Power Rankings: Is Kyle Larson back at No. 1?

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 nickbromberg@yahoo.com and we’ll try to have some fun.

1. Brad Keselowski (LW: 1): Keselowski gets the edge over Kyle Larson for the top spot heading into the first off-weekend of the season because of his wins and top-10 finishes. Both drivers have five top fives but Keselowski has one more win and one more top-10 finish.

Keselowski finished sixth at Texas and had one of the fastest cars all weekend. But somewhat surprisingly he only led four laps and that was because of the way pit stops cycled through under green.

“We just kind of seemed stuck in that fifth or sixth place range for most of the race,” Keselowski said. “We were fighting a few things and got a little better there at the end and maybe had a little bit more in the tank there if there was a little bit of time left but we just ran out of laps.”

2. Kyle Larson (LW: 2): Larson finished second yet again. He took advantage of Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano’s inability to chase down Jimmie Johnson over the final laps of the race and snuck by both of them. Could Larson have challenged Johnson if he was able to pass Logano for second sooner?

“I needed to get by Joey with probably five laps to go or so,” Larson said. “I learned some stuff there in [turns] 3 and 4 that helped my car. I felt like I learned some things through 1 and 2 to stay low on exit and get position on him. Bummer that we didn’t get by Joey sooner, but we had to drive hard that last run to get to second.”

3. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 12): Are we to the point in Jimmie Johnson’s career where the seven-time champion is going to come through in situations where doubt is starting to creep into the minds of others?

Johnson entered the Chase in 2016 as an underdog and promptly won his way to the title. He began this season slow by his lofty standards and ended up winning at a basically new track where he had won six of the previous nine races. And not only does Johnson now have a win to get himself into the playoffs this year, he has a win at a track that will be in the third round of the playoffs.

Oh, and much like his championship-winning win at Homestead in 2016, Johnson started Sunday’s race at the back of the pack.

“I feel like at times when I start up front or we’ve had a dominant weekend, you’re kind of expected to perform, and you can try too hard easily in this sport,” Johnson said. “I don’t know, I feel like there might be ‑‑ I don’t know exactly, but maybe there is something, and kind of just being knocked down a notch, like okay, this is going to be a workingman’s day, we’re going to have to fight through a lot, stay calm, identify with 100 percent, because again, it’s very easy to step over that line and bust your butt, from a pit call being too aggressive, too aggressive on pit lane in the car, passing other cars like we did today. I had to be so patient, and in the end, the patience kind of paid off for me.”

4. Chase Elliott (LW: 3): Johnson said after the race that he figured someone like Elliott or Ryan Blaney would win on Sunday. Elliott might have had a better shot had he not wrecked his primary car in practice on Friday. But he got a chance to tune the backup on Saturday and finished ninth. While Elliott hasn’t had the gaudy statline that Larson has earned this season, he’s just 17 points behind Larson in the standings.

5. Joey Logano (LW: 4): Logano’s decision to stay out as late as possible on the next-to-last green flag run of the race almost paid off with a win. The move, which was questioned by the Fox booth as it happened, allowed Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon the opportunity to stay out on track when a caution for debris flew with 34 laps to go.

Fresh tires ultimately paid off as Johnson got past Logano for the lead, but it’s fair to wonder if Logano finishes lower than third without the pit strategy.

“That is Todd’s top-three there,” Logano said. “He did a good job giving us a shot to win. I tried to hold off the 48, he was just faster. There is nothing to say besides that. I was in the clean and had the clean air and he was still faster behind me … I needed a 15 lap run instead of a 30 lap run, or a couple cautions in three and we would be standing in victory lane with a 12th place car and that would have been something.”

6. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 5): Truex led 49 laps and finished eighth. He had a top-10 car for most of the race and was second in the first stage.

“The track was really, really difficult and the tires were definitely a challenge,” Truex said. “It seemed like every time we put a set on, the car was a little different. We weren’t good on restarts and short runs and we’d lose all our track position that took us so long to get. Overall, it was a decent day, but needed to be better on short runs for sure.”

7. Kevin Harvick (LW: 9): Harvick finished fourth and praised the work Texas did to get a second groove to come in during the race.

“I think the racing was better than it could have been,” Harvick said. “The track did a great job getting the race track ready. It could have been like it was all day Friday and were able to get that second groove coming in. I think we overachieved today. The only chance we had today was to have clean air. Our car was very sensitive to the track and two tires.”

8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 8): Bowyer was 11th and has six finishes inside the top 13 in seven races. He finished inside the top 13 just four times throughout the entire 2016 season and just 10 finishes inside the top 20. What a difference a season and a team change continues to make.

9. Kyle Busch (LW: 7): Busch finished 15th on Sunday after starting at the back because his car didn’t make it through inspection to qualify. Busch’s team repaired his car after he slid and the right rear of his car tapped the wall. But those repairs meant the car didn’t get inspected in time for qualifying.

10. Ryan Blaney (LW: 11): We’re excited to see if Blaney and the No. 21 team encounter a scenario like they did at Texas on Sunday. As we mentioned in Takeaways after the race, Blaney and the team played for the stage 2 win instead of pitting during a caution flag just before the end of the stage. While Blaney won the stage and got the bonus point for the playoffs, he started the third stage outside the top 10 and never sniffed the front again. While he won the first two stages of the race he ended up finishing 12th.

11. Jamie McMurray (LW: NR): After a bad call to stay out with a tire that was about to go flat at Martinsville, McMurray finished sixth at Texas.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: NR): Junior finished fifth and we should appease Junior Nation by having him in Power Rankings, right?

Lucky Dog:
Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 13th and 14th. That’s pretty good for Bayne considering he wrecked his primary car in practice on Saturday.

The DNF: Austin Dillon’s race was over before it began.

Dropped Out: Dillon, Ryan Newman

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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