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. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): Busch didn’t lead any laps on Sunday but he finished 13th and didn’t do anything that makes us feel he has to vacate the top spot.
He probably would have finished higher than 13th had he not sustained some damage in the massive lap 166 wreck that took out a bunch of good cars.
“Once we got in that wreck, it was over, but we had a decent car up until then,” Busch said. “We got the car handling better all day long and every adjustment we made to it was an improvement and gave us more on the race track, but we just lack speedway speed.”
Busch wasn’t bullish on his chances of a Talladega win because of his recent history at the track. Though to be fair, his recent history isn’t as bad as his past history. Busch has finished in the top five three times in the past 10 races. Contrast that with finishes of 41st, 33rd, 32nd, 11th, 37th and 36th in his first six races before … he won in his seventh start.
2. Joey Logano (LW: 4): Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski are two of the best plate racers in the series. That’s obviously impacted by the strength of their equipment but they know what to do with those good cars. Logano and Keselowski rarely make the wrong moves.
Logano led the final 42 laps of Sunday’s race on the way to the win. Since Davey Allison led the final 72 laps at Talladega in 1992, a driver has only led more than 40 consecutive laps at the end of a race twice. And it’s been the same driver. Logano led 45-straight laps at the end of fall 2016 race at Talladega.
“There’s no, oh, my gosh, I’m winning the race, you’re confident you’re going to hold them all off,” Logano said about being in the lead in the late laps at Talladega. “You’re in the moment, living in that moment, just trying to listen to everything.”
“It’s like an ultra-focus you got to have. You’re trying to listen to your spotter, every little thing that he says. You’re staring in the mirror looking at what the car behind you looks like they’re doing and the car behind him looks like they’re trying to do, where they’re trying to figure these runs coming out.”
3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick started first and finished fourth, the first time he’s finished in the top five at the track for Stewart-Haas Racing.
There’s the unpredictability of restrictor plate racing for you. Harvick and the No. 4 team have been the best in the series since starting in 2014 yet they hadn’t had much success at Talladega. Sure, Harvick has run in the top 10 at times, but he’s also been caught in crashes with good cars.
He wasn’t in a crash on Sunday and thought he’d have a chance at the win. But his teammate Kurt Busch made a move earlier than Harvick did as the two trailed Logano and it didn’t work out.
“[Busch] pulled out sooner than I thought he would there and we wound up getting hung out,” Harvick said. “All in all it was a really good day. I am happy to finish the race. It is a good day for the guys. We can tweak on one finally rather than having to rebuild one.”
4. Chase Elliott (LW: 11): Elliott was third, his second-straight top-three finish. Maybe things are turning around for Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports and the team is putting together good runs that don’t involve penalties.
Elliott was also alone in a Ford brigade at the front of the field. That meant he was pretty much forced to either play along with whatever the Ford drivers around him did or go for the lead by himself. And we all know that’s not a good strategy at Talladega.
“Last few laps was really trying to make a run and do something there at the end,” Elliott said. “Those guys were being awfully patient with one another. I was very surprised. I mean, it was more than obvious that they were not going to help me move forward.”
5. Denny Hamlin (LW: 7): Stop speeding on pit road, Hamlin. The Cup Series’ most prolific pit-road speeder did it twice on Sunday. First on a regular pit stop and then while serving his penalty via a pass-through on pit road. The second speeding penalty meant Hamlin had to serve a stop-and-go on pit road.
He still finished 14th.
6. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 6): Johnson got loose and triggered the massive crash on lap 166. But he escaped without too much damage and still finished 12th.
Much like Busch, Johnson could have finished higher, but the damage he did sustain to his car dragged his result down.
“Unfortunately, when I was sliding [Ryan Blaney] hit us and bent something in the rear end,” Johnson said. It wasn’t the same after. There really isn’t much [cosmetic] damage and he hit me pretty hard on the other wheel and it was just super draggy and slow that last restart. Something is bent in the rear end and very loose.”
7. Kurt Busch (LW: 12): As you saw with Harvick’s quote above, Busch was up front with Harvick chasing Logano late in the race. It worked out a little better for Busch than it did for Harvick as Kurt Busch ended up finishing second. His only restrictor plate points win in NASCAR continues to be the 2017 Daytona 500.
“I wanted to stay with Harvick, my teammate, and navigate around [Logano] but everyone behind kind of broke off and was racing too hard and nobody got that big head of steam to try to push through and break apart [Logano’s] lead.”
8. Ryan Blaney (LW: 10): Now we get into the fun of guys who got into wrecks on Sunday and had trouble finishing the race. Blaney still ended up in the top 20 with an 18th-place run. It gets worse below him.
9. Clint Bowyer (LW: 5): Bowyer finished 31st after his Haas Demo Day Ford was … demolished in the wreck that started when Johnson got sideways. We are so sorry.
“[The crash] was just kind of par for our day,” Bowyer said. “It started when we locked the right-rear wheel up somehow coming to the pits and flat spotted that and had to come back in. We finally got two laps back, I got one lap back and then finally got on the lead lap and then we wrecked. Par for the course.”
10. Kyle Larson (LW: 4): Larson crashed on the lap 72 backstretch crash when Erik Jones hit Jamie McMurray. If you’re someone who thought the race at Talladega was relatively boring, Larson is there along with you.
“I didn’t really ever feel like we got to race we were just single file and it was kind of boring,” Larson said. “I was ready to start racing get two and three wide it would have been fun but ended up getting in a crash.”
11. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 8): Truex was in that crash with Larson too. He’ll get a restrictor plate win and a short track win with Furniture Row Racing soon enough. Guessing which will come first would be a good bet to have with a fellow NASCAR fan.
12. Brad Keselowski (LW: 9): Keselowski was in the crash started by Johnson. Here’s a great sentence to end on when discussing a crash happening at Talladega.
“There was just a wreck in front of me and I couldn’t make any sense really of what happened and we just got into it,” Keselowski said.
Lucky Dog: David Ragan finished sixth.
The DNF: Trevor Bayne’s last best chance for a win before Matt Kenseth starts to share his car was on Sunday. Bayne was in the lap 72 crash. Welp.
Dropped Out: No one
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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