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. The contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders at this point. Which camp is your driver in?
1. Kyle Busch. The NASCAR season goes through ebbs and flows; you already know this. A driver who's absolutely dominating early (or mid-) season can fade come Chase time. That said, Kyle Busch is driving exactly like a driver primed to win multiple championships: focused, winning where he should win and running well where he shouldn't. It's way too early to declare Busch the favorite, but that day will come soon, like it or not. Last week's ranking: 5.
2. Carl Edwards. Edwards said that losing the points lead at Daytona was a "reality check" for his team. This is one of those great "momentum vs. performance" questions: Is it better to go into the Chase with a big points lead, or with recent momentum? Based on the last three seasons, in which the regular-season points leader (Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick) got knocked off the block almost immediately, I'm going with momentum. You? Last week's ranking: 1.
3. Kurt Busch. How great is it that we've got two brothers running at the highest level of their sport? Storylines galore. (The old "Thanksgiving dinner table" joke never gets old, does it?) Where do these two rank in comparison to other sibling duos? I'm thinking behind only Venus and Serena Williams, Peyton and Eli Manning, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, and Jose and Ozzie Canseco. Last week's ranking: 3.
4. Jimmie Johnson. This is the difference between Jimmie Johnson and other drivers whom we could n88me: You don't follow a bad week with another bad week. However, Johnson reportedly thought he had one more lap to go than he did, making him the only person in the state of Kentucky who wanted to see that race go another lap. Last week's ranking: 8.
5. Kevin Harvick. Harvick finished 16th. Not much more to say than that. So let's talk about this guy's branding: He knows exactly what he's doing, putting himself and his attitude (and his wife) front and center. People may scream about Delana, Kevin's on-track fights and so on, but you've got to hand it to the guy: He knows how to keep his name in the news. Though they may want to be a little more careful with the camera shots of the crew box that catch Delana Twittering away. Last week's ranking: 1.
6. Matt Kenseth. Another top 10 (in this case, a sixth-place finish) for Mr. Kenseth. Gotta say, I'm liking this guy's odds to at least stay in the running until the end. You look up, he's always there, just outside the corner of your vision. He's like the creepy ice cream truck driver of NASCAR; you can't always see him, but you know he's close. Last week's ranking: 4.
7. Jeff Gordon. Another top 10 for Gordon, his fourth in his last five races. In related news, I saw "Cars 2" this past week. Very cute and all, but at its heart was a story of how sponsors manipulate races to increase their stranglehold on power. Come on, what a silly little fairy tale that is. In unrelated news, have I told you how much I love Lenox Industrial Tools, host of next week's race? It's true! Last week's ranking: 6.
8. Denny Hamlin. Denny's back in the top 10. Good for him. Anyway, Sunday night I went to see Motley Crue and Poison in concert, and let me tell you, friends, it rocked. Why? Not because of the talent or good taste of those two bands; lordy no. It rocked because they delivered exactly what the audience wanted: two dozen songs everyone could sing to; none of this "obscure back-catalog tunes" or "here's one off our new album" nonsense. There's a lesson in there, but that lesson will have to wait for Tony Stewart ... Last week's ranking: 9.
9. Tony Stewart. Smoke finished 12th and is now technically in the Chase by the width of an untrimmed whisker. Anyway, the lesson is this: Give the people what they want. It was a pretty stark contrast to this past weekend, in which NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports combined to give us exactly what we didn't want: another dull mile-and-a-half track race. No offense to Kentucky, but the next new NASCAR track absolutely needs to break out of this tired mold. Short track, superspeedway, dirt track, city streets, whatever. Stop forcing track styles on the sport that clearly aren't what people want. Last week's ranking: 11.
10. Ryan Newman. Good for Rocket Man; he fell out of the rankings last week but a fourth-place finish got him back in. One more lesson from the Crue/Poison concert (yes, I'm stretching a bit for material): There were a surprising number of older, like 50-plus fans who looked like the kind of people that would've tried to censor the Crue back in the '80s. I'm talking golf-shirt-and-khaki-shorts types. Now, these were obviously the old fans who've aged but remained connected. These bands figured a way to hold onto their old fans, not tick them off. Sound (un)familiar? Last week's ranking: NR.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. In the last four races, Junior has posted an average finish of 57th. It's true. And it also points to the major flaw in the "Junior is back" storyline which we're perfectly guilty of perpetuating: Consistency can work in both good and bad directions. If Junior misses the Chase after such a dominating start, that'd be devastating in so many different ways. So, yeah, it's about time to get a little of that springtime mojo back. Last week's ranking: 7.
12. David Ragan. The Thrilla from Unadilla is slowly developing a quality portfolio of strong finishes, and he's looking more and more like an honest, legit Chase participant. (I won't say "competitor," because let's not get crazy here.) Even so, the three-year defending champion of the "Mr. Next-To-Lose-His Seat" title making the Chase would have to be one of the most astonishing turnarounds in recent NASCAR history. Last week's ranking: NR.
Lucky Dog: David Reutimann, who jumped up and grabbed a second-place finish when everybody else pretty much said, "screw it, Kyle's got this one."
DNF: Jamie McMurray. The good memories of last season are now nothing but a smoky haze, which you saw pouring out of his car Saturday night.
Dropping out of the rankings: Clint Bowyer, who's having more and more trouble by the week, and Joey Logano, who got his look at the big time and has now been sent to the gift shop.
Charging upward: Brad Keselowski put together another top-10 finish, his second in the last three races and third in the last six, and he's now just a two-tire pit stop out of the top 20, and by association the Chase. So, so close.
Next up: Loudon! It's the last Chase track before the Chase, so get your tailgating technique finely honed and send comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, email by clicking here, and via Facebook at The Marbles page.