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When a plan comes together
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Denny Hamlin
The new points leader is looking pretty stout with eight finishes of ninth or better (three wins) in the last nine races. There’s also that shakeup in the 48 team, too.
2. Jimmie Johnson
Speaking of the 48 ... yes, Johnson is still second in the Horsepower Rankings and in the official standings, but that mid-race crew swap with Jeff Gordon’s team looked awfully desperate.
3. Kevin Harvick
And then there’s Harvick, flying below the radar, but clearly not as consistently strong as Hamlin of Johnson. He’s ready to pounce should the door open.
4. Clint Bowyer
Follows up the win at Talladega — his second of the Chase — with a seventh-place run at Texas ... and with Harvick’s old crew, no less. See Jeff, it could work out for you too!
5. Joey Logano
Since the television coverage doesn’t follow anyone not in the Chase, it should be noted here that young Logano hasn’t finished worse than seventh in a month.
6. Mark Martin
Like Logano, Martin is a non-Chaser, and therefore a non-stroy to some. However, that "Crazy Old Man" hasn’t finished outside of the top 15 since the first playoff race. Watch him at Phoenix.
7. Greg Biffle
Biffle was the man to beat at Texas until he dropped two gears. And you know, it’s kind of hard to get going when you have to start in third with a snarling pack of cars in your trunk.
8. Kyle Busch
His in-car audio captured one of the great meltdowns in NASCAR after getting penalized at Texas. Cheer up Kyle, you’re getting married in a few weeks.
9. Jeff Gordon
As the picture below illustrates, Gordon had a rough afternoon in Texas. He sure put on a heckuva show in the process, though.
10. Jeff Burton
"The Mayor" gave a political "the sun was in my eyes" excuse after taking out Gordon. Yeah, OK, uh huh, we believe you.
11. Matt Kenseth
Didn’t get the win, but drove the heck out of his car on that final restart.
12. Carl Edwards
At least he’s winning Nationwide races again.
13. Tony Stewart
Apparently, Stewart has a personal trainer now. Wonder what sponsor Burger King thinks of that?
14. David Reutimann
Ran up front all day, but disappeared late. Thanks for explaining what happened, ESPN.
15. Paul Menard
Three consecutive top 15s — that move to RCR next year is looking more interesting by the week.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya
Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattTaliaferro