Power Rankings: It’s Denny Time

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. Denny Hamlin: Yeah, everybody was all ready to crown Jimmie Johnson as the once and future king of NASCAR, and all of a sudden Denny Hamlin goes and wins two in a row and we're all over him. Man, we NASCAR fans, we're a fickle bunch. You give us enough glittery trinkets and we'll follow you anywhere!  Last week: 2.

2. Brad Keselowski: Best part of the postrace press conference after Atlanta was Keselowski reading the race program as he was getting asked a question. Kes was distracted by a photo of the Hooters girls in the program, and he was about half a beat from turning the thing vertical for a better look. Last week: 5.

3. Jeff Gordon: Yeah, yeah, Gordon shouldn't be this high because he's not in the Chase, blah blah blah. Shut up. Listen, since mid-June Gordon has finished sixth or better in eight of 11 races, and he's rocking a third-second streak. Does that mean a first is next week? Maybe. Last week: 4.

4. Jimmie Johnson: Make no mistake: the 48 will still be the favorite heading into the Chase. He's been here, he knows the way, he knows how to get inside the heads of his fellow competitors. But I don't think anybody's feeling this will be quite the dance through the roses it appeared a few weeks ago, right? Last week: 1.

5. Martin Truex Jr.: Did you know Truex is nearing 200 races without a win? Seems like he's right on the cusp of getting one. Matter of fact, he should have at Atlanta were it not for Jamie McMurray's blown tire. I bet Martin wasn't exactly expressing sympathy and concern for ol' Zoolander at just that moment.  Last week: 6.

6. Greg Biffle: A few years back, Biffle stunned the world by winning the first two races of the Chase. Unfortunately, he couldn't sustain, and Johnson overtook him. This year, though, you've got to figure he'll be getting the best possible equipment ... and maybe a few of teammate Carl Edwards' sponsors, too. Last week: 3.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Here's a good sign for Junior fans: he snuck his way into a top 10 finish and nobody lost their minds over it. Matter of fact, it was more a "where the heck did he come from?" than a "ERMAHGERD DELL JOONYER" kind of thing. The 88 has been losing momentum for awhile, but this might have brought a bit of it back. Last week: 8.

8. Kasey Kahne: Kasey is one of the few drivers who's driven for all four manufacturers. Which driver has had the most sponsors, do you think? I'd say Edwards has to be up there, but someone like Robby Gordon must have gotten sponsored by every single company with ten bucks to spend on NASCAR at one point or another. Last week: 7.

9. Clint Bowyer: One of this season's best stories has to be the rise of Michael Waltrip Racing. They've fielded four consistently strong drivers, and they've put two cars into the Chase .... more than RCR and (at the moment) Joe Gibbs Racing. Impressive stuff, and while they're not yet championship caliber, they are absolutely on the way.  Last week: 9.

10. Matt Kenseth: So Kenseth is now a Home Depot man, huh? Going to be weird to see him behind the wheel of the orange 20. Still, it seems a good fit. And I want him to do the public-address announcements at my Home Depot too. "Emergency. Aisle 12. We have an unfortunate chainsaw-related injury. Guests, please watch where you step as you may see fingers. Also, this week's specials..." Last week: 10.

11. Tony Stewart: Richmond is where Tony unleashed an epic rant on the media last year. It's also where Kurt Busch blew up in a postrace Chase press conference. What is it about Richmond, huh? I want to see someone unexpected go nuts, like Paul Menard. I'll bet that dude is repressin' like crazy.  Last week: 7.

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch

12. Kyle Busch: Kyle has to be the favorite to get the wild card; he's as comfortable at Richmond as you are in your bed. What if Kyle were to put on a charge here and win this whole dang thing? Would we say his victory was tainted because he's a wild card? Probably. Man, we're catty. Last week: 12.

Dropping out of the rankings:Marcos Ambrose. How do you say "Hail Mary" in Australian?

Lucky Dog: Mark Martin. See above for MWR commentary.

The Carl Edwards DNF: Sam Hornish Jr., who did everything he could to get back in that No. 22 and still couldn't get it. Sorry, DWW.

All right, your turn. Fire away, friends.

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