Yes, we're five races into the season. Yes, it's not even April yet. But this is NASCAR, where hundredths of a mile per hour -- the speed of a tennis ball rolling across the ground -- separate those who race on Sunday from those who go home early. So we're used to minuscule measurements. And by that standard, it's not too early for several drivers to start getting very, very nervous.
Marcos Ambrose (31st in points): Ambrose had one of the best cars in Sunday's Bristol race, but got caught up in the Mark Martin-Greg Biffle wreck and his day was done. Ambrose is one of the brighter young drivers in NASCAR, but has he buried himself too far in the standings to make a run? On the plus side, he's got a hell of an inventive crew, as you can see above.
Ryan Newman (26th): Newman has gotten himself off the top-35 bubble, but he's still got a long way to go to get into the Chase. Still, he's one of the best qualifiers in the sport, and as the weather warms he ought to be starting at the front of the pack.
David Reutimann (24th): The Franchise was one race away from making a Chase run last year, but so far this year he hasn't followed through on the momentum. Two DNFs in five races will do that to you.
Kasey Kahne (23rd): Everything was supposed to change when Richard Petty Motorsports switched to Fords. And it did -- in the wrong direction. Kahne has gone from the Chase to irrelevant this year, and it couldn't come at a worse possible time for him in the midst of a contract year.
Juan Pablo Montoya (22nd): What the heck happened here? Montoya was actually challenging for the championship early in last year's Chase, and he's buried deep in the field now. He's been the victim of wrecks, but he also brings one of the better cars to the track week in and week out. Of all the guys on this list, he's the most likely to get into the top 12 by June.
Denny Hamlin (19th): How bad is that wrecked knee affecting him? It can't possibly be a lot of fun trying to drive on that on short tracks. Mr. Next-to-challenge-Jimmie is mired in double-digits, and his inconsistency week to week could make it tough to charge forward.
Your turn. Who among these guys is most likely to jump up? Who are your unfortunate surprises of the year?