Johnson, Hamlin, Harvick trade licks
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Jimmie Johnson He’s won the Chase every way imaginable, so why doubt he can outduel Hamlin and Harvick in a dogfight down the stretch?
2. Kevin Harvick How do you differentiate between Hamlin and Harvick here? Take whichever driver finished better in the last race. Yeah, it’s that tight.
3. Denny Hamlin Say what you will about the Chase, but there’s no denying the three best teams have risen to the top and are deservedly duking it out for this title.
4. Kyle Busch There is a big gap down to fourth, where Busch slots in just ahead of Gordon based mainly on his explosiveness — and the fact that he actually wins from time to time.
5. Jeff Gordon Eleven top fives and 17 top 10s are on par with the Big Three, but the goose egg in the win column finds Gordon over 200 points back in the standings.
6. Clint Bowyer He may be 12th in the standings, but it’s hard to argue with his two wins and a runner-up showing in the Chase.
7. Carl Edwards The No. 99 team just can’t get out of the sixth- to 12th-place range. They’re clearly two steps behind Hendrick, Gibbs and Childress.
8. Joey Logano The Chase hurts guys like Logano, because he’s not getting any attention due to the fact he didn’t qualify. Meanwhile, he’s outperformed 90 percent of those in it.
9. Jeff Burton Man, can this guy’s luck get any worse?
10. Mark Martin Quietly set to overtake McMurray for 13th in the standings. Which is kind of like Crash Davis in pursuit of the minor league home run record.
11. Tony Stewart Tony makes the list because, well, he’s Tony Stewart, but the truth is this team is collecting notes for next year.
12. Matt Kenseth How has Kenseth remained in the top 12 despite zero wins and only five top fives? Answer: He has no DNFs and has not finished worse than 30th all season. That worked under the old point system.
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. In the midst of a four-race run at tracks that historically have agreed with Junior.
14. Jamie McMurray It’s gotten to a point where we actually expect more out of McMurray at certain tracks.
15. Greg Biffle Biffle is in not on what he’s done, but on what he could possibly do in the next three races.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann