Hot 20 – Some familiar names missing, but their replacements do not seem all that out of place

Interesting things can happen after the first race of the season. Some names usually near the front find themselves as also-rans as the schedule continues on to Atlanta. No Junior. No Biffle, No Bowyer. No Patrick. Okay, I’ve gone too far, I know.

Still, a lot of the boys who did, do not appear out of place. Regan Smith might have something to prove this year and the same with his owner Tommy Baldwin. Michael McDowell did well in a non-Charter ride and returns to his regular seat this Sunday. Ryan Blaney has no safety line, but the Wood Brothers just need to continue showing up and making races. Odds are the three past contenders should move ahead of this trio before long, but could one or two of them win somewhere along the way and steal a Chase spot from somebody? Why not.

Last Sunday, it was all about restrictor plate pack racing. Atlanta should be more about the car, the one they worked on, the one NASCAR claims again to be just what we need for more competitive, more exciting action.

American Muscle

I await the excitement promised for Sunday. Here are our hottest 20 performers coming to Atlanta.

1. Denny Hamlin – 1 Win – 45 Points
Toyota claims its first Daytona 500 in a game of inches.

2. Martin Truex, Jr. – 40 Points
If Charlton Heston was at the wheel, this car might have hit ramming speed.

3. Kyle Busch – 39 Points
39 points better than he was at this time last year. Walks better, too.

4. Kevin Harvick – 37 Points
Harvick had a plan last Sunday. Hamlin took that plan to Victory Lane.

5. Carl Edwards – 36 Points
A Top Five with a front fender made of peanut brittle.

6. Joey Logano – 35 Points
In the best darn Ford on the day. If you are seeking a Roush Ford…there is always next week.

7. Kyle Larson – 34 Points
This season, his Daytona 500 proved to be a much better experience than his Rolex 24.

8. Regan Smith – 33 Points
Some get a Charter handed to them, but maybe Tommy Baldwin wishes to show his was earned.

9. Austin Dillon – 33 Points
Only one man has ever taken the No. 3 to victory in the Daytona 500…and he did it once.

10. Kurt Busch – 31 Points
Has he driven a Ford lately?

11. Ryan Newman – 31 Points
If you can’t make tracks driving a Caterpillar, you can’t make tracks at all.

12. Aric Almirola – 29 Points
Petty people worked hard on their intermediate-track package. Sunday shall be a test of that.

13. Kasey Kahne – 28 Points
Who is the best damn driver at Hendrick? Kan’t guess?

14. Matt Kenseth – 28 Points
Only the inside lane was moving, until the outside lane did.

15. Michael McDowell – 26 Points
Loaned out his Charter ride and beat it as an outsider.

16. Jimmie Johnson – 26 Points
Not often Six Time is not visible. That probably won’t be the case in Atlanta.

17. Jamie McMurray – 24 Points
Bend ‘em like Beckham? Danica has to work to motor like McMurray.

18. Paul Menard – 23 Points
Childress entries were more successful last Sunday than Hendrick Chevys. Interesting.

19. Ryan Blaney – 22 Points
Charter? Who needs a stinkin’ Charter?

20. Brad Keselowski – 22 Points
According to Hamlin, the least athletic driver, “…with a sprint cup championship,” added Brad.

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