by Matt Taliaferro
1. Kyle Busch “The Surgeon” begins to pull away … kind of like he’s going 128 mph and the rest of the field is doing the 45 mph speed limit.
2. Jimmie Johnson To those harping about how Johnson is ripe for the taking, take notice that he has only six finishes worse than 11th (in 23 races) this year and sits second in the point standings. Blue 48, prepare to make your Chase run.
7. Ryan Newman Newman is very quietly putting together a solid season. He’s no Kyle Busch, but if things continue along the current path, he could make a respectable showing in the championship standings.
8. Kevin Harvick Harvick has been awful quiet lately. Too quiet, in fact. Makes me wish for the days of his grandstanding with Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Carl Edwards ... am I leaving anyone out?
9. Kurt Busch Wonder if, after 38th- and 34th-place runs, Kurt is wishing he was still behind the wheel of the Miller Lite Dodge? After all, his scripted sponsor plugs worked better then. Kind of.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior sits 10th here not because of his impressive performances, but because no one else has wrested it from him. And at this point, that wouldn’t be hard to do.
11. Mark Martin Showing real signs of speed the last few weeks — and there’s still time to sneak into this Chase.
12. Tony Stewart His cars aren’t handling right, he’s frustrated, Bristol is up next and he’s on the Chase bubble. NASCAR media beware!
13. Denny Hamlin Sometimes you get the feeling Denny gets inside his own head.
14. Greg Biffle At least he’s qualifying better these days ...
15. Clint Bowyer Somehow still hanging in at 11th in the standings, which may speak to the competition down there.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.
Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro