Some things never change. Just when it looked like Matt Kenseth had a complete stranglehold on this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, guess who showed up to the party?
Mr. Five-Time himself made sure this year's championship wouldn't be a runaway for Kenseth, as Jimmie Johnson dominated Sunday's race at The Monster Mile, leading more than half the race and holding off a hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the final 30 laps to take the checkers. Kenseth, however, did manage a seventh-place finish, and as a result still holds an eight-point lead over Johnson in the standings.
Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings* heading into Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway:
1. Matt Kenseth - After back-to-back wins to start the Chase, a seventh-place finish almost seems futile by comparison. But in the end, it was another strong day for the No. 20, starting the race on the front row and leading 36 laps until his car went away during a late two-tire stop.
Previous ranking: First, --
2. Jimmie Johnson - After consecutive top-fives to start the Chase, Johnson still found himself losing ground on Kenseth heading into Dover. So, like any former champion would do, Johnson took the 48 team on his back and led 243 of the 400 laps en route to his eighth victory at The Monster Mile. Which, coincidentally, makes him the all-time winningest driver at the concrete oval.
Previous ranking: Third, +1
3. Kyle Busch - Dating back to last year, Rowdy now has seven top-fives in his last eight Chase starts. Granted, he wasn't actually in the Chase at this time last year, but that doesn't change the fact that the tracks are the same and his confidence level is likely to be as good as it ever has. Busch has always been criticized that he could win, but lacked consistency when it came to the Chase. Well, he has that consistency ... now he just needs a win.
Previous ranking: Second, -1
4. Jeff Gordon - It certainly appears to be a three-driver Chase for the championship, at this point. But don't count out the four-time champ just yet. From also ran to also in, Gordon has taken full advantage of his opportunity. And while he still sits 39 points behind the leader in the points standings, that's still an attainable spread with seven races to go.
Previous ranking: Sixth, +2
5. Greg Biffle - The Biff has shown some spunk so far in NASCAR's playoffs. Two straight top-10s has Biffle still within striking distance of the Big Three, but it's going to take a win or two or three for the No. 16 to legitimately make a run.
Previous ranking: Fifth, --
6. Kevin Harvick - This is typical of Harvick. The 29 Budweiser Chevrolet has flown driven under the radar all season, so the fact that he sits fourth in points right now (tied with Gordon) shouldn't come as a shocker to anyone. But the reality is, Harvick is going to need to win races - because that's the only way anyone is going to stop Kenseth or Johnson.
Previous ranking: Eighth, +2
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior's runner-up finish on Sunday was his third of the season and first since the fifth race of the season at Fontana. That was pretty hard to tell during his post-race interview, though. The disappointment was palpable as Earnhardt failed to chase down Johnson over the final 30 laps despite having four fresh tires to his teammate's two. On the bright side, he did take the pole.
Previous ranking: Ninth, +2
8. Clint Bowyer - Another respectable finish (10th) for the No. 15 Toyota. No doubt he has to be racing with a lot on his mind, but Bowyer has handled everything admirably and should be proud of the effort he and his team have put in so far under the circumstances.
Previous ranking: 10th, +2
9. Kurt Busch - Pit road continues to be an issue for the only one-car team in the Chase, in spite of the fact that the 78 team had a new crew for Dover. Time is running out on history.
Previous ranking: Fourth, -5
10. Joey Logano - Well that's the Joey we know. After failing to capitalize on terrific starting positions at Chicago and New Hampshire, Logano went from 11th to third to secure his first top-five Chase finish. It might be too late for the 22, but Sunday is going to go a long way in boosting this team's confidence moving forward.
Previous ranking: 11th, +1
11. Carl Edwards - What a blow to the regular-season points leader. A top-10 car all day long, Edwards dropped from fourth in points all the way to 11th thanks to a rear-end issue that forced him to the garage after the final restart. Ouch.
Previous ranking: Seventh, -4
12. Ryan Newman - The 39 is in a tough spot here with seven Chase drivers finishing in front of him on Sunday and Edwards dropped four spots to 11th. It was a good day for Newman, who even led six laps on Sunday. But it's going to take more than consistent eighth-place finishes to get himself back into the Chase race.
Previous ranking: 12th, --
13. Kasey Kahne - He finished 13th. That's where he'll stay here, too.
Previous ranking: 13th, --
Top Non-Chaser. Jamie McMurray - Big Mac takes this spot for the second straight week. After all, with the top-10 all going to Chasers, it's fitting that McMurray earns this position with an 11th-place finish.