October 03, 2011
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, it's time we remembered something very important about this Chase ...
1. Jimmie Johnson. Journalists aren't supposed to root for drivers, we're supposed to root for stories. And Jimmie Johnson winning multiple championships is a great story. Problem is, it was a great story last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. But Johnson doesn't much care about making our job as journalists, or your job as fans, easier. He's here to win another one, and at this exact moment he's got everyone terrified all over again. Last week's ranking: 9.
2. Carl Edwards. The Power Rankings right now are more volatile than a third-grader hopped up on Mountain Dew. You just don't know what's going to happen next, only that it's not going to be what happened last time. Case in point: Carl Edwards, who with a stellar run and amazing rebound from a penalty has proven he's a legit Cup competitor. For this week, anyway. Last week's ranking: 6.
3. Kevin Harvick. Not to make light of the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign at all, but I would love to see what would've happened if someone had approached Harvick about wearing a pink firesuit. Also, a solid top-10 run Sunday keeps him in the mix; if you can't run well, at least figure a way not to torpedo your Chase chances. Last week's ranking: 3.
4. Brad Keselowski. This one hurt. This was Keselowski's worst finish since mid-July (35th at Loudon) and it couldn't have come at a worse time, with both Edwards and Johnson charging. It's by no means over for our Boy Wonder, but oh, he did not need to have this kind of a finish this early in the Chase. Still, he's got room, time and talent to close the gap once again. Last week's ranking: 2.
5. Tony Stewart. Stewart may well suffer from the dreaded two-race Chase curse; leading early is wonderful, but leading late is what matters. He needed to run well at Dover, one of his worst tracks, and he didn't. Somehow this is the media's fault, I just know it. He's still got a good chance, but like so many others, his mulligan is now gone. Last week's ranking: 1.
6. Kurt Busch. You've got to hand it to Kurt, for all the grief we've given him over the last few weeks for ripping up transcripts and throwing fits on the radio and the like, the guy still knows how to wheel a car. And in a toe-to-toe battle with Johnson, it was Busch who laughed last. And meanest, but still. Not many people can say they flat-out drove around the five-time champ. A sign of Johnson's vulnerability? Of Busch's viability? Maybe both. Last week's ranking: 11.
7. Kyle Busch. Who? Oh, yeah, Mr. "Next In Line To Win The Cup." Kyle's problem now isn't that he's just 15 points back; you can make that up in a single race. The problem is how many people are between him and first place. You can count on two or three drivers having a substandard race each week, but the best half-dozen in the sport? That's asking a lot. Last week's ranking: 7.
8. Jeff Gordon. Rainbow is in the same awkward position as Kyle: not that far back, but with eight drivers between him and the top spot. Gordon showed a solid ability to come back from a variety of maladies both surprise and self-inflicted on Sunday, but this hill may be too much to climb even now. Last week's ranking: 4.
9. Matt Kenseth. On the route where I walk my dog, there's this topiary (you know, one of those carved-hedge things) in the shape of a dog. My dog barks at it every single time we go by, waiting for the topiary to make its move. It never does, but it just stands there, looking intimidating. The lessons? Matt Kenseth is that topiary ... and my dog is an idiot. Last week's ranking: 5.
10. Ryan Newman. The Rocket Man spent most of the day at least a lap down, unable to close the gap on the lead lap. Not to take anything away from Newman, or any Chaser for that matter, but he's one of the guys who pretty much needs to run the table from here on out to have a chance. I think it's safe to say that's fairly unlikely. Last week's ranking: 8.
11. AJ Allmendinger. Getting spun by Denny Hamlin isn't exactly a badge of honor this year; Hamlin has been wobblier than a senator's morals all season long. But getting spun by Hamlin and coming back to post a top-10 finish? That's not bad at all. Dinger is very, very close to earning his way into the top 10 for real. Last week's ranking: NR.
12. Clint Bowyer. There are those who scream that once the Chase starts, the other drivers fall off the map unless they happen to win or cause a wreck. Sunday was a perfect example of that: did you know Clint Bowyer finished 8th? Me neither. Huh. Imagine what he could've done if he'd made the Chase. Ah, well. Whenever he figures out where he's working next year, it'll be quite the bonus for that team. Last week's ranking: 12.
Dropping out of the rankings: Dale Earnhardt Jr. At some point, the crew's mistakes accrue to the driver. That's where we are now. Also still out: Denny Hamlin.
Lucky Dog: Marcos Ambrose, who finished 9th. That's two Richard Petty Motorsports cars in the top 10. That's not bad at all, is it?
DNF: Martin Truex Jr. Dude. You had the pole. And you finished 30th? You killed everyone's "Junior's in front but not that Junior ha ha ha" jokes right from the get-go!
Charging upward: Kasey Kahne, who managed a fourth-place finish and got within sight of the lead despite the fact that his crew had to take breaks from writing up their resumes in order to change his tires.
Next up: Kansas! Land of a thousand cheap Dorothy-and-Toto metaphors! Click your heels together and send comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, via email by clicking here, and via Facebook at The Marbles page.
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