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 all of a sudden, we've got ourselves a real race...
1. Tony Stewart. Four wins in the Chase. Doesn't get much more dominant than that, folks. Oh, sure, Stewart is still in second place, but the way he's running, he won't be that way for long. I love it when guys come into races that they need to win ... and they win. Makes you wonder why they can't do that more often. Last week's ranking: 2.
2. Carl Edwards. Let's take nothing away from Edwards here; the guy needed an exceptional race and he beat 41 cars. Problem is, the one car that got past him is the one that he couldn't afford to get past him. Is Edwards toast? We're about to find out. The smart money right now is on Smoke. Last week's ranking: 1.
3. Matt Kenseth. How much does that Martinsville finish burn now? Kenseth turned in a predictably spectacular Texas race, but couldn't close any ground ... meaning that unless the 14 and 99 collide next week, he's probably done and gone. Shame, though, and he needs a sponsor. Anybody got any cash? Last week's ranking: 3.
4. Kevin Harvick. It's looking like another year of good-but-not-quite-good-enough for Harvick, who ran decently enough for much of the afternoon but couldn't quite close the gap on the leaders. Still, the situation with ol' whatsisname confined to the pit box had to leave Happy smiling. Last week's ranking: 5.
5. Brad Keselowski. The magical season appears to be drawing to a close for Keselowski, so now it's time to start thinking about how to build on this for next year. Aside: Keselowski's flip at the hands of Edwards back in Atlanta a couple years back has been cited in the ongoing Kyle/Hornaday battle; you think Kes likes hearing about that again and again? Last week's ranking: 4.
6. Jeff Gordon. Kind of makes you wonder what the Chase would be like with a mulligan or two, doesn't it? Gordon appears to have found his groove yet again, but when you lose it in the first races of the Chase, that's like a pitcher suddenly finding his velocity two weeks after his team's been eliminated from the playoffs. Last week's ranking: 7.
7. Jimmie Johnson. If I were Vader, I'd drive the last two races with my five Sprint Cup trophies bolted onto my rear deck lid. You know, just to remind everyone what they're chasing. Of course, one would certainly fly off and go through Brian Vickers' windshield. That's probably why I'm not a Sprint Cup driver. Last week's ranking: 6.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Lucky seven another week in a row! Congrats to Junior for continuing to press at a time when certain other drivers appear to have just given up. The distance between the sixth and seventh positions appears too vast to cover, but given the way he's run the last few years, a seventh-place final finish would be worth takin' your dip out to congratulate Joonyer. Last week's ranking: NR.
9. Kasey Kahne. You've got to hand it to Kahne; he's giving his Red Bull team a nice sendoff, and he's making Hendrick fans salivate with what's to come in 2012. (Or maybe that's just barbecue smoke. Those Hendrick fans salivate at pretty much anything.) Kahne looks primed to make a Chase run next year, if he can ever come down from being hopped up on Red Bull for an entire season. Last week's ranking: NR.
10. Kurt Busch. Look, I know we hit on the "you have to listen to Kurt's radio" meme every week, but it's true: the guy is a friggin' Mozart of the team radio. He's out there spinning metaphor, weaving curlicues of cursing out of automotive tech talk. That's a rare talent. I'll personally do up a huge post thanking and promoting anybody who can AutoTune Kurt's rantings into a song. Last week's ranking: 10.
11. Kyle Busch. We'll talk much more about Kyle's trip to the principal's office this week (oh, you should see the letters already sent to firstname.lastname@example.org), but let me just say that Joe Gibbs was devilishly clever in making him sit atop the pit box for the world to see. That's like watching as your parents give your brothers all your Halloween candy. Last week's ranking: 8.
12. Greg Biffle. The Biff had yet another strong outing in an absolutely meaningless race. When he's on, he can hang with Kenseth and Edwards (he saw what happened to Ragan, and he knows who's next on the chopping block). He keeps this up, I think he's still got a good chance to make the Chase this year Last week's ranking: NR.
Dropping out of the rankings: Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton.
Lucky Dog: The guy with the task of waving the yellow caution flag. He got a paycheck for doin' nothing! Inside tip: when the race started, that guy was actually passed out on the floor of the media center, his belly full of free nachos. That's why they didn't have a yellow flag for the first hundred laps; they were too busy giving the flag man Red Bull IVs. (May not be factually accurate.)
DNF: Scott Speed, who start-and-parked his career as a journalist by "reporting" on Saturday morning that Kyle would be parked the rest of the season. Twitter is bad enough when reporters throw out unsourced rumors as fact; drivers don't need to be adding to the mix.
Charging upward: Martin Truex Jr. saw the fate that befell David Reutimann and so decided that it was a good time to begin driving well, like RIGHT NOW.