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Tight at the top and traveling to Talladega

Tight at the top and traveling to Talladega

by Matt Taliaferro

 1. Kyle Busch   After runs of first, third and third, Busch slumped to 16th in Texas, courtesy of a persistent loose wheel. It can’t be a good feeling to run 200 mph into a turn knowing that a wheel could come off.

 2. Carl Edwards  If Kyle is No. 1, Carl may be No. 1a. It’s a toss-up at the top really, as their stats are near-mirror images through seven races this season.

 3. Kevin Harvick   Looking for three wins in a row, Harvick had pit-road issues all evening, getting pinned in a couple times and receiving a penalty on a third. Not that it mattered — he didn’t have the speed anyway.

 4. Matt Kenseth  Suddenly, we’re all wondering where Kenseth came from. Truth is, his only finish outside of the top 12 all season was when he got caught in the Big One in the Daytona 500.

 5. Jimmie Johnson   Johnson is averaging a 10th-place finish this season — including a runner-up and two thirds — while quietly lying in wait for that first victory.

 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  OK, this might be getting serious. Since a wreck at Daytona with six laps remaining, Junior has strung together six consecutive top-12 showings. Something’s working.

 7. Kurt Busch  To listen to him spew complaints and profanity on the radio during races, you’d think Busch was driving a Pinto. In actuality, he’s tied with little brother and Edwards with five top 10s this season.

 8. Clint Bowyer  Bowyer has finally found “it,” having racked up three consecutive top-10 runs, capped by a strong runner-up showing in a race at Texas that no one but Kenseth was going to win.

 9. Juan Pablo Montoya  Montoya has developed a knack for restrictor plate racing, and next up is Talladega, where he finished third in both events last season.

10. Ryan Newman  A four-race top-10 surge has given way to 20th- and 14th-place runs. This weekend will be big for Newman, who has made his dislike of Talladega no secret.

11. Tony Stewart  Another sure-fire top 5 slips through his fingers. This is beginning to become a habit.

12. Paul Menard  He’s not race-winning caliber yet, but Menard sure is showing improvement at RCR.

13. Jeff Gordon  Throw out the Phoenix win and Martinsville top 5 and it isn’t too pretty for Mr. Gordon.

14. David Ragan  Records consecutive top 10s for the first time since late in the 2008 season.

15. Greg Biffle  Running fourth on a big intermediate is exactly what Biffle is supposed to do. A sign of things to come?

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin

Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

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<p> It's tight at the top, where Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards slug it out in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

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