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. Kurt Busch: Not only was Busch’s sublime pass of Kyle Larson for the lead great, his performance over the final 30 laps of the race was made even better by the broken rear-view mirror he had in his car. As the mirror dangled from the rook of his car, Busch was unable to see behind him.
It does stand to reason that the conservative nature of the final 20 laps of the race is probably why Busch was able to win the Daytona 500 with a broken mirror. If drivers had been more aggressive late in the race, it’s easy to see how Busch would be at a major disadvantage. But with no runs to defend — even with the help of a spotter — Busch was in position to win.
“I thought of the times I raced my dwarf car with my dad as my owner and crew chief,” Busch said after the race. “I watched that little dwarf car without a mirror. You go off intuition, off momentum, off sound of other cars. I envisioned a track that the top groove was the primary groove when I was growing up at a kid. I said, I just got to stay up high, take advantage of other people’s mistakes, and I have to leave two to three feet to the right side of my car to try to absorb guys from the left side, and make my car as wide as I could.
“Just going off of feel. Everybody kept making moves. I knew that I was sticking to the top side. I couldn’t believe it all worked out.”
2. Joey Logano: Busch didn’t have to defend anything on the low side of the track for the final 10 laps of the race because Logano and quasi-teammate Ryan Blaney couldn’t get anyone to go with them on the bottom side of the track.
Watching from the press box, we were convinced Logano would be able to work his way to the front of the field over the final six laps of the race. But at a track like Daytona, that’s impossible without any help. And the two drivers simply didn’t get any assistance. Whatever ground Logano could make via the side draft in the corners was given away as cars were nose-to-tail on the straightaways.
But Logano kept trying and kept trying. He finished sixth with one of the best cars on the track.
3. Ryan Blaney: Blaney ended up second because of an insane run he got on the final lap.
As Logano tried to work the bottom of the track, Blaney would serve as his wingman, getting a run from the high side and diving low behind Logano in the corners to give the No. 22 a push. While that tactic ended up being futile, it probably helped Blaney capitalize on the opportunity he had on the final lap. Blaney dove to the bottom side of the track and had a monster run through turns 1 and 2 as Busch passed Larson.
Blaney kept the run going by sucking up to Larson’s car as it slowed due to a lack of fuel and got to within a few car lengths of Busch. If he had some help down the backstretch, who knows what could have happened before the checkered flag.
4. Kevin Harvick: Until he got caught up in a crash along with his three other Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, Harvick was one of the best on the track. He ran up front for most of the day and is fourth in the points standings despite finishing 22nd. Think of segment points as a practical version of power rankings.
5. Chase Elliott: Elliott was a sitting duck. It was obvious from the Duel races (and the Clash) that the driver in the lead near the end of the race was at a massive disadvantage. Maybe he can take solace in the fact that he ran out of gas? It’s worse to run out of fuel leading the Daytona 500 than to get passed for the lead with three laps to go, right?
6. Kyle Larson: Larson was one of the race’s most impressive drivers over the final five laps. His sprint car background was evident as he picked cars off to make his way to the front. His pass of Kurt Busch to move from fourth to third late in the race was a thing of beauty. Larson got a run, hopped out of line and jumped back in line right in front of Busch.
7. AJ Allmedinger: Will the Daytona 500 be Allmendinger’s best finish of the season? We’re not trying to douse any hopes of a good year for the No. 47 team, but Allmendinger has 10 top-five finishes in parts of 12 seasons. And he’s finished higher than third just three times. If this is his only top-five of the year, at least it came in the Daytona 500.
8. Martin Truex Jr.: Damn, Truex made his move a lap too early. Truex dispatched of Chase Elliott pretty easily, but was then a big bullseye for Kyle Larson, who took care of him. But, like Elliott and Larson, Truex had fuel problems too and finished 13th. Again, it’s better to get passed than run out of fuel while leading, right?
9. Brad Keselowski: Like Harvick, Keselowski gets a bump from the way he performed before getting crashed out. Keselowski scored 31 points thanks to NASCAR’s stage format, more than Kasey Kahne, who finished seventh, and one fewer point than Paul Menard, who finished fifth. Mind you, Keselowski finished 27th and ended the race 57 laps down.
10. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin finished 17th and scored two more points than Keselowski and four fewer than fourth-place Aric Almirola. Our favorite scanner moment of the race might have been Hamlin’s radio after Joey Gase crashed on the backstretch and Brendan Gaughan went spinning. Their issue — which came right after the big crash on the backstretch — prompted Hamlin to let out an exasperated “oh my gosh” on the radio. It was a great encapsulation of how a lot of fans watching the race undoubtedly felt.
11. Kasey Kahne: Kahne felt like a sleeper candidate for the win at the end of the race. He was up in the lead pack and, had a couple things gone his way, could have been a contender for the win. Instead, he finished seventh.
Kahne also led seven laps, which is seven more laps than he led in 2016. Progress!
12. Aric Almirola: The fourth-place finish Almirola scored is the first tip-five he’s had since Dover in October 2015 and his best finish since finishing fourth at Richmond a few races earlier that season. Almirola was 17th in 2015, so maybe he can crack the top 20 this year. If he doesn’t, well, he at least has some well-needed optimism to start 2017.
The Lucky Dog: Despite spinning, Brendan Gaughan was 11th despite running for a team that was doing the Daytona 500 as a one-off race. Not terrible.
The DNF: There are way too many to choose from.
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