NASCAR Power Rankings: Kyle Busch takes the top spot

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. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): Busch is winless so far in 2018. Big whoop. He has the points lead and has five top-10 finishes in the first six races of the season. The only race he finished outside the top 10 was the Daytona 500, where he had tire issues for the second-straight season.

Busch is also on a run of four-straight top-three finishes. If you believe in momentum, the Easter off weekend isn’t coming at a very good time for the No. 18 team. If Busch doesn’t win at Texas on April 8, we think he’ll get his first win of the season at Bristol on April 15.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): Truex started first on Monday and led just four laps before he was passed by Busch for the lead.

His car didn’t have early speed. Truex didn’t record a stage point in each of the first two stages on Sunday despite his great starting position. The team clearly found something over the last half of the race, however, and Truex worked his way back into the top five and finished fourth.

“It was really down for a while there,” Truex said. “We started off the race and we were pretty fast on the short runs. Just the long run was eating us up and I couldn’t keep the rear tires at all in the long run. We had to make some really big adjustments in Stage 2 and luckily we were able to drive back through the field. And the last two runs of the race, we were really strong.”

3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick finished fifth after his run-in with Denny Hamlin that caused much more damage for Hamlin than it did for Harvick. A working grille and radiator are necessary for a Cup car to function. A working rear bumper is much further down the list, hence why Harvick was able to get away from brake-checking Hamlin relatively unscathed.

4. Clint Bowyer (LW: 11): Bowyer gets to pick up seven spots after his win on Monday, a day that we keep calling “Sunday” before having to go back and delete thanks to our NASCAR pavlovian response to most races being on Sunday.

The snow was bizarre at Martinsville. It was entirely expected, however, as were the above-freezing temperatures on Sunday that helped lead to quick melting of that snow. That’s what made the decision to postpone the race to Monday early on Sunday morning a bit bizarre, at least on the surface.

Without getting into the myriad nuances that are needed to understand to put on a race, Martinsville has lights. The race could have been run at 6 or 7 p.m. Sunday after the snow had cleared. And while wet and sloppy parking lots at Martinsville (where paved parking is at a premium) were an obvious concern, those lots were not going to dry out overnight in time for people to attend on Monday. There wasn’t much upside to be gained there by moving the race to the next day.

There’s also the TV aspect too. A Sunday night race would have undoubtedly had more people watching than a Monday afternoon race. Sunday was the final Sunday of the year without a national broadcast of a baseball or football (or playoff basketball or hockey) game taking place.

5. Ryan Blaney (LW: 8): Blaney won the second stage of the race in a thrilling battle over Bowyer that also involved a train.

(via Fox Sports 1)
(via Fox Sports 1)

He finished third. And we can’t stop laughing about that GIF.

“I think the track tightened up a good bit there towards the end and we just got a little bit behind,” Blaney said. “Congrats to Clint for winning that race.  It was fun racing with him for a bit, but for us to come out of here and lead a bunch of laps, win a stage and run third here at Martinsville, where I usually run terrible, that says a lot about this team and the preparation that they did getting ready for this race.”

For what it’s worth, Blaney was eighth in the fall at Martinsville and has four top-20 finishes in his five starts at the track. So he hasn’t been all that terrible.

6. Joey Logano (LW: 6): Logano was sixth, continuing what’s perhaps the most quiet good season in the Cup Series. He’s one of three drivers with five top-10 finishes in the first six races and is fourth in the points standings. Oddly enough, he’s starting and finishing races in pretty much the same position too. Logano’s average starting position is 7.5 and his average finishing position is 7.8.

7. Denny Hamlin (LW: 4): Hamlin was 12th after he had to pit because of the damage from the contact with Harvick. At least he didn’t have a pit road mistake this week? Outside of pit road, Hamlin has been remarkably consistent this year. He may not have the speed that others do, but he’s been a fixture in the top 10.

8. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7): Keselowski was the third of three Penske cars with his 10th-place finish. Stewart-Haas Racing has two drivers with wins, but Team Penske has three drivers in the top five of the points standings. That’s pretty impressive.

9. Kyle Larson (LW: 5): Larson was a nonfactor throughout much of the day and finished 16th. He didn’t even score any stage points either. We’ll be very surprised if Larson is that irrelevant at Texas.

10. Chase Elliott (LW: 10): Elliott was ninth, a gain of 12 spots from where he started. It’s typically hard for drivers to move up through the field at races where the field is set by owner points because the good teams are all up at the front. But at the same time, Elliott’s been better than a 21st-place driver throughout the season. He was just back there because of his team’s post-Phoenix penalty.

11. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 12): Johnson, one of the best drivers in Martinsville history, finished 10th in each of the first two stages and then his car faded down the stretch. He was 15th.

12. Erik Jones (LW: 9): Jones was 17th on Monday and finished three laps down. We really debated putting Alex Bowman or Aric Almirola in this spot but decided to give Jones the final place in the rankings because Bowman’s first top-10 finish of the season happened at Martinsville and Almirola finished just three spots ahead of him.

Lucky Dog: AJ Allmendinger finished eighth after starting 25th. It seems pretty safe to assume that Martinsville is Allmendinger’s best non-road course track in the Cup Series.

The DNF: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was flat awful on Sunday in a backup car after he crashed his primary car in practice. He finished 19 laps down in 37th.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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