NASCAR Power Rankings: Let's welcome Kurt Busch to the top 4

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1. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): Harvick keeps the top spot because he had the best finish of all the big three. He was 10th on Saturday night after not being a factor throughout, well, the entire race. When you’re off all evening and you finish 10th you’re living a very good racing life.

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2. Kyle Busch (LW: 2): Had Busch finished in the top 15 then he would have moved ahead of Harvick for the top spot in these rankings. His charge through the field after the early-race crash was remarkable. His car might have gotten a turbo boost from the lack of a rear fender because of the damage but it took an exceptional amount of skill to do what Busch did before his race went south late.

And it was pretty clear that Busch understood that too.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 3): Truex has every right to be upset with Busch for spinning off Busch’s bumper. But the incident shouldn’t be anything that carries over. There’s too much on the line. Neither driver benefits if a fender-banging rivalry emerges over the final 12 races of the season — even if it adds a ton of intrigue to the Busch-Harvick-Truex dominance of the season.

4. Kurt Busch (LW: 6): Busch was guaranteed into the playoffs before he won Saturday night. So the win is good for both confidence and playoff point purposes moreso than playoff qualification ones. Busch is now part of that group that can contend for the final spot at Homestead — assuming the three drivers ahead are locks — though it’s worth wondering how a title charge would go if Busch’s Stewart-Haas Racing future continues to be up in the air.

5. Chase Elliott (LW: 4): Elliott only gets bumped from fourth because of Busch’s win. He finished third on Saturday night and was near the front of the field for much of the race. He led 112 laps, one of three drivers who led over 100 laps during the 500-lap race.

6. Erik Jones (LW: 10): There was a moment late in the race when Jones was second that caused me to think he was going to win the race. He immediately lost a couple of spots but stabilized and ended up finishing fifth. For as much praise as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. deserves for his Bristol success, Jones is one of the guys who is sneaky good at the half-mile track.

7. Joey Logano (LW: 11): Logano’s fourth-place finish Saturday night was his first top-five finish since Kansas in May. That’s a span of 12 races. Kind of crazy, isn’t it? Maybe so many people were incredibly enthralled with the race because it featured three non-big three drivers leading over 100 laps and a combined eight laps led — all by Harvick — among those big three.

8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 9): Bowyer missed out on the most laps led by one. That’s not a big deal any longer as NASCAR has stopped awarding points to the driver who leads the most laps. Bowyer has been very good at Bristol lately as well. He could get his first win at the track next year.

9. Ryan Blaney (LW: 7): This guy has had the most early-race speed at Bristol in 2018. The spring race ended in a crash, so his seventh-place finish Saturday night is a vast improvement. But it still has to be considered a disappointment considering that Blaney led a race-high 121 laps. They all came in the first 199 laps.

10. Brad Keselowski (LW: 5): Keselowski has been good enough to qualify for the playoffs with two races to go in the regular season. But he and his team have just been off all season. The slide has been pronounced lately even as Keselowski has finished in the top three in two of the last six races. The other four results have been 32nd, 38th, 17th and 16th.

11. Kyle Larson (LW: NR): Larson won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race for his first Bristol win. That came on the heels of winning the pole for the Cup race. And he went on to finish second on Saturday night.

It’s fair to think he had the advantage over the final laps of the race given that his tires were 30 laps fresher than Kurt Busch’s. But once Busch got out to a healthy lead Larson was helpless to close.

12. Denny Hamlin (LW: 8): Hamlin suffered some damage to the nose of his car in the pileup after Busch spun. He ended up finishing 14th.

The Lucky Dog: Alex Bowman finished eighth to tighten his grip on the final playoff spot. If a driver not-named Austin Dillon outside the current top 15 of the points standings wins over the next two weeks, Bowman is out of the playoffs. If one doesn’t — and the odds are in Bowman’s favor — then he’s heading to the playoffs.

The DNF: Both AJ Allmendinger and Gray Gaulding were out after completing a single lap following Busch’s spin. This goes to Allmendinger because Gaulding, uh, was a little late to the party. Watch the yellow and black car.

(via NBC Sports Network)
(via NBC Sports Network)

Dropped Out: Aric Almirola

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