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, yep, we flip-flop again at the top.
1. Carl Edwards. Edwards has been the straight man to the two biggest upsets of the season: Trevor Bayne at Daytona and Regan Smith at Darlington. Even so, if you think Edwards is content with being the bridesmaid, you don't know Carl. He looks terrible in a bridesmaid's dress. Really. Last week's ranking: 2.
2. Kyle Busch. People say that Kyle is a crybaby and a chicken for not fighting Harvick, and on one hand I can see that. On the other, he made a tactical error by not getting out of the car before Harvick did. At that point, he's only got two choices: drive away or get the pinata treatment as he tries to clamber through the window. Last week's ranking: 1.
3. Jimmie Johnson. Two spins generally means you're out of the race, but in the case of Jimmie Johnson, it's just a chance to make things a little tougher on yourself. Johnson is definitely going for the degree-of-difficulty style this season. Five bucks says he Ricky Bobbys it at Dover and reverses across the finish line. Last week's ranking: 3.
4. Kevin Harvick. Dude. Parking brake. PARKING BRAKE! Harvick was like the teenager who forgets to set the parking brake and then watches in horror as his car slides down the driveway into the neighbor's picket fence, though it would've been cooler had his car been pushed into somebody's gas grill. Last week's ranking: 4.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hmm. We want to see Junior do more to justify his high rank, but at the moment he's kind of in this weird netherverse between the top 4 guys, who are in a class by themselves, and the pursuing pack, all of whom have ugly finishes in their recent history. It'll be a tough stretch for Junior until Daytona. Last week's ranking: 5.
6. Ryan Newman. Maybe everybody needs to have an alleged fistfight in the NASCAR hauler before every race. Certainly seemed to work OK for Newman, who piloted the No. 39 to a fifth-place finish, far away from Juan Pablo Montoya. By the way, JPM finished two laps back, which surely broke Newman's heart. Last week's ranking: 8.
7. Tony Stewart. As reliable as setting the watch. It's getting warm, and yet again Smoke is heating up. Two weeks in a row, he's snuck his way up into the top 10. This time around, an ill-timed caution cost him a chance at a great finish, but Smoke is quietly (really) working his way up through the rankings. Last week's ranking: 9.
8. Matt Kenseth. Yep, he's right here with Stewart, Newman and Clint Bowyer, one of the guys who's not quite running well enough to challenge for the top spots but more than good enough to drive into the Chase. One more win and Kenseth is a guaranteed in, so he can relax. Even more than usual, you know. Last week's ranking: 6.
9. Clint Bowyer. Yeah, yeah, he was collateral damage in the great Kyle/Harvick Battle of Darlington County. But sometimes life stinks that way. He had the classic "I know I have to do this, so I'll say my peace and get the hell off camera before any followup questions come up" postrace interview. Plus, the man can sling a HANS device. Last week's ranking: 7.
10. Kasey Kahne. All right, Kahneiacs, stop emailing me; your boy has made the cut. A pole position, a laps-led win and a top-5 finish will do that for you. He's got a ways to go before he's a serious threat this year; if he can make it through a season without having one godawful month, he might just be a contendah. Last week's ranking: NR.
11. Denny Hamlin. Who's this kid who's run well the last couple weeks? Seems familiar, but I can't remember...oh, wait, right, Mr. Will-Dethrone-Johnson 2010. Hamlin has run well at the last two tracks, but then he's supposed to do that. He's the best bet to get into the Chase on wins, but in order to do that, he has to, you know, win. Last week's ranking: NR.
12. Greg Biffle. Another quality run here from Biffle, who continues to creep upward and is in a good position to work his way back into the top 10. (So sorry, Paul Menard.) One or two more good runs, and he's there. Nice job, Biffster. Last week's ranking: N/A.
Lucky Dog: Regan Smith. How about that for a nice little evening? And here's the thing: this suddenly makes the rest of the season that much more interesting for Smith. One more win, and a top-20 berth, and we're looking at the unlikeliest Chase competitor ever. Hail Mary every weekend for the Furniture Row boys?
DNF: Jeff Burton. It's painful to watch what happens to the 31 car every week. It's probably time for Burton to just take a mulligan on this season. Can you do that? If you can, he should.
Dropping out of the rankings: Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger
Charging upward: Nobody. Everybody not in the top 12 lost positions. Get moving, lads.