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 email@example.com and we’ll try to have some fun.
1. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): The Truex Jr. playoff point train churns on. After winning the first stage Sunday at New Hampshire, Truex has 29 guaranteed playoff points to use when the playoffs begin in September.
And he also gained another five provisional playoff points with Kyle Larson’s inspection penalty last week. The regular season champion gets 15 playoff points, and the penalty moved Truex into first in the standings ahead of Larson. That means that Truex is sitting on a possible 44 playoff points with seven races to go before the postseason. Can he get to 50?
Truex finished third on Sunday.
2. Kyle Larson (LW: 2): If Larson’s team is blatantly pushing things in the inspection process, it may not be a terrible strategy. Wouldn’t you want to deal with a points penalty and find out where the line is when it comes to certain mechanical and engineering tweaks in the regular season than in the postseason?
But at the same time, the No. 42 team can be inviting extra scrutiny on themselves by failing inspection so often. If you count being unable to get through pre-qualifying inspection at Kentucky as a failure, that’s three inspection failures in eight days. That’s probably a little overboard.
“I think with how fast we’ve been running and all that, NASCAR has kept a closer eye on our team in particular,” Larson said after finishing second on Sunday. “What was going on with the shark fin [after qualifying on Friday] wasn’t anything different really than the other teams tinker with, just trying to maximize their aero performance in their cars. We just got in trouble for it, so had to go to the back.
“Obviously I don’t think it really affected us, which is a good thing, because the little stuff that we got in trouble for so far hasn’t seemed to affect the performance. Just got to keep working hard on the areas of our race car that are legal and find some more speed that way.”
3. Denny Hamlin (LW: 9): Hamlin makes a six-spot jump in Power Rankings because of his win.
While it’s pretty indisputable that Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t had the speed relative to the rest of the field in 2017 that it’s had over the past two seasons, it’s not like the team has been in a massive slump. Three of its four drivers are in the top 11 in the points standings and Hamlin and Kyle Busch are both in the top five.
All things considered, wasn’t JGR due for a bit of regression after winning 33 percent of the races over the past two seasons? And anyway, Jimmie Johnson’s 2016 is perfect proof that your summer speed isn’t indicative of your playoff performance. Just ask Hamlin, who entered the 2016 playoffs on an incredible run of top-10 finishes.
4. Kevin Harvick (LW: 5): Harvick finished fifth and said it was a great weekend and his team did a great job. But he also remarked, “We know we need to come back with more speed for the playoffs.”
That’s a fair assessment. Toyota teams led 290 of 301 laps and clearly had an advantage over the rest of the field.
5. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): Busch should have been the Joe Gibbs Racing car that won on Sunday. Instead, he sped on pit road during his final two pit stops and finished 12th.
The two speeding penalties conveniently fit the narrative that Busch hasn’t been able to close out races this season. While it’s true that he’s winless, saying Busch has had a hard time closing the deal this season is a bit of a stretch. And it’s an argument that will disappear entirely if Busch gets a third-straight win at Indianapolis on Sunday.
6. Chase Elliott (LW: 4): Elliott finished a spot ahead of Busch in 11th. Because Hamlin won the race, he fell to sixth in the points standings.
Compared to a year ago, 11th is a pretty damn good finish. At this time last year, Elliott was in the midst of a summer swoon that dropped him from sixth to 13th in the points standings.
7. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7): While Matt Kenseth is clearly a beneficiary of Joey Logano’s New Hampshire misfortune, Bowyer is right there with him. Bowyer finished seventh and is two points ahead of Kenseth, who occupies the final spot in the playoffs on points. Logano, meanwhile, is now 54 points behind Bowyer.
8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 8): Johnson officially started Sunday’s race in second but was the first driver to take the green flag.
Yeah, that was a penalty. Johnson had to serve a pass-through penalty for jumping the start of the race and finished 10th.
“I forgot all about that,” Johnson said of the rule. “I guess I just got it wrong at the start. I went off the flag and forgot that the pole sitter has to be the first one to the stripe; so I’ll take the responsibility on that one.”
9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: 6): Stenhouse Jr. finished 14th after some contact with Austin Dillon early in the race that caused Dillon to spin.
10. Brad Keselowski (LW: 12): Keselowski finished ninth after losing track position early because of a faulty jack on a pit stop. He called the finish “reasonable.” It was his third top-10 finish in eight races. In that span, he’s finished outside the top 30 four times.
11. Jamie McMurray (LW: 10): McMurray started fourth but finished 17th. He dropped 24 points to race-winner Denny Hamlin, which allowed Hamlin to jump him in the standings.
12. Matt Kenseth (LW: NR): Kenseth finished fourth after taking two tires on the final pit stops of the race. Had Kenseth taken four tires from the lead when the caution came out he might have won the race. But 12 other cars might have taken two tires as well. Because he was the leader during the final caution, Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff weren’t in an enviable position.
Lucky Dog: Daniel Suarez finished sixth and is now just 23 points behind fellow rookie Erik Jones.
The DNF: That goes to Jones, who was knocked out of the race after contact on pit road led to a flat tire.
Dropped Out: Ryan Blaney
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