Welcome to Power Rankings. As always, Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it’s the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. Direct all your complaints to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to have some fun.
1. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): Cole Pearn is the smartest crew chief in the Cup Series garage when it comes to stage-racing strategy.
Pearn had everyone playing catch-up during Sunday’s race and was guiding Truex to his fifth win of the season before late cautions stunted the team’s strategy.
After chasing Brad Keselowski during the first stage and the first half of the second, Truex pitted early. The early stop meant Truex got track position and inherited the lead after Keselowski pitted. The move won Truex the stage and forced the No. 2 car to change its strategy the rest of the race.
The late pass by Kyle Larson for the win does nothing to change the fact that Truex and Pearn are the best driver-crew chief tandem in NASCAR. And totally deserving of the top spot.
“There was no debris on the race track that I saw when that first one came out and cautions breed cautions at the end of these things,” Truex said. “We were on cruise control until that last one and then the red flag is really what hurt us. If we had stayed under yellow we would have been fine just everything got cold and I just couldn’t get enough heat in my tires.”
2. Kyle Larson (LW: 6): Larson had considerably fresher tires than Truex for the final restart. And while Pearn previously discounted the impact of fresh tires in an NBC interview, it’s undeniable that Larson had an advantage over the final two laps.
But Larson’s move on the restart wasn’t a product of fresh tires. Had he been solely powered by increased grip, Larson would have powered past Truex off the exit of turn 2 and down the backstretch on the penultimate lap.
Instead, Larson’s move was mostly talent. He was inside of Truex as the two headed into turn 1 and pulled through in the middle of the corner. Did tires help him do that? Absolutely. But they didn’t play a huge role in Larson getting alongside Truex to execute the move in the first place.
3. Kyle Busch (LW: 2): Busch goes for another Bristol triple this weekend. He’s racing in the Truck Series on Wednesday, the Xfinity Series on Friday and, of course, the Cup Series race on Saturday.
Bristol hasn’t been kind to Busch lately. Yeah, he has five Cup wins at the track, but he’s crashed out of four of the last five Cup races there and his last win came in 2011.
Busch may get closer to Richard Petty’s 200 wins at some point this weekend — what a time to be alive — but counting on that to happen with a Cup win is a bit far-fetched at this point.
He finished 10th at Michigan.
4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3): Hamlin’s run of fourths fell by the wayside on Sunday by a factor of four. Hamlin finished 16th on Sunday as he was also on baby watch. Christopher Bell was on standby for Hamlin, whose girlfriend Jordan Fish is expecting their second child.
5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4): Harvick was cognizant of the popularity of Sunday’s race in Michigan and didn’t pass Michigan native Brad Keselowski for the win in the first stage. It was nice of him to put the sport’s popularity ahead of his own success.
He got a little too altruistic during the second and third stages of the race and didn’t come close to winning. He finished 13th, though he was still a spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Come on Kevin, if you’re going to let other people finish ahead of you, why not help Junior?
6. Brad Keselowski (LW: 5): Keselowski’s race went awry after Truex took the lead from him. The team tried to do the opposite of the No. 78 for the rest of the race and it didn’t work out. Keselowski’s final two pit stops involved two tires and he ended up finishing 17th after being trapped on the inside line on the final restarts.
7. Matt Kenseth (LW: 7): Kenseth holds serve here despite finishing 24th because he was third on the race’s final restart.
He had a tire issue over the course of the last two laps which caused his fall from grace. Had Kenseth not been dealing with the tire problem he could have finished in the top 10 at the very least.
8. Chase Elliott (LW: 11): Elliott’s streak of second-place finishes at Michigan is gone. After finishing second in his first three starts at the two-mile track, the driver of the No. 24 was eighth. His average finish drops from 2 to a despicable 3.5. What a fall.
9. Jamie McMurray (LW: NR): Since Elliott finished eighth and Kenseth and Clint Bowyer were outside the top 20, McMurray needed a good finish to buoy his points standing. He got it. McMurray finished ninth and is 52 points ahead of Bowyer, the first driver outside the playoffs. Maintaining the gap should be plenty good enough for McMurray.
10. Erik Jones (LW: NR): How fun would a Jones win have been for the playoffs? Jones would have kicked Matt Kenseth — the guy he’s replacing in 2018 — outside the playoffs with a win. And, had the final laps come down to a shootout between Jones and his teammate Truex, we think Furniture Row should have made the strong suggestion to let Jones have the win.
Look, NASCAR fans hate team orders. And it’s understandable. But Truex has so many playoff points that he simply has to stay afloat through the first nine races of the playoffs. Adding the team’s second driver to the playoffs is a far greater benefit than five more points to Truex’s already gaudy total.
Alas, neither driver won. Jones finished third.
11. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 12): Johnson finished 19th on Sunday. Is this setting up for another “where did he come from?” moment at Chicago for JJ? We’re not ruling it out.
12. Kasey Kahne (LW: 9): Kahne crashed with Daniel Suarez on Sunday in his first race as an official lame-duck driver. At least Kahne’s got the playoffs to look forward to.
The Lucky Dog: Chris Buescher finished sixth. Outside line, baby.
The DNF: Derrike Cope got a lot of TV time for blowing an engine and pulling off the track. That’s how you get your sponsors exposure.
Dropped out: Bowyer, Suarez
– – – – – – –