Welcome back to Power Rankings for the 2019 Cup Series season. We’re never going to cut horsepower here.
1. Kyle Busch (LW: 4)
Kyle Busch is very aware that Sunday’s win at Phoenix could have been his 200th victory in NASCAR’s top three series and his second Cup Series win of the season.
He probably had the best car during last week’s race at Las Vegas but a pit road speeding penalty put him back in the pack. He had the best car at ISM Raceway on Sunday and didn’t speed. He chased down Ryan Blaney over the course of the final green flag run and drove away from the field.
Busch is next entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway. He’s 2-for-2 in Xfinity Series races so far in 2019 and is the only Cup star entered in the race. He’s the odds-on favorite for the win.
2. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3)
Hamlin’s car came to life over the course of the last 73 laps of the race. He drove from the backside of the top 10 all the way up into fifth.
“We just got set back by some track position stuff – a little bit in the pits again,” Hamlin said. “Just had a couple of bad restarts. We started 13th and drove up to fifth. Super fast Camry. We should have been right there where my teammates were. We just didn’t keep the track position quite as good as they did.”
Hamlin was also one of the drivers who noted the exceptional difficulty of passing on Sunday, calling the race “frustrating.”
“Trying to get track position when you have a fast car, you just can’t drive through the field,” Hamlin said. “You have to be patient and wait on everyone to kind of mess up or you’ve got try to run a different line, but when you do it’s just too much distance. Just the frustration of having a faster car and you can’t pass.”
3. Joey Logano (LW: 3)
While Hamlin had speed at the end of the race, Logano was mired in 10th. He posted the fastest 10-lap average in the final practice on Saturday but that didn’t translate to speed on Sunday. And guess what? Logano also talked about how hard it was to pass.
“It was really, really, really, really, really hard to pass,” Logano said. “You start to catch a car and you just stop. That big spoiler on the back just makes it really, really challenging to even get to the car in front of you to make something happen, so restarts became everything. If you can get through the first couple laps and settle out, you were fine. It’s just very challenging behind a car to even keep up to speed and then what happens is you get behind him and that makes the tires mad and you go slower.”
4. Kevin Harvick (LW: 5)
Harvick has been the most successful driver at Phoenix ever since the track was repaved and reconfigured in 2011. He, too, noted the passing difficulty. Given that so many top-level drivers talked about how hard it was to pass, it’s fair to wonder if NASCAR’s move to a larger spoiler is not working out (so far) like the series hoped it would. Drivers have left Atlanta, Las Vegas and now Phoenix noting how bad the dirty air from cars ahead is.
5. Brad Keselowski (LW 1)
Keselowski ended up getting a top-20 finish after having a tire problem in the first stage of the race. Thanks to that problem and a Daytona 500 that included a multitude of incidents, Keselowski is eighth in the points standings. But he’s got that Atlanta win.
6. Kurt Busch (LW: 6)
Busch’s start at Chip Ganassi Racing continues to be phenomenal. While he’s ninth in the standings he’s finished in the top 10 in each of the last three races. CGR is showing that it’s by far the fastest Chevrolet team so far. We’ll see if that continues.
7. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 8)
Truex finished second for the second time in three races. He really made up time on Kyle Busch over the final laps of the race but was so far behind when he started making up that ground that he was still 1.3 seconds behind Busch at the checkered flag. Busch was also needing to make sure he had enough gas to finish the race and had a healthy-enough advantage that he didn’t have to push as hard as Truex did.
8. Ryan Blaney (LW: NR)
Blaney led 94 laps after starting from the pole. He was the only driver not-named Kyle Busch who had a reasonable chance at winning. Alas, Team Penske didn’t get its third different driver to victory lane in three weeks as Blaney finished third following a two-tire pit stop on his final stop of the race.
“Actually, ours held on a lot better than what I thought it was going to, but then when it got to 30 to go or 25 to go I got kind of tight and I couldn’t hit [turns] three and four anymore, and then I ran up on lap traffic and it absolutely killed me,” Blaney said. “Once we got passed, we were kind of close on gas, so it was full fuel save mode when you know you’re not gonna win the race.”
9. Aric Almirola. (LW: 7)
Almirola was fourth and also has three top-10 finishes in the first four races.
“We keep chipping away,” Almirola said. “That’s three top 10s in a row, our first top 5 of the year, so we’re getting there. Our cars are getting a little better, but we just have to keep working and keep finding more speed. We have a great race team and we’ll continue to improve on what we’ve got, so we’ll just keep working.”
10. Kyle Larson (LW: 9)
Larson finished sixth after starting 31st. No other driver in the top 10 started outside the top 16. Larson made up that track position by going as far as he could to the outside on restarts.
“You had to take advantage of the restarts for sure. I felt like I did a good job of that today going to the very top when I was in the outside lane and passing four or five guys at times,” Larson said.
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 12)
Bowyer finished 11th, so he moves up ahead of Stenhouse Jr., who finished 13th.
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: 11)
Stenhouse is still ahead of Bowyer in the points, however. He’s 10th and should be decently fast at California if Atlanta and Las Vegas are any indication.
The Lucky Dog: Ryan Newman finished 12th, his best finish of the season. With three finishes inside the top 14, Newman is once again on pace to be one of those guys consistently on the periphery of the top 15 every week.
The DNF: After getting taken down by Daniel Suarez in a fight during qualifying on Friday, Michael McDowell crashed out of the race and finished last on Sunday.
“I just came off the corner and I noticed that the throttle pedal was gone,” McDowell said. ”I knew I was in trouble at that point because it was still wide-open, so I tried hitting the ignition and jumping on the brakes and did everything I could to keep it up against the wall and try not to make a big mess.”
Dropped out: Erik Jones
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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