Kasey Kahne emphatically proved his status as the best of the non-Chasers.
Kahne broke an 81-race winless streak at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, taking the lead from Carl Edwards on a green flag pit stop and stealing a win.
By and large, Chasers struggled at Phoenix, with the notable exceptions of title contenders Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. The Chasers' difficulties opened the door for drivers such as Jeff Burton and A.J. Allmendinger to make some of their best runs of the year.
How many non-Chasers were able to force their way into the Top 12 in the Power Rankings? Read on to find out.
Jeff Gordon's difficult Chase continued at Phoenix.
The driver of the No. 24 entered the Chase as one of the drivers to beat. Gordon seemed poised to win his first championship in a decade, entering the postseason with three victories and on a roll of momentum.
But, as with the other Hendrick drivers, it hasn't worked out like he planned.
Gordon had brake issues at Phoenix and finished 32nd, his fifth finish worse than 20th in the Chase.
2011 standings: 11th, -112 points
Where in the world did Jeff Burton come from?
After scoring just one top 10 in the first 31 races of 2011, Burton has three finishes of sixth or better in the last four races. He even led 24 laps at Texas last week despite finishing 27th.
With his fourth-place run at Phoenix, Burton is up to 21st in the standings and no longer looking dead in the water. If he can carry this momentum into 2012, the No. 31 could be a threat to make the Chase once again.
2011 standings: Tied for 21st
Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains seventh in the standings after limping to a 24th-place finish on Sunday.
Overall, 2011 has been a decent year for NASCAR's most popular driver. He made the Chase for the first time since 2008 and has been a competitive car several times. He came within a few ounces of gas of winning the Coca-Cola 600.
But Junior's winless streak stretches on. While his ride with Hendrick Motorsports is secure, even the Junior haters are growing silent as his once overwhelming presence in the sport continues to diminish.
2011 standings: Seventh, -102 points
Payback is no fun.
Brian Vickers insisted that he wasn't retaliating (even though he had promised to do so) for their altercation at Martinsville, but Matt Kenseth wasn't buying it when he was dumped by the No. 83 at Phoenix.
Just a few weeks ago, Kenseth was nearly tied for the points lead. But, after finishing 34th at Phoenix, he's all the way back in sixth.
The pill was especially tough to swallow because Kenseth sat on the pole and led laps early.
2011 standings: Sixth, -70 points
Ryan Newman scored his best finish in the Chase at Phoenix, running fifth and putting both Stewart-Haas Racing entries in the Top Five. He also leaped three positions in the standings, moving out of the Chase cellar.
Newman's Chase hasn't gone great overall, but at least he has had speed. He's led four laps or more in six of the nine Chase races so far, including 41 at Martinsville and 62 at Loudon.
2011 standings: Tied for eighth, -107 points
Like many Chasers, Brad Keselowski had a rough go of it on Sunday.
BK finished 18th, but even that was enough to pass the unlucky Matt Kenseth in the standings.
Keselowski will be one of the most intriguing drivers to watch in 2012.
Was his three-victory 2011 campaign a flash in the pan? Or, is this guy for real—a driver that will contend for championships year in and year out?
2011 standings: Fourth, -65 points
A.J. Allmendinger might have finished even better than sixth at Phoenix if his pit crew hadn't let him down repeatedly throughout the race.
It got so bad that his team actually swapped pit crews with fellow Ford driver David Ragan. And the unorthodox move paid off, with Ragan's crew turning in a solid final pit stop for the No. 43 car.
After a largely disappointing season, Allmendinger has shown promise throughout the Chase. He has five finishes of 11th or better and ought to finally get his first Sprint Cup win next year...right?
2011 standings: 16th
Kevin Harvick isn't a threat to win the title this year at Homestead, but it looks like he'll finish third in the final standings once again.
"Happy" struggled to a 19th-place finish at Phoenix—not the result he was hoping for. But, with four victories on the year, it's been a successful season overall.
2011 standings: Third, -51 points
Okay, that black-and-white color scheme just looked weird.
I'm pretty sure I'd feel disoriented driving that machine, so I'm not surprised Johnson struggled to find the handling at the new Phoenix configuration.
Still, Johnson gained a spot in the standings with his 14th-place effort.
Fifth in the points, he's two points ahead of Matt Kenseth and three behind Brad Keselowski. Johnson has never finished worse than fifth in the final standings in his 10-year career.
2011 standings: Fifth, -68 points
If Kasey Kahne can bring this kind of momentum into 2012, he'll be a legitimate title contender with Hendrick Motorsports next year!
After his win on Sunday, Kahne has finished sixth or better in six of the past seven races, including five top fives.
And he's doing it as a lame-duck driver for a team that might not be around next season. Remarkable.
2011 standings: 14th, five points behind 13th
Edwards looked like he was going to win on Sunday at Phoenix, but a slow trip down pit road under green allowed Kasey Kahne to take the lead and the win.
Still, he finished one spot ahead of Tony Stewart and didn't give up any of his slim lead in the championship battle.
It was great seeing the two title contenders racing hard for the win throughout the Kobalt Tools 500. One this is for certain: No one is backing into the title this year, and the finale should be one heck of a show.
2011 standings: Leader, three points ahead of second
Talk about going for broke!
For Tony Stewart right now, there is only one gear, and it's top speed all the way. The dude ran down Jeff Burton in the closing laps at Phoenix and made the pass for third on the final lap.
I know he's second in the standings, but I'm giving Stewart the top spot in the Power Rankings.
After leading the field with 160 laps led on Sunday, Stewart has led 471 laps in the last five races, three times collecting the bonus point for leading the most laps. He has two wins in that time, and his worst finish is seventh.
It will be tough to top Edwards at Homestead next week, but Stewart knows there is one way to guarantee himself a third career championship: Win the race.
I wouldn't bet against him.
2011 standings: Second, -3 points
Luke Krmpotich is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist.
Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/nascarfanumber1