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. And what's up with all these first-time winners mucking up our rankings, huh?
1. Kyle Busch. It's gotta be dispiriting to other drivers to see that yellow #18 creeping up on you, track after track after friggin' track. Still, it's got to make them feel good to see Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski beat the nearly unbeatable Kyle on a restart. So you're saying there's a chance ... Last week's ranking: 2.
2. Carl Edwards. Not a whole lot of noise out of Edwards this week, just a fairly routine run and finish. Still, unlike Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin, Edwards didn't put himself into the tires, and thus stayed at the top of the standings. Not like it would've mattered; with his new contract, Edwards could put 10 cars into the tires and still be flush. Last week's ranking: 1.
3. Brad Keselowski. What the -? How does this kid get to jump all the way up to third place in the rankings? Conspiracy! Yeah, either that or finishing 1-2 in successive weeks at two completely different tracks. Who knows whether Keselowski can keep this hot streak going, but it came at the perfect time, as he's pretty much vaulted himself into the Chase. Last week's ranking: 10.
4. Jeff Gordon. Gordon was in position to challenge for a win again this week when some pit cycling put him back in the pack. Still, he said last week that he wants to have a road course in the Chase, so that makes him OK in our book. Now, if someone could start a campaign to get a dirt-track or interstate-highway-race in the Chase, we'd be your best friend forever. Last week's ranking: 5.
5. Jimmie Johnson. Yes, you could get yourself a top-10 finish by pitting 17 times, like Jimmie Johnson did this week, but we wouldn't recommend it. What the heck was that pit crew doing all those times, anyway? Was that kind of like on-the-job training for a rotation of pit crew hopefuls? The "Hi, My Name Is ... " nametags on their firesuits were a dead giveaway. Last week's ranking: 4.
6. Kevin Harvick. Harvick had a surprisingly good race. When he doesn't talk, you kind of forget he's there, which is really part of his sinister charm. But let's talk about him throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees game last week. How nervous would you be to do that? I mean, I've got a decent arm, but I guarantee you I'd throw it either straight into the dirt at my feet or into the stands. Or maybe I'd "unintentionally" throw it at Alex Rodriguez. Last week's ranking: 8.
7. Kurt Busch. Busch did a very slick thing last week, positioning himself as the defender of "real racing" and heir to the tradition of bumper-banging old-timers rather than one of those newfangled vanilla types. Then he had to go waste all his good karma by spinning AJ Allmendinger. Kurt's propensity to squander his good fortune gives me pause when talking of his Chase chances, but he's sure fun to watch. Last week's ranking: 3.
8. Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, like many of his fellow drivers, ran out of gas at one point during Monday's race and needed to get pushed back to the pits. It was like watching a strange, slow-motion version of the 2x2 racing at Daytona and Talladega. It was an unexpected little cameo that's so much fun, like if Chewbacca had been caged up in that circus in "Water for Elephants." Last week's ranking: 7.
9. Ryan Newman. How many more weeks are we going to go with Ryan Newman finishing ahead of his boss? At what point does Tony Stewart just say, "All right, that's enough. Give me the car." I'm not convinced that Newman is a legit championship contender right now, but he's pretty much locked into the Chase ... unless he lets Tony drive his car. Zing! Last week's ranking: 6.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior, Stewart and Hamlin are like three kittens falling down the stairs. You're not sure which one's going to win, and you're not sure what condition any of 'em will be in when it's all over, but it's sure worth watching. Earnhardt halted his own slide down the rankings with a solid finish at Watkins Glen; the other two guys didn't. Last week's ranking: 12.
11. Denny Hamlin. You can't blame Hamlin for his car losing brakes and locking up, but it sure doesn't help his standing. About the only good thing that happened to him was Paul Menard's similarly early exit. But Clint Bowyer could now pull a last-second switcheroo and win his way into the Chase. Gah! Last week's ranking: 11.
12. Tony Stewart. We're pretty much out of options now for Stewart. It ain't gonna get much hotter than it is now, and yet he still hasn't started his hot-season winning streak. He should be safe from Bowyer's charge, though if Hamlin hammers down, Stewart could get bounced from the Chase by finishing 11th. Not where you want to be. Last week's ranking: 9.
Lucky Dog: Marcos Ambrose, the road course expert who finally won a road course race! We'd also add Greg Biffle to that list, because I think Boris Said would win against him in a rout, road course ringer or no.
DNF: David Ragan, who went from dark horse to dog food. Still, he's got that Daytona win, so that's nice. But UPS demands more from you, David!
Charging upward: Joey Logano, who's continuing to impress late in the season. Yes, he probably exhaled quite a bit when Carl Edwards returned to Roush, but even so he's justified his seat in the 20 for next year and beyond.