Time to kick off the FOXSports.com/SPEED.com Power Rankings with the preseason edition.
This week’s list:
1. KEVIN HARVICK — Free of the obligations of running Kevin Harvick Inc. and with a new child on the way and an old friend in as his crew chief, Harvick is the man to beat.
2. KASEY KAHNE — Finally in a stable home with fast cars at Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne will make the most serious title run of his career to date.
3. JIMMIE JOHNSON — Never, ever underestimate the talent and determination of Johnson, who could end up starting another championship streak this year.
4. CARL EDWARDS — A Daytona 500 pole was a good way to kick off the season for Edwards, who must demonstrate that he’s recovered from last year’s heartbreak.
5. KYLE BUSCH — Busch made a pair of truly astonishing saves in winning his first Budweiser Shootout. Still, he’s not finished better than eighth in points with Joe Gibbs Racing.
6. TONY STEWART — The three-time and defending Sprint Cup champion has never won titles back to back, but he should be good again this season.
7. BRAD KESELOWSKI — Last year, Keselowski proved he was a front-line Sprint Cup driver and the Chase races are good for him. Still, don’t think he’ll be better this year.
8. MATT KENSETH — Consistent and capable, Kenseth should be solidly in the Chase mix again this year.
9. JEFF GORDON — As great a driver as Gordon unquestionably is, he has never mastered the Chase format and his drive for five will again stall.
10. DALE EARNHARDT JR. — For the first time in his career, Junior makes it into NASCAR’s playoff round in consecutive seasons.
11. DENNY HAMLIN — Optimistic all during the off-season about new crew chief Darian Grubb, it still could take time for the new duo to get on track.
12. GREG BIFFLE — The Biff makes it back into the Chase following a 2011 season where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
13. RYAN NEWMAN — It will be a good year for Newman although he will be the last man out in the title fight.
14. AJ ALLMENDINGER — The move to Penske Racing proves good for all involved as ‘The Dinger continues to improve.
15. JEFF BURTON — It will be a better season for Burton, but not a great season, as he and new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer prove to be a good combo.
16. MARCOS AMBROSE — The affable Aussie is the team leader now for Richard Petty Motorsports and does a good job with the team.
17. JUAN PABLO MONTOYA — With new crew chief Chris Heroy, Montoya starts to recover his old form at long last.
18. CLINT BOWYER — The move to Michael Waltrip Racing isn’t quite the instant success that Bowyer had hoped for.
20. JOEY LOGANO — Jo Lo improves in 2012, but not enough to earn a new contract at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.