NASCAR Power Rankings: Kyle Busch hangs on at No. 1 despite losing points lead

Yahoo Sports

Can you believe the Cup Series season is now 33 percent of the way complete? We can’t.

1. Kyle Busch

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Busch lost his top-10 streak and the points lead in one fell swoop on Saturday night. He was in position for his 12th top-10 finish in the first 12 races of 2019 until a four-wide move in the race’s final 40 laps resulted in a cut left-rear tire. The team then didn’t get the fender cleared from the new tire and Busch had to come to pit road again.

He ended up finishing 30th, one spot below where Morgan Shepherd finished in the 12th race of the 1990 season to snap his 11-race top-10 streak.

2. Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is now tied with Busch for the series lead in victories with three. Both drivers have two wins apiece on intermediate tracks and one win each on a short track, assuming that you think Phoenix (where Busch won) is a short track.

Keselowski hasn’t had the consistency that Busch has shown this season, however. He’s just fifth in the points standings despite winning 25 percent of the season’s races. With 14 races to go before the playoffs, the No. 2 team is in a race to accumulate as many playoff points as possible while also doing what it can to be as ready for the playoffs as possible.

“We're trying to figure out where we want to be,” crew chief Paul Wolfe said. “I mean, we were strong to start the season, but like I said earlier, you saw some teams that have really stepped up over the last few weeks and kind of figured out where they want to go in a direction, and I think we've got to continue to explore a little bit to maximize everything we can and put ourselves in a spot.

“Having three wins is nice, and that gives us that opportunity to continue to try some new things and see if we can find a direction that has a little more speed.”

3. Joey Logano

Logano finished 15th on Saturday yet takes over the points lead because of Busch’s misfortune. Logano found himself deep in the field far earlier than Busch did thanks to some left-rear damage. He ended up going a lap down and wound up as the first car one lap down when the checkered flag flew.

Despite losing the points lead, Busch still has the edge in average finish. Logano’s average finish is now at 8.9 while Busch’s is at 7.1.

Chase Elliott was fourth on Saturday night. (Getty Images)
Chase Elliott was fourth on Saturday night. (Getty Images)

4. Chase Elliott

Elliott was the first driver to seriously challenge Kevin Harvick for the race lead in the first two stages. He took the lead for 18 laps on Lap 145 and ended up winning the second stage.

Elliott stayed in contention over the final stage as well and wound up fourth. He led 45 laps at the track where he won at in the fall of 2018 and is helping show that Hendrick Motorsports is starting to creep back toward the other top three teams in the cup Series.

5. Kurt Busch

Busch started ninth, was fifth in stage one, seventh in stage two and then finished seventh. Yeah, he ran in the top 10 all evening.

“But overall, our car was real racy early,” Busch said. “So, thanks to my crew and the set up and everything that [crew chief] Matt McCall is doing, normally we get better as the race goes on. Today was not the case. We just kind of plateaued and stayed there and I think others got better grip at the end or maybe we didn’t quite get it exactly racy enough. Literally, I was just kind of stuck in one groove at the end.”

6. Kevin Harvick

The cause of Harvick’s unscheduled third-stage pit stop? A tear off that had gotten wrapped around the splitter.

Childers had a second tweet Saturday night that further explained how the tear off was wrapped around the front edge of the splitter and hurt the airflow underneath the car. But that tweet has since been deleted.

Once the team got the plastic off the car, Harvick wasn’t able to work his way back toward the top 10. He ended up finishing 13th despite leading a race-high 105 laps.

7. Martin Truex Jr.

Truex Jr.’s race didn’t go all that well. He started at the back of the field thanks to a pre-race inspection failure and then ran into Daniel Suarez as Suarez was heading toward pit road. The damage likely messed up the front of Truex’s car somewhat — after all, a tear off caused Harvick’s car to go to hell — and Truex wound up finishing 19th.

8. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin caused the first caution of the night with a spin thanks to a flat tire. He ended up finishing 16th.

Clint Bowyer (14) ended up finishing ahead of teammate Kevin Harvick. (AP)
Clint Bowyer (14) ended up finishing ahead of teammate Kevin Harvick. (AP)

9. Clint Bowyer

Bowyer was fifth and could have finished as high as second if he decided to turn Erik Jones after Jones blocked him on the race’s final restart.

Not turning Jones was the right decision. Bowyer wasn’t going to catch race leader Keselowski and the block happened on the final lap anyway. If Jones went spinning, the caution flag would have flown and the race would be over.

It’s not worth crashing someone for second or third place at this point of the season. Maybe in the playoffs. But not right now.

10. Alex Bowman

Bowman has finished second in the last three races. Is this going to be the peak of his season or is it a sign of race wins to come? It’s hard to bet on the latter simply because Saturday night’s race was the closest Bowman has come to actually winning. He led 63 laps and dirty air from a lapped car helped him lose the lead late in the race to Keselowski.

If Bowman keeps putting himself in winning positions, then dreams of a victory get more realistic.

“We had a really good car, I just made bad decisions going through lap traffic on lane choice,” Bowman said. “They stayed where I needed to run. I should have gone high and I shouldn’t have picked the middle like I did. I just had to lift and let the 2 and the 20 drive right around me. I’m pretty frustrated with myself. There was no way around that, that was a bad mistake on my part.”

11. Erik Jones

Jones thought he should be the race leader when NASCAR threw a quick caution for a tire sitting in the infield during a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 219.

He had exited pit road ahead of the leaders but was scored one lap down at the time. He got the wave-around because he had pitted before the caution flag flew, but ended up starting eighth in line on the restart alongside Harvick, who was a lap down, ahead of cars that finished two laps down and also ahead of the other cars on the lead lap.

The scoring was a mess during that caution flag. NASCAR took 10 laps to figure it out. And NASCAR didn’t get it right. Jones was in the wrong spot.

NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell did admit Monday morning that race control was too quick with the caution for the tire and should have waited until green-flag stops had cycled through. That would have saved NASCAR some serious scoring headache.

Anyway, Jones finished third. He was the only Toyota driver who got a top-15 finish.

12. Daniel Suarez

Suarez finished 14th on Saturday night. He gets the final spot because he finished 14th after that large bump from Truex that almost caused him to crash.

Lucky Dog: Chris Buescher finished 10th.

The DNF: Matt DiBenedetto blew an engine late and ended up being the only driver who failed to finish the race.

Dropped Out: Ryan Blaney

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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