There are 20 races remaining to the Chase for the Sprint Cup cutoff, and there is much to be decided between now and then, but patterns are developing.
Jimmie Johnson is at the top of the standings (this is about as surprising as the sun rising); the Hendrick, Roush Fenway and Richard Childress teams have solid representation in the top 12; and Tony Stewart, as is almost always the case, is floating around the middle of the lead dozen.
No one will be shocked if most of the drivers currently in the top 12 wind up there in mid-September when the bell sounds for the final 10-race run to the championship.
Meanwhile, five drivers on the outside looking in are already staring at trouble. They perhaps will be looking for something beyond those eggs on this Easter weekend.
1. Juan Pablo Montoya – After a breakout season in 2009, Montoya figured to be a Chase contender again this season, and there was even talk about the 42 having a decent shot at a title run. But Montoya will roll into Phoenix next week 25th in points, having lost three spots last week at Martinsville. His cars have been strong, but back-to-back 37th-place finishes at California and Las Vegas knifed the start of his season.
2. Brad Keselowski – Thanks to his bumpups with Carl Edwards, Brad the K has been all over the news. He is not all over the top levels of the standings, however. After four sour finishes to open the season, he rebounded with 13th- and 12th-place runs at Bristol and Martinsville to move from 33rd in points to 27th. Still, a long way to go.
3. David Reutimann – Reutimann showed enough spark last season to be considered a legitimate Chase threat this year. Those thoughts were juiced as the season opened when he finished fifth in the Daytona 500. Reutimann’s last three races have yielded finishes of 40th, 38th and 28th, however, and he has fallen to 24th in points.
4. David Ragan – Now in his fourth full season at Roush Fenway, Ragan, in many observers’ estimations, is in a must-perform year. The early weeks haven’t been inspiring. His best finish is a 16th (twice), and he’s a deep 28th in points.
5. Sam Hornish Jr. – The former IndyCar champion showed signs of “getting it” in his second full season with Roger Penske’s stock car operation last year, but the early weeks of this season have been difficult. He’s 30th in points with no top 10s to date.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.