Welcome to the 2018 edition of our weekly NASCAR Power Rankings. Our continuing feature will attempt to rank and assess the moment’s top 12 drivers in the Cup Series. You’ll probably disagree with our rankings. And that’s fine. Give us your feedback either in the comments below or on Twitter.
1. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3): Harvick had one of the dominant cars throughout Sunday’s race. He led a race-high 49 laps and would probably have won the race if Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hadn’t spun to cause a caution after lap 129.
If Stenhouse spins on lap 132, Harvick probably has the lead. Alas, he didn’t. With rain halting the race officially on lap 133, Harvick had to settle for finishing second behind teammate Clint Bowyer.
Harvick had a couple chances to try to take the lead from Bowyer in the early laps of the third stage before Stenhouse’s spin. But Bowyer had just enough on his two fresh tires — and some clean air — to stay ahead of Harvick’s four fresh tires. And yes, Harvick said, he would have raced a driver that wasn’t his teammate the same way.
“I got fairly loose up underneath him there in [turns] three and four when we went down there on the backstretch,” Harvick said. “I drove it in there, he drove it in there, slid the back. He was able to get me sliding enough to where he was able to clear me.”
“Yeah, I don’t think it would have been ‑‑ I wouldn’t have raced anybody any different.”
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): Busch was the highest-finishing non-Ford in the race. He was fourth behind the three Stewart-Haas Racing cars that finished 1-2-3.
“We were the lone Toyota up there fighting with all the blue ovals, so, you know, they were super, super fast,” Busch said. “They go down the straightaways really quick and we had to struggle to be able to out run them there, but through the corners, we were really good, so [crew chief] Adam Stevens and myself and our team and our organization, we did our job, so all we can do is keep trying and keep getting better, keep trying to bring home a good fight and it doesn’t matter how sharp your knife is – you ain’t going to beat a gun fight.”
You could have gotten really good odds on Ford being the guns and Toyota being the knives in a duel before the beginning of the season.
3. Clint Bowyer (LW: NR): Bowyer won a race for the first time since 2012 with his March win at Martinsville and now has his first mult-win season since … 2012 with his win at Michigan on Sunday.
Bowyer seems firmly entrenched in the set of “good to very good” drivers in the Cup Series. He’s been a title threat before but isn’t someone who consistently is a championship contender. If you were ranking drivers in the Cup Series you may have Bowyer at the bottom of the top 10 but certainly no lower than 15th or so.
Where are we going with this? Bowyer is a capable driver on the best team in the series at the moment. It’s not going to be that much of a surprise if he’s one of the four drivers competing for the title at Homestead.
“It’s fun to be in elite company,” Bowyer said. He’s the fourth driver this season to record multiple wins. “It’s a confidence booster. We’re going into Sonoma. I don’t want to jinx myself, but it’s my favorite racetrack. I love that weekend. It’s a vacation for everybody involved. It’s a challenging racetrack. I’m good at it. I’m good at the place, you know what I mean?
“You always look forward to going to tracks you’re good at. We’ve gotten this confidence moment, wave going right now.”
4. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 2): Truex was just off all weekend at Michigan. Maybe it’s because Michael Waltrip fell into his car before the race.
That’s probably not it. Truex’s 18th-place finish came after he started 17th. So we’re going to take this time to say that Waltrip’s pre-race grid walk on Fox is an absolute embarrassment and we’re thankful there’s just one more Fox race left on the 2018 schedule.
We also had to take a moment and merge Waltrip’s fall into Truex’s car with the soon-to-be-iconic moment Fox captured during Saturday’s Xfinity Series race of crew chief Danny Stockman vaping.
5. Brad Keselowski (LW: 5): Keselowski finished sixth on Sunday, though that wasn’t the most interesting part of his weekend. Instead, it was his comment about the rules NASCAR used at the All-Star Race and his desire to keep the rules at the All-Star Race and only the All-Star Race.
“I think that package needs to remain solely at the All-Star race,” Keselowski said. “I think a lot of the drivers in this sport are in a position where they chose Cup racing because of the demands that the cars take to drive. I think there are a lot of fans that come to our races expecting to see the best drivers. I think if you put a package like this out there, like we had at the All-Star race on a consistent basis that the best drivers in the world will no longer go to NASCAR. They will pick a different sport. That won’t happen overnight. It would happen over time and be a tragedy to the sport. T
“They want to go where they can make the biggest different to their performance and there is no doubt that the driver makes less of a difference with that rules package. With respect to that, I am thankful that it improved the show and watchability for the All-Star race. Those are important things to do. But I think we should always be mindful of our responsibility as a sport to make sure the best drivers are able to showcase their talent. I am apprehensive that coming with a package like that on a larger scale for the sport will in time deteriorate the ability for the drivers to make a difference and they will look for other racing venues to achieve that.”
Keselowski’s comments harken back to the first few years of the elimination playoff format. NASCAR wanted randomness with the eliminations from 2014-16 and largely got them. But with the introduction of stage points and point carryover in rounds — which helped Martin Truex Jr. cruise to the final round thanks to his dominance during the regular season — NASCAR decided that randomness wasn’t the best way to determine a champion.
A rules package like we saw at the All-Star Race may have been entertaining. But it would increase the odds of randomness significantly.
6. Joey Logano (LW: 6): Another week, another top-10 finish for Logano, who was seventh on Sunday. It’s crazy how a guy with 12 top 10s in 15 races is nearly 100 points back of the points lead but welcome to 2018.
7. Kyle Larson (LW: 4): Larson falls three spots after his 28th-place finish following a spin. He had a fast car — he was second in the first stage — and had a great chance to work his way through the field and get back into the top 10 if the race went its full distance.
8. Kurt Busch (LW: 9): Busch started first and was the third of the three Stewart-Haas drivers finishing in the top three. It’s weird though to see people calling that a sweep. What did SHR sweep? There’s no podium in NASCAR. And Stewart-Haas Racing fields four cars. The fourth car (Aric Almirola) was not fourth. A baseball team that wins three of four games in a series doesn’t sweep the series.
Let’s move on.
9. Ryan Blaney (LW: 10): Blaney started ninth, finished eighth, won the first stage and finished sixth in the second stage. Blaney has some fast cars, but it’s fair to say that his race results aren’t matching the speed he’s shown.
10. Chase Elliott (LW: 11): Elliott’s race went haywire when he was forced to hit pit road for a flat tire as the field was about to go green for a one-lap shootout at the end of Stage 1. NASCAR’s refusal to open the pits during that caution — and their automatic closure of the pits with two laps to at the end of the stage — meant Elliott had to start Stage 2 at the back of the field while serving a penalty from his pit stop for the flat tire.
The situation is still confusing two days later, futher underscoring how much of a mess NASCAR created for itself in the rush to end Stage 1 under green.
11. Denny Hamlin (LW: 8): Hamlin finished 10th after he started at the back of the field with teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones for splitter infractions before the race.
12. Aric Almirola (LW: 12): Almirola was 11th on Sunday.
The Lucky Dog: Paul Menard finished fifth — his first top-five finish with the Wood Brothers.
The DNF: Brutal, brutal Cup debut for Garrett Smithley who only officially completed one lap because of a transmission problem.
Dropped Out: Jimmie Johnson