Just two races into the Chase for the Sprint Cup and, in specific order, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson have unmistakably established themselves as the title favorites, while the other 10 drivers are left to joust for best in class. All that means it's no surprise to see the aforementioned trio headline this week's NASCAR power rankings.
1. Matt Kenseth (Last week: 1)
At this juncture what else can really be said? For the second week in a row Kenseth led the most laps, won the race and expanded his points leads. And now he's off to Dover, a track he loves and where in June he was fast before his engine went kaboom.
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 2)
With a pair of runner-up finishes to begin the Chase, Busch is far-and-away off to the best start to the playoffs of his career. But while he'll never admit it publically, it has to frustrate him to some degree that he keeps finishing second to his teammate.
3. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 3)
It's hard to quibble with consecutive top-five finishes, except when the guy you're chasing keeps winning. This is why Dover looms large for Johnson, as it's a track where he dominates, and his opportunity to send a message to the Gibbs teams that he's a serious player in this championship fight.
4. Carl Edwards (LW: 6)
His win two weeks ago at Richmond must seem like a distant memory for Edwards. What's remarkable is that even though he hasn't been bad thus far in the Chase, with finishes of 11th and ninth, he still finds himself a robust 36 points in arrears of Kenseth.
5. Kurt Busch (LW: 5)
After a strong qualifying effort and with the speed he flexed in practice, Busch was expected to finish better than 13th. Instead, he unexpectedly struggled and dropped two spots in the standings to seventh. And while it may not yet be midnight, the clock does read 11:30 p.m. for this year's Cinderella team.
6. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4)
A car that wouldn't handle combined with overheating issues made for a long day at Loudon. It doesn't get any easier for Harvick, either, as the next two races at Dover and Kansas are a pair of tracks where he's never won.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 12)
Getting off-sequence early because of a lugnut issue on pit road could have spelled doom, but Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte made the best of the situation: Earnhardt finished sixth, his best result since a fifth at Pocono eight weeks ago.
8. Greg Biffle (LW: 14)
That dive-bomb by Biffle in the closing laps to pass Johnson was one of those moves where it either pays off soundly or he crashes, and in doing so takes out half the field. In this case, it worked and he left with a third-place finish, which is his best result since his June win at Michigan.
9. Jeff Gordon (LW: 9)
Gordon went from contending to finishing 15th following a self-induced mistake on pit road that he took full blame for post-race. And as he explained, it was more than just throwing a potential win that frustrated him; it was also knowing that any he chance he had of claiming a fifth championship will have to wait yet another year.
10. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 13)
Within the last two weeks Truex has gone from making the Chase to being booted from it and then learned his sponsor was withdrawing its support at the end of the year. Which is why when he was dominating the early portions Sunday, it was easy to envision him in the winner's circle giving what, by any reasonable measure, would be the most awkward celebratory speech in NASCAR history. Alas, it didn't happen, and he slid to 10th in the final rundown. Damn.
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 8)
It's hard not think the last two weeks have taken a toll and are simply too much for Bowyer to overcome, because by all appearances he gives the impression that he's ready for the season to be over with.
12. Brad Keselowski (LW: 15)
If there was a driver who would seem to relish the role of spoiler, it would be the defending champ. But through two races he's been good but not great, which in a way is appropriate as it's a microcosm of his year as a whole.
13. Ryan Newman (LW: 10)
After smashing the track record in qualifying and having previously won at New Hampshire, Newman had the look of a driver who was going to be a factor. Except when the race started, he quickly faded, and at one point was as low as 26th, barely clinging to the lead lap. He finished 16th, and there is no way to view the weekend other than a missed opportunity for the No. 39 team.
14. Kasey Kahne (LW: 7)
With short, abrupt answers, Kahne's ESPN interview following his late crash was certainly qualified as bizarre. So much so the speculation on social media afterward was he suffered some sort of concussion, which has been debunked. Kahne was simply frustrated with wrecking himself and the enormous points deficit he now finds himself mired in.
15. Joey Logano (LW: 11)
It's cliché, but the Chase really is about upping your game and taking yourself to a new level. This hasn't happened with Logano, who blew an engine at Chicagoland and put forth an ordinary 14th-place outing at New Hampshire.