After three races, definite patterns have emerged. You know the old saying, that the cream rises to the top? It looks the like glass slippers are shattering, and a lot of the drivers you expect to see at, or near, the top are there once again.
The Big 10
10. Jeff Gordon (unranked last week)- Woulda, coulda shoulda- at least he’s back up front. The wins have to follow soon. Oh, by the way, Gordon has four career wins at AMS.
9. Jeff Burton (ranked 4th last week)- He’s about as exciting as watching grass grow, but what he lacks in star power, he makes up for in consistency. When you’re running as well as Burton is, and your the third best driver on the team, that says good things about your organization and equipment. Just a shade more speed, and “The Mayor” will be adding wins to his career total of 21.
8. Tony Stewart (unranked last week)- After a snoozy start at Daytona, Tony Stewart is rounding into form. He always has been a slow starter, and Smoke is proving once again true to form. While his run of never winning in February remains intact, he does have two career wins and an average finish of 12.0 at Atlanta. Keep your eye on him this week.
7. Joey Logano (unranked last week)- OK, the time has come to give the kid his due. His 20th place run at Daytona was a moral victory after finishing dead last in 2009. Logano ran 5th at Fontana, and followed with a 6th place run Sunday. Now- the challenge: Joey’s struggled at Atlanta and Bristol, two of the tracks coming up. Now there’s a real test of his progress.
6. Greg Biffle (ranked 5th last week)- There’s nothing flashy about what “The Biff” is doing (true to Biffle form), he’s just near the front every week. Am I right in thinking the Roush Fords are a little racier than last year? Biffle, Kenseth and Ragan are about where you expect them to be, but where’s Carl Edwards?
5. Clint Bowyer- (ranked 2nd last week)- I’m not dinging him for finishing 8th at Las Vegas, it’s just that the field is getting more crowded with racers just a tick better. What Bowyer, Burton and Kevin Harvick are demonstrating is they’ll be running with the big dogs all year this time. Has to be jazzed that Bristol is just around the corner.
4. Matt Kenseth (ranked 8th last week)- You can’t get much more consistent than three top tens in three races. The fact he’s run well on the downforce tracks has to be encouraging for Matt the Brat and the others from Roush. Now- here’s the question- can he parlay that into wins to challenge the front runners from HMS? His career finishing average for AMS is a respectable 13.7, with 11 top tens in 20 starts.
3. Mark Martin (ranked 6th last week)- Across the board, Martin is finishing better than he did at this point last year. With his resources, and a little good luck, there’s no reason he can’t contend once again for wins and that elusive championship.
2. Kevin Harvick (ranked 1st last week)- Harvick is as good as a guy can be who hasn’t won a race. The problem? There’s someone who’s absolutely stinking up the show. The good news for Harvick lovers and Jimmie haters is Atlanta is where Happy got his first Cup win.
1. Jimmie Johnson (ranked 3rd last week)- With two wins in three races, who else? He’s got plenty to push him, including the consistent Harvick, but until someone knocks him off his perch, this is where he belongs for now. If he’s this good after starting 20th, it’s scary to consider the kind of season he may have.
Falling Off The Pace
Kurt Busch is here by virtue of bad luck. Keep in mind, he won last March at AMS…this is probably more of a reality check for David Reutimann and Jamie Mc Murray. Both are quality drivers, but aren’t really demonstrating week in and week out they are “Chase ready.”
Ready To Strike
For a while there, Kyle Busch looked like a threat to win Sunday. Something is seriously amiss that he isn’t running better…Carl Edwards is another 2008 stud that remains just a hair off his game. Like Busch, he’s not bad by any means. We’re just used to seeing these guys up front.
Look who’s back! Marcos Ambrose took 14th at Vegas, a little closer to where he should be…Kasey Kahne looked better Sunday. The “Bud Nine” won at Atlanta last Labor Day weekend…Dale Earnhardt, Jr. shows some signs of life, the car just needs to hold together for a 400-500 mile run…Scott Speed and Paul Menard are raising eyebrows. The same could be said of Regan Smith.
By the way, we are also voters for the illustrious Top 20 polls over at Race Talk Radio. If you cannot get enough of debating over who’s better, visit www.racetalkradio.com.
PHOTO CREDITS- 24 at Vegas by Todd Warshaw/ Getty Images. Tony Stewart by Rusty Jarrett/ Getty Images for NASCAR. Kevin Harvick celebrating Nationwide Series win Saturday by Geoff Burke/ Getty Images for NASCAR.