NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick is dominating

From The Marbles

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.

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1. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): This is pretty much a formality at this point. Harvick is the first driver in 21 years to win five of the first 12 races of the season. Harvick’s stretch is actually five wins in 11 races as his first win of the season came in the second race of 2018.

Harvick said after the race that trying to win as much as possible and lead as many laps as possible is “addicting.” He’s tied his career high in wins in a season already.

“Yeah, now it feels like a game,” Harvick said. “It really does, because of the fact that you want to see how many races you can win.  You want to see how many laps you can lead.  We know that we’re riding a momentum wave that is hard to come by, and you need to capitalize on it as many times as you can because it may never come again.  I’ve never had it in my career, and I’ve been doing this for 18 years.  These moments are not something that happens very often, and now you need to go put every detail into a car like you’re racing for a championship race at Homestead every week because it just has that special feel to it.

“It’s just a good time to be at [Stewart-Haas Racing].  They’re doing a great job of putting fast race cars on the track, but I think when you look at a night like tonight, it really shows the experience of the team because I feel like this is the kind of cars that we had in 2014 but we had a lot of parts failures.  We were all new.  We made a lot of mistakes and just didn’t really know how to deal with it like we do now, and it’s ‑‑ but yeah, it’s addicting.  Now it’s a game.”

2. Joey Logano (LW: 2): Logano had a top-10 car for most of the race but didn’t have the speed that Harvick, Ryan Blaney or Kyle Larson showed throughout much of the race. But Logano was there close to the win thanks to a late call to not pit during the second-to-last caution of the race.

When Martin Truex Jr. joked that Ford had an unfair advantage over the competition in 2018, Logano responded with a laugh and disputed the point.

How does it feel? Not as good as [Harvick], I can tell you that much,” Logano said in response to Truex’s question of how it feels to be driving the type of car that’s dominating in 2018. “Oh, man, I’m still chasing a car that’s way faster than me.  It used to be [Truex], now it’s [Harvick] at this point.  The good news is we’re closer than we were last year, so we are consistent, we’re knocking off top‑5s, top‑10s, getting stage points every time … Like you said, we’re consistent, we’re just consistently off the Stewart‑Haas cars right now.”

3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 10): As we said late Saturday night, Truex almost swiped a win. He got ahead of Logano when the two drivers restarted on the front row on the penultimate caution and had the top spot for the final restart of the race.

He had a lead of about a second with five laps to go but Harvick chased him down and passed him at the white flag. Like Logano, Truex had a top-10 car for most of the evening but wasn’t in the same area as the three cars that combined to lead 234 of the race’s 267 laps.

“I felt like I was pretty good all night in clean air,” Truex said. “Where I struggled the most was in traffic, and I felt like all night long I’d run down the car in front of me pretty quick and I’d get to him and I’d out and sit there and just ‑‑ I couldn’t run high, so I had a hard time passing guys.”

4. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): Busch finished 10th and was pretty much a non-factor — for him, anyway — throughout much of the race. Busch was eighth in the first stage, fourth in the second stage but faded in the final stretch.

5. Kurt Busch (LW: 5): Kurt Busch is being nothing but consistent yet again in 2018. Busch finished eighth on Saturday night and has crept up to fifth in the points standings, just three points out of third.

6. Denny Hamlin (LW: 6): Hamlin finished fifth on Sunday night after starting sixth. He was seventh in the first stage but fell out of the points in the second stage. Getting back to fifth was an accomplishment.

“I thought it was average,” Hamlin said. “It felt balanced on the short-run and I lost the balance there towards the middle and end of the race. We optimized our finish. I certainly don’t think we had a fifth-place car but we just did a good job with the track position there got a good finish out of it.”

7. Clint Bowyer (LW: 4): Bowyer falls three spots because he was caught in the massive crash started when William Byron got loose and slammed into the wall off turn 4. Byron collected Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and others.

Bowyer is still winless at his home track of Kansas Speedway.

“It was a solid run,” Bowyer said. “All weekend long it was just not our weekend. We had tech issues and didn’t get to qualify. We started in the back and got up through there pretty good, but then kind of stalled out. We got wrecked there. I was trying to get us up in the top five and got wrecked there.”

8. Kyle Larson (LW: 11): Larson had to have passed the most cars throughout the race and it’s probably not even close. He made up 21 spots in the first eight laps and then somehow battled back after contact with Ryan Blaney with just 19 laps to go.

The contact with Blaney damaged the left quarterpanel of Larson’s car but didn’t affect his ability to get back to the top five. Larson finished fourth but could end up with a points penalty after his rear windshield was bowed in after the race.

9. Aric Almirola (LW: NR): If Larson is penalized 20 points, Almirola moves into 10th in the points standings. No team has had four cars in the top 10 of the point standings through the first 12 races since NASCAR introduced the playoff format in 2004.

10. Ryan Blaney (LW: 9): Blaney ended up leading 54 laps though ends up just getting 19 points for his efforts after finishing 37th thanks to his crash. Blaney cut a left-front tire while trying to side-draft Kyle Larson as Larson passed him.

“If I didn’t side draft him and get some position on it he would have sucked me around into one, so I feel like that was my only option,” Blaney said. “Looking back on it now, it probably wasn’t my only option, but in the moment I thought it was.” 

11. Chase Elliott (LW: 7): Elliott finished 12th and was unhappy with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the end of the race after Stenhouse pulled up in front of him. Elliott would have been justified in punting Stenhouse, but he chose to have some discretion.

12. Brad Keselowski (LW: 12): Keselowski bounced back from two loose wheels to finish 14th and hang on to the final spot in our power rankings. Keselowski is actually fifth in the points standings, though he hasn’t finished in the top five since the fifth race of the season.

The Lucky Dog: Paul Menard finished sixth and offered up this quote.

“Yeah, it was just an uneventful race and a solid weekend,” Menard said. “We had good preparation with the car, good stops, good adjustments. It was kind of a boring weekend, which is good.”

The DNF: Ty Dillon finished last, earned just one point, and is now 30th in the points standings.

Dropped Out: Jimmie Johnson

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