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 yes, the top is looking very familiar.
1. Carl Edwards. The key two-tires-vs.-four-tires decision robbed us not only of a potentially great finish, but of a chance to see whether Edwards or Jimmie Johnson was more powerful at Dover. While Johnson owned the track for most of the first half of the race, Edwards put up a good fight and was in position to duel Vader at the end. You know, just like in the Death Star trench. Last week's ranking: 1.
2. Jimmie Johnson. Chad Knaus made a mistake? Chad Knaus made a mistake! The decision to take four tires rather than two doomed the 48 team, and Knaus responded by making the crew members walk home from Dover. Maybe. Anyway, Johnson will be just fine ... but if there are more pit box miscues, the beatings will commence in earnest. Last week's ranking: 3.
3. Kyle Busch. As usual, Busch was in the middle of the story in the two lower-level races, winning the Trucks race and getting into trouble in the Nationwide one. He was surprisingly low-key in the Sprint Cup race, which shouldn't take away from the fact that he started at the back of the pack and finished fourth. That's not bad. Last week's ranking: 2.
4. Kevin Harvick. Well, that was disappointing. After all the chest-thumping buildup, we got exactly nothing out of Harvick and Busch at Dover other than some yapping back and forth across a press conference. NASCAR should have scheduled a joint press conference. That would've been awesome. Last week's ranking: 4.
5. Matt Kenseth. Say this about Kenseth: The man may have the public persona of lukewarm dishwater, but the guy knows how to wheel a car, and he also knows how to pull off a burnout. If there was one guy I'd ask to write my name in tire rubber on a track, it'd be Kenseth. I'd even buy him some extra tires. Only two, though, because he's still got one fresh pair. Last week's ranking: 8.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Oh, it looked like it was going to work out so well, Kenseth and Ambrose and Martin and Junior all taking two tires and holding off the four-tire pursuers. We're going to make the run for the checkers, right, guys? Hey, wait ... what happened to Junior? Last week's ranking: 5.
7. Clint Bowyer. You think Clint Bowyer's insurance agent is nervous every time the auto policy's up for renewal? I mean, just in the last two weeks, Bowyer has burned through a century's worth of deductibles. Still, he was one of the class drivers in the field, and could've won Dover had he not gone with the cool kids and grabbed four tires. Last week's ranking: 9.
8. Ryan Newman. Extraordinarily little to report about Ryan Newman this week, who started in the 20s, finished in the 20s, and spent almost the entire race in the 20s. Eh, sometimes you're pushing triple digits on the freeway, and sometimes you're dodging stray puppies in a cul-de-sac. Last week's ranking: 6.
9. Tony Stewart. Another frustrating, problematic run for Stewart at Dover. On the plus side, he revealed last week that he almost ended up driving for Hendrick Motorsports. Wonder what that would be like, Stewart running Hendrick equipment? Can't even imagine. Last week's ranking: 7.
10. Kasey Kahne. Well, it was looking like another good weekend for Kasey Kahne, but just like so many other times this year, it was stopped short of its promise, like a rose picked too soon. Or whatever. Kahne looks like the kind of guy who'd try to read bad poetry to the ladies. He also looks like the kind of guy who could make that work. Last week's ranking: 10.
11. Denny Hamlin. Hamlin is now up to 13th position in the Chase hunt, which means he's within sight of that top-10 ranking. He's got a long way to go before he's a bet-the-mortgage pick, but at this point I'd say he's definitely bet-the-lunch-money. Preferably not your own. Last week's ranking: 11.
12. Mark Martin. A pleasant little second-place run, but why didn't Martin win? When asked, he said, "well, we needed to be a little bit faster." There is a job in a broadcast booth awaiting Martin whenever he retires, like in 2058 or whenever. Last week's ranking: N/A.
Lucky Dog: Marcos Ambrose. Another strong run by Ambrose, who's getting ever closer to breaking through with a win. It was a nice afternoon for Richard Petty Motorsports, except for one thing...
DNF: AJ Allmendinger. It's the story of the year for RPM: one guy runs well, the other guy falls apart. But for a good chunk of the middle of the race, RPM had two drivers in the top five. The team still isn't A-grade, but continued strong runs (without equipment falling apart) will only help Petty's ongoing resurgence.
Dropping out of the rankings: Greg Biffle. In a race of guys who are just about equal, Martin's second-place run trumps Biffle's 19th-place finish.
Charging upward: Jeff Gordon. He's got a long way to go to get into the top 10, but he's putting together decent enough runs that he could be challenging for that wild card soon.