In recent weeks Jimmie Johnson has used steady consistency to solidify himself both atop the power rankings and the Sprint Cup Series standings. And while his 44-point lead in the championship order is imposing, he is not currently the driver everyone else in the garage is measuring themselves against.
That driver is, of course, Matt Kenseth, who following his first-ever victory in the Southern 500 now leads all drivers in wins and laps led this year and is in the midst of a run of dominance that even Johnson can't keep pace with.
Thusly, it's Kenseth who unseats Johnson as No. 1 in this week's rankings.
1. Matt Kenseth (Last week: 2)
When you consider he won in Kansas, started on the pole at Richmond and led over 100 laps, led 143 laps at, of all places, Talladega, and then won this past weekend at Darlington, it's not far-fetched to think Kenseth could easily be heading into the All-Star break on a four-race winning streak.
2. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1)
Considering he has three top-tens and a 12th in the last four weeks, it's not that Johnson did anything to deserve to lose his No. 1 ranking. More than anything, it is what Kenseth has done in that same timeframe, collecting two wins and two other top-tens. Over a full season the two will have similar numbers, but right now the nod goes to the driver of the 20 car and not the 48.
3. Kyle Busch (LW: 5)
At Darlington, Busch led the most laps and would have won were it not for a cut tire. It was that very issue of not closing which kept him out of the Chase a year ago, but there should be no cause for concern this season as he already has two wins and, with the way he's running, more victories should be imminent.
4. Carl Edwards (LW: 3)
It has been a recurring theme this season where the 99 car appears off through much of the first half of a race then comes alive when it matters the most. Edwards' modus operandi was again in action at Darlington, where he spent much of the Southern 500 running in the teens yet left in seventh.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 7)
As evidenced by his seven top-tens, the consistency demonstrated by Earnhardt is there -- he's fourth in points for a reason. However, the issues which have plagued him in years past -- he has yet to win and he has led just 48 laps all season -- remain.
6. Clint Bowyer (LW: 6)
Darlington has never been one of Bowyer's better tracks, so considering he was running in the top ten early spoke of a promising evening. However, a penalty for dragging his gas can out of his pit box cost him a lap. The good news is that he fought back to place 11th. The bad news is he should have finished better.
7. Kevin Harvick (LW: 11)
A fifth-place finish is always commendable, but in this case especially so. In a race completely and utterly dominated by the cars of Gibbs and Hendrick, Harvick was the only one not of those teams to crack the top six.
8. Kasey Kahne (LW: 8)
Normally mild-mannered, Kahne had some terse words after being involved in a third incident this season with Kyle Busch. What should brighten Kahne's mood is spending the next two weeks racing at Charlotte, a track where he has more wins than anywhere else including a victory last year in the Coca-Cola 600.
9. Brad Keselowski (LW: 4)
By way of a 32nd at Darlington, the defending champion has for the first time since June finished outside the top ten in three-consecutive races. And while there is no need to sound the alarms, with crew chief Paul Wolfe out until Dover it might be time to at least locate the panic button.
10. Jeff Gordon (LW: 12)
Making your 700th career start can easily make a driver feel old, but Gordon isn't some old-timer just turning laps. At the age of 41, he's still fully capable of winning races and, with some breaks, a championship. And just in case anyone needed a reminder, he went out on a slick, challenging track and finished in the top five for the 300th time in his career.
11. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 10)
This team seems on the verge of getting that breakthrough victory, which could easily come at Charlotte considering how strong Truex has been on the intermediate tracks as of late. Then again, we've been saying that for a while now and his winless streak continues to grow with each passing week.
12. Aric Almirola (LW: 9)
It was bound to end at some point, as a 20th halted Almirola's top-ten streak at four races. The question now becomes was his run merely a spring fling which will evolve into a summer swoon or a mere bump on the road to the Chase?
13. Kurt Busch (Unranked)
He started on the pole, led a lot of laps early and then backslid when the sun set. If you think Busch handled this turn of events with the calmness that you would expect him to, then you're mistaken.
14. Ryan Newman (Unranked)
His tenth Saturday was his fifth top ten of the year and you would think that would position Newman solidly in the standings. Unfortunately, he has countered the good results with four finishes in the 30s, which is why he's ranked 14th and not higher.
15. Denny Hamlin (Unranked)
Hamlin deserves a big gold star for finishing runner-up in his first race back after an injury that has yet to fully heal. If Hamlin can maintain this performance -- or some level near it -- it's hard not to think he won't find a way to sneak into the Chase.