On top last season, they now find themselves in a hole, or vice versa.
Can those in a hole rally and can those who are on top keep it up?
Three up …
Through four races last season: 29th
Through four races this season: 3rd
The only race this season in which Newman hasn't finished in the top 10 is the one in which he led more laps than anyone – the Daytona 500. Go figure. As expected, Newman is qualifying well, but he's also leading laps, something he didn't do a year ago. This season, he's already led 70 laps; he led 63 in all of 2010.
Can he keep it up? Absolutely. Both Newman and teammate Tony Stewart have shown a lot of speed this season. And if you have speed, the results will come, no matter what kind of bad luck you run into.
Last season: 21st
This season: 8th
Montoya crashed six times in 2010. To put that in perspective, Sam Hornish Jr. had three crashes, Robby Gordon two, albeit in 27 races. On the flip side, only nine drivers led more laps than Montoya did in 2010, and that didn't include Kevin Harvick (who led the standings for virtually the entire regular season) or teammate Jamie McMurray, who won three times. JPM hasn't led a ton this season, but he has completed all but four laps.
Can he keep it up? For sure. If Montoya can keep his car off the wall, there's a good chance he'll not only make the Chase, but win races and even compete for a championship.
Last season: 24th
This season: 10th
This is an important season for Truex and Michael Waltrip Racing as his first year with MWR didn't go very well, regardless of perspective. MWR hoped Truex would provide them the boost it needed to lift the organization up a notch, while Truex thought being a team's No. 1 driver would do the same for his status. Neither happened. Both are looking for more in 2011, and so far they are getting it. Like Newman, Truex has shown more speed in four races than he did throughout the entire 2010 season.
Can he keep it up? Doubtful. Part of being up front in the standings this early in the season has to do with attrition. Truex hasn't had any. He will. The challenge for him will be to offset the attrition with a large handful of top 5s. Considering he had just one a year ago, it's difficult to imagine a leap big enough to keep him on top.
Three down …
Last season: 1st
This season: 15th
Harvick had one DNF in all of 2010. He suffered his first just 22 laps into the 2011 season when his engine blew in the Daytona 500. While he rallied with solid finishes at Phoenix and Bristol, he wasn't a factor at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he started 26th and finished 17th.
Can he reverse course? Yes, but it's not looking like Harvick will pose the same challenge he did in 2010. Consistency was the key to his success last season, and already Richard Childress Racing has shown some cracks on that front with three blown engines team-wide. Without consistency, Harvick's season will be forgettable.
Last season: 3rd
This season: 23rd
All of Roush Fenway Racing had momentum going into 2011. Unfortunately for Biffle, his was stymied by a crash at Daytona and an error by his gas man at Las Vegas. The latter drew Biffle's ire, as his was among the fastest cars on the track. He easily could be in the top five in points; instead, he's in the middle of the pack.
Can he reverse course? Absolutely. Biffle is where he is solely because of bad luck. He's qualified well (his average start is 10.5) and has been fast just about every week. If he doesn't rally into the top 10, Biffle will likely get in on the wild card, because he will win races.
Last season: 5th
This season: 24th
This is a contract year for Bowyer, whose deal with Richard Childress Racing runs out at the end of this season. RCR isn't supplying Bowyer with bad cars. Rather, bad luck has kept him down. He got shuffled from the front in the closing laps of the Daytona 500 and had an engine blow last week at Bristol.
Can he reverse course? Sure, but it will be a long road back. While Biffle has the luxury of Roush Fenway speed, Bowyer and RCR are still searching. Bowyer is 39 points out of the top 10. With the points system being new, it's difficult to know exactly how big a hole that is. But unless a bunch of drivers in front of him have trouble, don't expect Bowyer near the top 10 for a while.