- Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR
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Each week of the Sprint Cup season, ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee ranks the top 20 drivers in the series. Don't agree with McGee's list? Let him -- and the rest of the world -- know in the conversation section at the bottom of the page. But remember, make your mama proud.
New this week
Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Jeff Burton, Aric Almirola
Juan Pablo Montoya goes from unranked to 17th.
Joey Logano falls three spots, from ninth to 12th.
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Nik Wallenda
1. Matt Kenseth
Mr. Stealth tried his best to downplay the psychological blow struck by finishing one spot ahead of Johnson after the 48 had seemed destined to win the race and take the points lead ...
2. Jimmie Johnson
... but to anyone who saw Johnson in the garage its effects were pretty obvious. Though it probably lasted about an hour and then he was already focused on Talladega.
3. Kevin Harvick
The biggest beneficiary of the final restart not named Brad Keselowski was this guy, who seized an opportunity to grab a top-six finish at the end of a night when his Chevy handled more like a John Deere.
4. Jeff Gordon
Finished just behind Harvick and held serve in the championship standings. Like Harvick, his title hopes pretty much hinge on Talladega. If he can make up a chunk of ground on the top two, hang on.
5. Kyle Busch
I've never been in a driver feud. But if I was trying to make sure a guy wasn't going to wreck me out of a chance to win a championship, calling him "stupid enough to do something" isn't how I'd go about it.
6. Kurt Busch
Now 59 points behind Kenseth, his Cup hopes are essentially kaput. But he can totally win at Talladega.
7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
The former King of Talladega has just five top-10s over his last 17 starts there.
8. Greg Biffle
The Biff's boss, Jack Roush, was showing off his planes during Charlotte race weekend. He asked if I'd like to ride in one. Um ...
9. Carl Edwards
I have to be honest. Of all the guys in the Chase, seeing him sitting 10th in the standings is perhaps the biggest shock. I really thought he might be a serious title contender. Finished third at Talladega in May.
10. Brad Keselowski
If you think that the defending champ who isn't actually defending his championship didn't derive some pleasure from taking a win away from the Chasers, then you don't know Bad Brad.
11. Ryan Newman
Last week I grabbed a jug of milk from the fridge and took three big gulps before I realized it was totally rotten. It made me gag, heave, and hurl. That's how Newman feels whenever he gets to Talladega.
12. Joey Logano
Last week I wrote in this space that Logano could win at Charlotte. So, yeah, the McGee Curse is still alive and well. Average plate race finish this year: 31.3.
13. Clint Bowyer
Another week, another handful of points lost to Kenseth, another bit of assurance he can't win the Cup, another sigh of relief from the NASCAR brass.
14. Kasey Kahne
I'm always impressed when he races Charlotte on Saturday night and still hosts a charity 5K race Sunday morning. But not as impressed as I am with the orange shoes Marty Smith wore in that 5K.
15. Jamie McMurray
The highest-finishing-non-Chaser battle between Keselowski and Jamie Mac is a good one, separated by a mere two points. Don't laugh, 14th in points pays better than 15th.
16. Martin Truex Jr.
Dude looks like he's ready to get on with 2014, wherever that may be.
17. Juan Pablo Montoya
While researching a script for ESPN's NASCAR Countdown I realized that Richard Petty's first Cup start was in the 42 car in Columbia, S.C., and the current 42 driver is from Columbia, South America.
18. Marcos Ambrose
Looking for a cheap roster spot filler for your fantasy team? Ambrose wouldn't be bad. He's finished 19th or better in three out of his last four Talladega starts and was running well in May before "The Big One."
19. Paul Menard
Did you remember that Menard finished second to Tony Stewart at Talladega in 2008? Yeah, me neither.
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
On the bright side, he's finished 19th or better in eight of his last 10 starts. On the dark side, after starting the summer ranked 15th in points, he's slowly slid all the way down to 22nd.