I’m not ready to start having another trophy engraved just yet for Jimmie Johnson. For one thing, the competition is too tight. For another, it’s way too early in the season for that. In recent weeks, a number of drivers have begun to step up to show they’re ready to rumble.
The way things are shaping up now, “The Shark” has a lot of competition lined up to overtake him. From this observer’s point of view, there are a number of racers closing in fast.
It’s just a question of consistency. That’s the one aspect of Johnson’s game I don’t doubt.
THE BIG 10
10. Jeff Gordon- (down 7 spots from 3rd)- He nearly got bump drafted out of this spot by a teammate. no, not Jimmie, Dale Jr. Gordon’s problems in Talladega cost him five spots in the points, and it’s hard to say whether or not the anger he’s showing right now will be channeled into something good…or something bad.
9. Clint Bowyer- (down four spots from 5th)- Shook off a bad race in Texas with a nice Talladega run. Let’s not forget Bowyer picked off a 2008 win in Richmond after that much ballyhooed incident involving Dale Jr. and Shrub. RIR is a good track for Kansas Clint, and the upcoming schedule features a number of tracks where you’d expect him to do well.
8. Matt Kenseth- (down 6 spots from 2nd)- About once every season, it happens: Kenseth hits a rough patch. In three of his last four races, Matt the Brat has finished outside the top ten. Of course, he had a little help from Jeff Gordon in Martinsville. going in to Richmond, the 2003 champ has a career win and nine top tens in 20 RIR starts.
7. Greg Biffle- (down 3 spots from 4th)- Biffle’s run of 2010 consistency was looking fairly good until he ran into a little problem. Well, actually, a little problem ran into him. This may very well be the next driver with an extended winless streak to end it. While I’m not jumping up and down excited with the raciness of the Roush Fords in 2010, there’s still do denying Biffle has the equipment and the attitude to “git ‘r’ done.”
6. Kurt Busch- (back in the rankings)- Here’s what makes this driver different than the guys separating he and Johnson in these rankings: this driver has actually done it. In the Chase no less. The Penske group looks solid in its quest to carry the standard for Dodge. Still, it does make it a challenge for him that he’s not going to get quite the same help from his less accomplished teammates than some of these others.
5. Kyle Busch- (first appearance in the rankings)- Just so we’re clear, there was never any doubt this kid still remembered how to drive. Shrub has four top fives in his last five races. Let’s also not forget who the winner was last year in Richmond.
4. Mark Martin- (up 2 spots from 6th)- After the high wire act of 2009, Martin is back to being Martin. The Flying Wrinkle has three top tens in a row, and two top fives in his last three starts. You know how he feels about the so-called “Lotto 500.” I think he’s more than happy to get out of Alabama with a 5th place run.
3. Denny Hamlin- (back in the rankings)- The fact Hamlin is ranked 9th in the points tells you about how bad things are for Denny when they’re bad. On the other hand, Hamlin is showing a focus and mental toughness that I wasn’t certain he had.
2. Kevin Harvick- (up 7 spots from 9th)- Could be a contender for two titles this year (if he decides to keep running in his NNS car). Happy has had a bad car or two, but really has had only one bad race- Martinsville. It’s going to take consistency to stay in the running, and he’s showing it so far. Harvick and Hamlin have just enough nasty in their attitude, they’re not going to roll over for Johnson the way others might.
1. Jimmie Johnson- (holding at #1)- While the competition is closing in, Johnson is still the best out there. It’s only at the plate tracks where the defending champ has turned in bad finishes. You know your doing something right when it seems like a slump because you haven’t won in about a month. It’s a problem Jeff Gordon would love to have right now.
FALLING OFF THE PACE
Recent races have provided a reality check for Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards. Logano still has some schooling ahead of him, though he’s proving a quick study. Newman’s recent performance has to be frustrating after his Phoenix win. Of course, we all know how he just LOVES (not) Talladega. Edwards has been the invisible man thus far in 2010.
READY TO STRIKE
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is vastly improved over where he was at this time in 2009. Good news, “Nation,” Junior has three career wins at Richmond…Well, look here. Martin Truex, Jr. is stringing together some nice finishes, and may be ready to make a run…Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t keep our eyes open for something good from Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie Mc Murray.
Kasey Kahne ain’t done yet, but his performance has been very uneven…Tony Stewart fans need not panic, unless he continues floundering past Memorial Day.