chicago. And there's no evidence that they'll be any weaker at any other track. The run at six is very much alive.
3. Kasey Kahne: Well hey there, Kasey! Glad you got all those early season wiggles behind you once and for all. Kahne did exactly what we expected he would in Chicago, stay close to the leaders and not do anything stupid to jeopardize his Chase hopes.
4. Tony Stewart: Yes, we all know about the Windy City Grope, but Stewart still had to drive the doggone car after that. And he did so quite well, posting a sixth-place finish. You know what that means: watch your back(side), Delana.
5. Denny Hamlin: Sure, he ran out of gas and plummeted down the standings on the final lap. But with any luck (for his sake), that boneheaded miscalculation will spur the team on to get everything exactly right from here on out. Hamlin isn't out of the Chase, not by a long shot, but he can't afford any more of those miscues.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: See, this is why Junior is going to have to find an extra gear come Chase time. He ran exactly the kind of race he has all year, finishing eighth to his average finish of 9.9, and yet he's already a third of a race behind the leaders. Not going to get it done that way, 88.
7. Clint Bowyer: Decent enough day for Bowyer; a top 10 finish is nothing to sneeze at. (Why any finish, good or bad, would make you sneeze is beyond me and probably requires a medical professional's care.) Still, like Earnhardt he'll need to run stronger to keep pace.
8. Matt Kenseth: Shock the Matty! A lost shock pretty much killed an otherwise solid day by Kenseth, who was on the way to one of his characteristic strong finishes. Remember, crews: when installing parts, check twice, screw once. Just like ... nah, I better leave that one alone.
9. Jeff Gordon: Yeah, he got an up-close introduction to the wall, but before that, he was putting together a solid afternoon. He may well have killed his Chase hopes early on for the second year in a row, but he's been in the "desperate must-win" situation before, and look how that turned out.
10. Greg Biffle: A disappointing afternoon for Biffle; he could and should have run better. Again, it's early yet, but you don't want too many finishes in the teens on your resume.
11. Martin Truex Jr.: This was exactly what Truex didn't need. With no bonus-point cushion, Truex and Harvick have to be running better than their season average, race after race.
12. Kevin Harvick: Admit it. You'd love to see what Harvick would do if Kyle Busch or Joey Logano tried the grab-trick.
Non-Chaser of the week: Kyle Busch, of course. He's only 1,200 points behind Keselowski. With a good run of races, he should make that up by 2015 or so.
Program note: If you love (or loathe) these Power Rankings, be sure to check out my new all-sports column Case of the Mondays. Just like this, but with more Tebow.
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