Power Rankings: Darlington
Each week of the Sprint Cup season, ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee ranks the top 20 drivers in the series. Don't agree with McGee's list? Let him -- and the rest of the world -- know in the conversation section at the bottom of the page. But remember, make your mama proud.
New this weekKyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola
Dropped outKevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, AJ Allmendinger
Biggest moversKyle Larson jumps from unranked to 14th, Joey Logano from 10th to fourth
Biggest loserKevin Havick falls from seventh to unranked
Also consideredJamie McMurray, Johnny Rutherford
1. Jeff GordonThe Artist Formerly Known as Wonder Boy is back in the points lead for the first time in five seasons and headed to a racetrack where he's won more than anyone not named Earnhardt or Pearson.
2. Kyle BuschShrub "only" has one Cup win at Darlington, but that's certainly not for a lack of running up front. Over his last six starts he's led an average of 98 laps per race, including 265 of 367 one year ago.
3. Matt KensethYou can include Darlington on your list of racetracks where Kenseth was always hit-or-miss until he made the move to Joe Gibbs Racing. So far he's batting 1.000 in the 20 car, winning one year ago.
4. Joey LoganoLast week I said his lack of a race win was forcing me to slide him down. Problem solved. No matter how you feel bout JoLo, it was good to see him take back the win that was nearly taken from him.
5. Carl EdwardsEven after a decent day from Cuz and Biff, there still seems to be uneasiness at Roush Fenway over its 1.5-mile program. Expect the RFR nerds to swing for the setup fences at Kansas and Charlotte.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.Note to self: today's rules prevent any attempt at recreating your father's "Pass in the Grass."
7. Jimmie JohnsonOh, you poor Jimmie fans, so used to winning all the time that when your guy hasn't visited Victory Lane in nine races you fall into a downright panic. Says Junior Nation: "Must be nice."
8. Brad KeselowskiHard to fault a guy for swinging for the fences and going for the win, especially with a Chase spot all but locked up. However, it's easy to fault the jet dryers for blowing the hood off his car before the race.
9. Brian VickersAfter being forgettable at Texas throughout his career, The Sheriff has posted two straight TMS top-10s. Could it be a similar story at Darlington? In '12 he scored his only top-10 in nine tries.
10. Tony StewartA month ago Smoke was 27th in points. Now he's 14th, though still looking for a win. In other words, he's taking the total opposite of the have-a-win-but-not-much-else approach of his teammates.
11. Greg BiffleVery quietly, the Biff is getting his act together, easing back toward the top 15 in points. He's also very quietly pretty good at Darlington, with two wins, though it has been a while.
12. Clint BowyerIt took Bowyer six weeks to earn his first top-10 of the year. Now he has two in a row. By the way, at Willie's Duck Diner, is duck all they serve?
13. Denny HamlinHe looked good at Texas, but again finished outside the top 10 thanks to a speeding penalty. Still, like Gordon, Johnson, etc., a win feels imminent. His 5.4 career average Darlington finish leads active drivers.
14. Kyle LarsonHe's so good on the fast racetracks. And though he's still going to have bad weeks, it feels like he'll win much sooner than later. It reminds me so much of another sprint car rookie, Kasey Kahne in '04.
15. Paul MenardSideburns Lanahan has dour top-10s in secen races, only five shy of his career best for a single season. A Texas top-10 seemed to be a mathematic impossibility so I'm not sure how to take his highly generic Darlington stats.
16. Austin DillonAs Larson picks up steam, Dillon has settled into an 11th-to-21st finishing pattern. That's not bad at all. In fact, he's still 12th in points. But he needs to hit a hot streak of his own to keep up in the RoY race.
17. Ryan NewmanNewman is the middle stanza in the RCR three-car song, as they rank 10th (Menard), 11th (Newman), and 12th (Dillon) in points. But if the team is going to make the Chase they need Rocket Man to win.
18. Kasey KahneOne week he looks awful. The next week he spends all day as a solid top-10 car. Inevitably, he will soon have a race where he looks invincible, followed by another week of awful. That's how he rolls, y'all.
19. Aric AlmirolaAlmirola takes a turn in what's becoming a Richard Petty Motorsports yo-yo spot, replacing teammate Marcos Ambrose thanks to a 12th-place Texas finish. In two Darlington starts he's finished 19th and 20th.
20. Kurt BuschIn the closing laps at Texas, Busch freefell from a decent finish, through the Power Rankings, and dropped all the way to 25th in points. Hey, at least he's still one spot better than teammate Kevin Harvick.
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