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 on a roll leading into the Chase:
1. Denny Hamlin:Is Denny the championship favorite heading into the Chase? Nope, but then, anybody who says they can pick the champion at this point, especially after last year, is either lying or they're in on the fabled NASCAR conspiracy. (Speaking of which: go to Vegas and throw a few bucks on Truex. Trust me.) Last week: 1.
2. Jeff Gordon: Problem with being a critic in NASCAR is that there comes a time when you'll have to eat your words. All season long, people have been dogging Gordon's chances, and here he is finishing the regular season 3-2-2. Crow is delicious with a few drops of Tabasco sauce. Last week: 3.
3. Jimmie Johnson: As journalists, or whatever passes for one, we're expected to root for the story, not the individual. And of the 12 drivers racing in the Chase, about 11 of them would be a better story than Jimmie Johnson winning. That said, we're also expected not to be complete idiots. (Granted, we often fall short.) And for that reason, it's tough to pick against the 48. Sorry. Last week: 4.
4. Brad Keselowski: Where do you see Keselowski falling in this year's Chase? He's the kind of guy who could throw together a couple wins and really scare some people. Plus, I really want to see him trash-talking during those infamous Homestead joint press conferences. Last week: 2.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It never fails to buoy my spirit when Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes the lead and his fans go absolutely batcrap insane in the stands. I mean, these people love Dale Junior more than you love anything in your life. It's nice to see people happy. If he does win the championship, however, I'm sure I'll regret saying all this. Last week: 7.
6. Greg Biffle: Has there ever been a regular-season leader so overlooked in the playoffs? I am hereby starting a campaign for the next 10 weeks of the Chase: WHY NOT BIFFLE? Let's see if we can use a little social media joy to get him to respond. Post it on Facebook, use #whynotbiffle on Twitter. Time to mobilize, Biffle Nation! Last week: 6.
7. Clint Bowyer: Ol' Rawhide had that nine-spot locked down in these rankings for so long we started mistaking him for Marcos Ambrose! Ha ha! Anyway, you've got to love Bowyer making such a turnaround (literally) at Richmond, and the fact that Juan Pablo Montoya knocked him out of the Chase last year has to make this even sweeter. Last week: 9.
8. Martin Truex Jr.: Truex isn't quite in the happy-to-be-here class, but I would be a lot higher on him if he'd won a race along the way. Something about the Chase clocks the top guys into a higher gear. You don't want them to get too far ahead of you, or your Chase will be over before you leave Chicago. Last week: 5.
9. Tony Stewart: I really would love to accompany Tony Stewart to someplace out of his comfort zone, like a kid's birthday party. He'd either charm the heck out of everyone there, or he'd be throwing cake and inspiring the kids to riot within minutes. Probably both. Point being ... ? Oh, right. You never know quite what you're getting with Stewart, so it's best to just hope he doesn't destroy everything around you as he rolls through your life. Last week: 11.
10. Matt Kenseth: I don't have much to write about Matt Kenseth this week. I really don't. I wish I did, but he wasn't particularly outstanding at any facet of the NASCAR game this week. That's OK, it happens. We all have weeks where we just sort of let it roll and don't really make much of an impact ... oh, hey, we've got enough here. Last week: 10.
11. Kasey Kahne: Whatcha thinking about Kasey's chances? He's one of the few guys I think could sneak up on the field, running well and then winning a key race or two to stay in the conversation through into November. He'd be fun to see as a champion, if only because watching crazy cougars chase him is more fun than watching JK Simmons in those Farmers ads. Last week: 8.
12. Kevin Harvick: All right, FINE, I guess we have to put Harvick in here because he made the Chase. We don't really use Nationwide races in our factoring here (or maybe we do; rules tend to change when we feel like it). But Harvick has been a Nationwide beast of late. Plus, he said that fatherhood hadn't softened him; he still wants to punch Kyle Busch in the face. Good quote, that. Last week: NR.
Dropping out of the rankings:Kyle Busch, of course.
The Mark Martin Lucky Dog: We were going to give this to Mark Martin yet again, but he's run well enough to earn its entire title. So we give it to Jeff Burton, who deserves it for his strong Richmond performance. Don't go measuring yourself for the 31 just yet, Austin Dillon.
The Carl Edwards DNF: Kyle Busch. Seriously, this had to be one of the most disappointing races of his life. The wild card, and an entry into the Chase, was there for the taking and things fell apart.
All right, your turn. Fire away, friends.
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