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 just when we got things sorted out, those wacky drivers had to go and turn everything upside down. Oh, this one's going to make you mad...
1. Kurt Busch. This is a case where everybody deserves to be ranked about, I dunno, third through eighth or something. Nobody who was up at the top of the charts was particularly dominant; nobody who was dominant was high enough to charge all the way to the top spot. Anyway, Kurt led the second-most laps in Sunday's race, and briefly let Evil Kurt out to play when he screamed about his car being "junk." Last week's ranking: 3.
2. Carl Edwards. Another lurktastic week for Carl, who hung around within sight of the lead pack for a long time before eventually fading to 13th. (A top 10 probably would've gotten you the top spot, Carl.) Aside: I gotta say, I dig the fact that Carl jumps from the car to the broadcast booth when he wrecks out, as happened in the Nationwide series. I would love to see the NFL do this any time a quarterback gets knocked out of the game with a concussion. It'd be more fascinating commentary than Joe Buck, that's for sure. Last week's ranking: 2.
3. Jeff Gordon. A few weeks back, we indicated that Gordon's main problem was consistency. Now, he's posted a strong run of top-10 (or just outside) finishes, and while I'm not yet convinced he's a legit championship contender, I'm convinced he's on the right path. A good break here, an avoided wreck there, and Gordon could indeed be hoisting No. 5 this fall. Last week's ranking: 7.
4. Kyle Busch. It's probably not fair for Kyle to get so dinged for mechanical failure, but you know what? So be it. Stuff happens. Best moment of Kyle's Sunday was his declaration that he didn't want to participate in the manufacturing of a story by blaming the 88 for knocking him out of the race. You want a sign that he's starting to focus more on the track than creating drama off it, there it is. Last week's ranking: 1.
5. Jimmie Johnson. Johnson's crew screwed him with a missed lug nut in one of the late pit stops, and he still managed a fifth-place finish. That's pretty good. In totally unrelated news, I sincerely hope that Johnson's nice-guy act to Golden Tate is a total act, and he'll get the mouthy Seahawks wide receiver in a car at Bristol and run him till he pukes. Athletically. Last week's ranking: 4.
6. Ryan Newman. Oh, how the Rocket Man needed this. After such a strong start, he was fading, fading fast. Now, he's pretty much locked himself into the Chase. His killer qualifying efforts will help him out in the Chase, and if he can work out some kind of "free burritos for a win" promotion, he'll become America's sweetheart. Last week's ranking: 10.
7. Tony Stewart. Smoke apparently got into some kind of a snit with a media member after Sunday night's race over some kind of botched joke. As a veteran of a thousand press conferences, I can tell you this: It takes a special cat to pull off a good joke in a press conference (or a shareholders' meeting, or a funeral). It can be done, but you need somebody to give you that courtesy laugh to get you started. Smoke will not give you that courtesy laugh. Ever. Last week's ranking: 9.
8. Denny Hamlin. Great finish for Hamlin, and strangely he's still sitting right on the edge of the top 10. Huh. He should be in regardless, but whatever. Anybody switch over and watch the end of that women's soccer game Sunday? Great stuff, huh? Tense and throat-clutching. How about a NASCAR equivalent? One lap, head-to-head, hit the start line side by side at full speed and go? I could get behind that. Last week's ranking: 8.
9. Matt Kenseth. Not much to say about Kenseth's run; he was never higher than eighth, and finished 20th. He's in fine shape for the Chase; let's move on to another quick topic. I learned about this new iPad app called "Pit Crew Titans" from Brad Keselowski; you actually run a whole four-tire pit stop and try to get your car out of the pits as fast as possible. I've gotten out in 12.009 seconds; I forwarded my high score to Chad Knaus. Last week's ranking: 6.
10. Kevin Harvick. Here's a great case of how a ranking can look much worse than it really is. Harvick is easily one of the best drivers in NASCAR, but right now he's not running particularly well; just two top 10s in his last five races. Plus, he's got to drive with those handcuffs on his hand around Kyle Busch. I feel a little sorry for him, don't you? Last week's ranking: 5.
11. David Ragan. It's looking more and more likely that The Thrilla from Unadilla (can you tell I love that nickname?) is going to make the Chase. Look, Ragan has been a punch line for so long it's tough to recalibrate our smartass meter and take him seriously, but if you aren't at least a little happy for this long-suffering guy finally seeing some sustained success, you, my friend, have no soul. Last week's ranking: 12.
12. Joey Logano. One pole, two top fives, three top 10s in the last five races. That's not so bad for everyone's favorite lil' pup. Funny how both Logano and Ragan are getting hot just as the seats beneath them are starting to warm up. I'm thinking that if we put drivers on race-to-race (or pit stop-to-pit stop) contracts, we'd see some great racing. Last week's ranking: NR.
Lucky Dog: Bobby Labonte. A seventh-place finish for BLab? Impressive for a guy whom everyone had written off. One of the real shames of the contraction of teams is the fact that a guy like Labonte, who obviously still has some skill, can't get access to top-flight equipment.
DNF: Brad Keselowski. He needed a good finish to get into the top 20 and put himself into a Chase position. He got exactly the opposite, and now sits 25 points out of 20th.
Dropping out of the rankings: Dale Earnhardt Jr., who posted a fifth straight disappointing finish. Yes, he could have nailed down a top 10 had his tire changer gotten the tire out of the pits in time; yes, he fought his way from 33rd to 15th in impressive fashion at the end of the race. Doesn't matter; he's in free-fall now and desperately needs something good to happen, now.
Charging upward: Great effort by Kasey Kahne to post another top-10 finish. Logano beat him out for the 12th spot by a hairsbreadth, but Kahne is on the way up.
Next up: nothing! It's an off weekend, and nobody's going to lose points then, not even [insert driver here]. Send comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, email by clicking here, and via Facebook at The Marbles page.
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