A year ago, most of the attention at resurgent Richard Childress Racing focused on Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton.
Rookie teammate Clint Bowyer had a solid, if unspectacular, season while his veteran teammates qualified for NASCAR's season-ending Chase for the Nextel Cup championship.
Now, six races into the season, the 27- year-old from Kansas is right up front with his more experienced teammates.
Heading into next week's race at Texas Motor Speedway, Burton is second to series leader Jeff Gordon, Bowyer is seventh and Harvick is 10th.
Bowyer already has three top-10 finishes. Last season, he had four top fives, 11 top 10s and finished 17th in the final standings.
He gives Burton and Harvick a lot of the credit for his improvement.
"Teamwork is everything in this sport, and having two good teammates to bounce ideas off of and get information and contribute to that information when we can, that's a big thing," he explained. "You've got two totally opposite ends of the spectrum with Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick as far as feedback and, sometimes, you can learn what to do and what not to."
In the two Car of Tomorrow races, Bowyer finished eighth at Bristol and 11th at Martinsville. Still, he's ready to take a step back in time at Texas.
"I can't wait to get back to the normal car and what we're used to and not worrying about touching somebody with the (front) splitter, whether the splitter will fall off or if you hit the wall if the wing is going to be in the stands or anything else," he said. "It will be nice getting back to what we know."
Although Bowyer ran well with the new Chevrolet Impala, he wasn't happy with it.
"It doesn't have the stability, the comfort," Bowyer said. "When you pull under somebody, it doesn't have that feel of it's underneath of you and you can get to the gas and go ahead and throttle up underneath of him.
"You're basically being real ginger with it all by yourself, and, when you have to get door to door with somebody and stay off of them and stay off the wall and things like that, it makes it very hard and very difficult to race anybody."
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: Elliott Sadler has been in a couple NASCAR-oriented TV commercials this season, and he's enjoying the experience.
In fact, he can't help but laugh when he talks about an upcoming commercial which features Sadler, Jeff Gordon, Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"We were crying," Sadler said. "I mean, crying-laughing for a couple hours at a time trying to film it. It took all day to film it, because Kevin and I, we kept messing it up."
Filmed just last week, Sadler's latest commercial will air soon. It also spoofs the Virginian.
"You know, I don't mind being the fall guy or the idiot or the guy that gets the joke played on him in the commercials," he said. "That's who I am. I laugh. I can laugh at myself with the best of them."
JUAN TWO: Former Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya is doing just fine in his rookie year in NASCAR - and not just in Nextel Cup.
Heading into the open weekend for the Cup series, Montoya is second in the rookie standings, just one point behind David Ragan, who replaced longtime star Mark Martin at Roush Fenway Racing.
And Montoya leads the Busch Series rookie standings by six points over Australian driver Marcos Ambrose and 14 over Ragan. But he'll likely find himself behind when he next races at Texas because the Colombian is skipping today's stand-alone race in Nashville.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Four-time Cup champion Gordon has passed more cars in the first six races this season than any other driver on the circuit.
Gordon, who leads the Cup points, has 609 passes this season, 40 more than second-place Matt Kenseth.
The statistics show Gordon also makes his passes when they count. He's the second-best closer with 24 positions improved over the final 10 percent of the races. That's an average of four positions improved per race.