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.
1. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 4): Truex now has three wins this season and two in the last three races. That’s good enough for the top spot this week, especially with the way his team won at Sonoma on Sunday.
Truex and Kevin Harvick were pretty evenly matched throughout the race but Truex got the upper hand when crew chief Cole Pearn bluffed Harvick’s team into pitting far earlier than Truex was going to. The decision meant Truex had far fresher tires than Harvick when he pitted and he ran down Harvick for the win.
“I think kind of as the first run went and [Harvick] started to make gains on us, it was clearly they were a little bit better,” Pearn said. “We continued to work on the car, too. I think really before we pitted the last time we were getting way more equal with them. We were starting where I thought we were actually gaining on them a little bit. But earlier in the race, we were like, hey, if this goes long, this might be an opportunity to do something different, and fortunately, it worked out.”
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): Harvick said after the race that he thought Truex would have still beaten him if it wasn’t for the pit stop strategery.
“It didn’t affect our day at all,” Harvick said. “I don’t think it would have been any different of an outcome.”
We’re not so sure. Had Harvick and Truex pitted at the same time they would have been racing heads up — and within car lengths of each other rather than in seconds. That changes the way you race.
Of course, Harvick could also be saying what he did as to not give Truex and his team a perceived advantage. Not wanting to show weakness against a guy who you’re probably going to be racing against (again) for the championship would be understandable.
3. Kyle Busch (LW: 2): Did you know Busch finished fifth? Sunday’s race was so much the Harvick and Truex show that it was easy to forget what the running order was past them.
Busch divided up the final stage into multiple stops like many other drivers did and ran on the periphery of the top five for most of the day.
“Fifth is okay,” Busch said. “For as bad as I thought we were going to be, we ended up a lot better than that.”
4. Clint Bowyer (LW: 3): Bowyer moved up 16 spots from 19th to third throughout the course of the race. His strategy was to pit when Harvick did, so he was caught in the same issue that Harvick was trapped in and unable to hold off Truex as he came charging past.
“But I saw him stay out when we pitted, and I was like, what’s that mean?” Bowyer said. “Where are we going to come out? And I kept looking, where is the 78? He just had such an advantage on tires there at the end, same advantage we did the time prior when we had tires.”
5. Kurt Busch (LW: 8): Busch made up the spots of anyone, gaining 17 from where he qualified to finish sixth.
“I feel like we did everything we could to just find the right rhythm and you never know when yellows will come out but we were in position,” Busch said. “We were a top-five car and couldn’t quite hold off my little brother at the end. We battled. This is one of my favorite tracks and I was hoping we could contend for a win. I was looking at fourth place pretty early because the 14, 4 and 78 all checked out.”
6. Chase Elliott (LW: 10): Elliott finished a road course career-best fourth, but Chevy’s win drought continues on. The manufacturer hasn’t won since Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500.
“I made a lot of gains, personally, I think, for me at this track,” Elliott said. “It’s been one of my worst. To come here and have pace on Friday and qualify good on Saturday, and to have pace today, it was just a lot more fun.”
7. Brad Keselowski (LW: 5): Keselowski finished 13th. He was one of the few drivers who scored stage points in both of the first two stages, so he probably knew his best bet was to be off-strategy from the top cars. That really didn’t work as there weren’t any cautions in the third stage of the race.
8. Joey Logano (LW: 6): Logano was 19th and only two cars behind him finished on the lead lap.
9. Aric Almirola (LW: 12): Almirola was eighth, the fourth of four Stewart-Haas Racing cars in the top 10.
“We are a top-10 car and this just goes to show me and all of our guys that we are a top-10 car everywhere,” Almirola said. “I have just run top-10 at my two career worst race tracks, Pocono and Sonoma. If we can do that, that is incredible.”
10. Kyle Larson (LW: 8): Larson started first and fell back through the field quite quickly. He ended up finishing 14th.
11. Denny Hamlin (LW: 11): Hamlin finished 10th. He won the second stage but the caution-free nature of the stage meant Hamlin didn’t have a chance to get anywhere close to the lead.
12. Ryan Blaney (LW: 9): Blaney was not cramping, despite what the Fox broadcast said. He ended up six laps down in 34th.
The Lucky Dog: Alex Bowman finished ninth, his third top-10 finish in the last seven races.
The DNF: Either Jamie McMurray or AJ Allmendinger. Both started in the top five and completed just 33 laps because of mechanical issues.
Dropped Out: N/A
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Egyptian commentator dies of heart attack after team’s World Cup loss
• Bill Russell flips off Charles Barkley at NBA awards show
• James Harden named NBA MVP over LeBron, Anthony Davis
• Peru player temporarily paralyzed after collision in practice