1. Tony Stewart: Let's be honest, you could make a case for four or five drivers in this top space. Nobody has established themselves lately as THE BEST, so we're giving it to Smoke. Mainly because the way he laughed when he talked about how angry he was that his pit screw screwed up absolutely terrified us. Last week: 7.
2. Denny Hamlin: At this point, two decent weeks for any driver is enough to call him a championship contender. So we will declare it right now: Denny Hamlin, Championship Contender! Especially if they run every single race during the Chase at either Richmond, Pocono or Martinsville. You think that's doable? Last week: 1.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Five straight top 10s. Second place on Saturday night. Five points out of the series lead. What does he have to do to get the fans' respect? Oh, right. Win. And then win seven Sprint Cup championships. Well, that should be happening any time now. Last week: 6.
4. Greg Biffle: Largely a quiet week for Biffle. He finished 18th and spent most of the race running in a place equivalent to his own number. He ought to take a lesson from his Roushmate Carl Edwards; Cousin stayed in the hunt last year by making those weak days into low-top-10 finishes, not mid-pack teen ones. Last week: 2.
5. Jimmie Johnson: I'm not going to lie to you, my friends; it's kind of fun seeing Jimmie Johnson have problems that the rest of the NASCAR world has suffered the last six years, in this case a pit crew misfire that cost him several spaces and a halfway decent shot at the lead. It's like when a president leaves office and has to wait in line for a sandwich. That happens, right? Last week: 5.
6. Matt Kenseth: Fox's Mike Joy gave us one of the most cringeworthy lines of the season this week when he referred to the Roush-Fenway drivers as "Roushketeers." Does ANYONE under the age of 40 get that reference? Shoot, may as well start singing the "Howdy Doody Theme." (Was there a Howdy Doody theme? I dunno. Before my time.) At least update your references to the Spongebob era, Mike. Last week: 4.
7. Martin Truex Jr.: Like Biffle, we didn't hear a whole lot out of Truex this week. This was the first race in the last five that he didn't at least register a top 10. He's done! Finished! Or he just had an off week and he'll roll the dice next week at Talladega just like everyone else. Last week: 3.
8. Carl Edwards: Carl Edwards is back! He's totally a legitimate championship contender! That ugly end to 2011? Nothing but a fading memory! He's going to run the table and — wait, what's that? Black flag? Oh. Well, sorry, Carl. But it was a nice run at Richmond, anyway. Better luck next time. Love, NASCAR. Last week: 7.
9. Kevin Harvick: We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the famous Harvick-Kyle showdown at Darlington. You know what would be awesome? If nobody asked Harvick about that at all. You know what would also be awesome? If rain was whiskey. Last week: 8.
10. Kyle Busch: So where are we with the whole "Is Kyle back?" thing? Is he back, or not? Is he "New Kyle"? Is he still "Old Kyle"? Is this the new "New Kyle" or the old "New Kyle"? I'm really confused. But the dude won a race. (Does that count toward his 200 wins that aren't really 200 wins? My head hurts.) Last week: 11.
11. Kasey Kahne: All right, so it looks like Kahne is actually running now the way he ought to have run all season long. So did he wait too long to get started? Perhaps. But he's in position now to start racking up wins, which is the only way he's going to break into the Chase this year. Last week: 12.
12. Clint Bowyer.
You think Clint really goes bow hunting, like he does in those Five-Hour Energy commercials? Bow hunting is awesome, but I'm betting there's going to be a rash of idiot injuries now that we've got The Hunger Games and The Avengers featuring archers. Still, shooting an arrow when you're falling off something is badass. Where were we? Oh, right. Nice run this week, Clint. Last week: NR.
Dropping out: Ryan Newman
Lucky Dog: Mark Martin. Sure, he's [hack "Martin is old" joke redacted], but he still ran well enough to lead the first laps of the race. (NO, his blinker wasn't on the whole time. Why would you say such a thing?)
DNF: Kurt Busch, who had trouble running early in the race, and gave us a classic line: "We have to come in [to pit], and then we'll be two laps down, and driving with our thumbs up our [tailpipes] all race again." Awesome. Though it would probably be tough to work the gear shift that way.
Next up: Talladega! We might see a wreck or two! Send your comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, via email by clicking here, and via Facebook. Go!