It's time for Power Rankings! After every race, we'll opine about who we think is at the top of the Sprint Cup heap and how and why they got there. Remember, this isn't scientific, as our formula is the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. So let's get on with it now, shall we?
1. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1): Funny how the race that obliterated Johnson's championship hopes last season is the one that puts him on the precipice of title number six. Raise your hand if you think Kenseth is going to come back from 28 points down. Exactly, I don't see any of them. And now let's introduce a fun feature that we're going to end this year's Power Rankings with. What 2013 song most resembles your driver's season? For Vader, it's Lady Gaga's "Applause." And do we need to explain that given what’s likely going to be happening after the race next week?
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4): That’s quite the way to go back-to-back at Phoenix, eh? Hard to believe that Harvick has also been the beneficiary of two races in the last two years where he’s assumed the lead on the last lap – on Sunday and in last year’s Coca-Cola 600 when Junior was out of fuel. 2013 song: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Martinsville explains that one, so we won’t.
3. Matt Kenseth (LW: 2): Don’t count this as anything less than a success for Kenseth, even if you wanted him to prevent Jimmie Johnson from winning a sixth title. OK, he still could do that, he’s just going to have to crash Jimmie himself. How much would that please the Vader-hater contingent? 2013 song: Katy Perry’s “ROAR.” Jack Roush wasn’t holding Kenseth back, but did even Joe Gibbs Racing see this coming?
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 3): It’s not fair to move Junior down a spot after he finished fourth despite having to pit under green for a loose wheel. But who said that Power Rankings were ever fair? After Harvick’s win, fourth in the standings is actually attainable as well. He’s just six points behind Kyle Busch for the spot in the standings. 2013 song: Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” That about sums up Junior’s race at Chicago.
5. Jeff Gordon (LW: 5): When thinking about songs to describe Jeff Gordon, I can’t help but thinking of “E.I.” from Nelly when he name drops Gordon while driving in his black SS with the navigation. First off, Jeff Gordon’s car doesn’t have navigation. That’s probably illegal. Secondly, you can tell I’m a child of the 90s and early aughts with that reference. And thirdly, we need a 2013 song. That 2013 song: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Again, no explanation needed.
6. Kyle Busch (LW: 6): It’s a shame that no one wrote a song this year about cleaning up on junior circuits or getting any girl he wanted in high school and college and then finding that the real world isn’t that easy. But there isn’t, so we’re going to go with a single event that defined Busch’s season. 2013 song: Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” That describes Busch’s relationship with Kansas Speedway perfectly.\\
7. Carl Edwards (LW: 11): Have I lost my mind? A four spot bump for running out of fuel a mile too soon? Oh why the heck not. Edwards looked like he was going to cruise to a third win of the season and a second Phoenix win had that gas tank not run dry. 2013 song: Lana Del Ray’s “Summertime Sadness” because while Edwards’ summer wasn’t as bad as it was last year, a couple more wins would have gone a long way.
8. Joey Logano (LW: 9): After asking the question if Joe Gibbs Racing saw Matt Kenseth’s season coming, did Penske Racing see Logano’s season on the horizon? The answer to that question is yes, however probably a “no” in the context of Brad Keselowski’s season. Logano was a viable Chase contender heading into the season. It’s just that no one figured he’d be the top performer at Penske. 2013 song: Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound.”
9. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7): So are you disappointed or not that we didn’t have a Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer redux at Phoenix? Silence was probably for the best, as we didn’t need endless looping replays of two incidents when we come back to February. And Gordon and Bowyer function pretty well with the “yeah, THAT guy” intimations. 2013 song: Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.” Again, self explanatory. And itchy.
10. Greg Biffle (LW: 8): If it wasn’t for the Chase, would we have seen something more out of Greg Biffle either at Texas or at Phoenix? Revenge in a playoff-less season is a bit more justifiable if there’s not championship implications at stake. Hell, if Jimmie wasn’t in the thick of the Chase, would he have done something? 2013 song: Baauer’s “Harlem Shake.” If only because I want to see Biffle do the Harlem Shake.
11. Kasey Kahne (LW: NR): Yes, we do remember you Kasey. You were that guy who fell out of the Chase early. Glad that the mojo didn’t completely leave with that New Hampshire spin. I went on record last week with a Junior win prediction at Homestead. Kahne’s going to be in the thick of it there too. 2013 song: Ylvis’s “The Fox.” If anyone could tell us what the Fox says, it’s Kenny Francis.
12. Kurt Busch (LW: NR): Much like Kahne, Busch emerged from near-past Chase irrelevancy with a fifth-place finish. Had Furniture Row’s 1.5 mile performances not tailed off towards the end of the year, he’d be a sleeper candidate at Homestead. And maybe he still is, because he’s not as much of an outright favorite as he would have been a week or two into the Chase. 2013 song: Zedd’s “Clarity.” The same could go for Martin Truex Jr.
Lucky Dog: Juan Pablo Montoya finished sixth. One more race until Montoya is off to IndyCar. Is another top 10 in the offing before he leaves?
The DNF: This is not the way that David Ragan wanted to end his season.