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. Martin Truex Jr.: We’ve mentioned this before in Power Rankings, but it’s worth bringing up again now that the playoffs are here: it may be more important for Truex to win races and stages to prevent other people from getting playoff points than it is for Truex to accumulate them himself.
With every stage and race victory Truex nets, he prevents another driver from doing the same. With an already massive playoff point tally (58) and a berth to the second round, Truex is already in great shape to get to the final round of the playoffs. He can make it harder for everyone else — especially in the third round — if he keeps vacuuming them up.
2. Kevin Harvick: It sure felt like Kevin Harvick was a man who just wanted to get to the finish line with his car in one piece on Sunday. Harvick’s made a habit of making the first round dramatic in recent years. And let’s be real, Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t shown the outright speed to make up for poor finishes in 2017.
Harvick was third on Sunday, so perhaps the team is going to be a threat at the front of the field every week. But if you thought Harvick was one of the two or three favorites to win a race in the first round before Sunday’s race, you’re a die-hard No. 4 fan.
3. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin led one measly lap and didn’t have the blazing speed that Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. had. But he wasn’t far behind — or simply didn’t have the clean air they did. Hamlin was a mainstay in the top five and finished fourth.
4. Kyle Busch: It’s ironic when a team swaps pit crews to help its pit crew performance and the new pit crew makes two massive mistakes, right?
After he dominated the first stage, Busch had to pit at the beginning of the second stage because he thought he had a loose wheel. As he came down for that problem to be fixed, his gas man had his feet in the pit stall while he wasn’t holding a gas gan. That was a penalty for being over the wall too soon and Busch had to come down pit road under green a second time.
He got one of his two laps back and ended up finishing 15th.
5. Kyle Larson: Larson get the honor of being the fastest Chevrolet among Chevrolets who weren’t penalized after the race. Larson finished fifth.
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6. Chase Elliott: Hey, here’s the guy who had the fastest Chevy but ended up getting docked 15 points for unapproved aerodynamic adjustments his team made. Was it tape or something similar on the spoiler?
And if it was tape on the spoiler, what does it say about the aerodynamic sensitivity of the Cup Series cars that something seemingly so inconsequential could have such an impact?
7. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski started fifth and finished sixth and stayed in that neighborhood all day. He didn’t seem to have a car capable of challenging those that finished ahead of him, but at the same time, he was better than nine other playoff drivers.
8. Jamie McMurray: McMurray had quite the comeback after his spin, though it should be noted that the caution NASCAR threw for his harmless spin down the backstretch did wonders for the comeback. Because NASCAR threw the caution, McMurray was able to stay on the lead lap. Meanwhile, two screwups by Kyle Busch’s pit crew meant he was fighting for the final two-thirds of the race to get back on the lead lap.
9. Jimmie Johnson: Chad Knaus probably uses tape so awesome on Jimmie Johnson’s spoiler that you don’t even know it’s there. Invisible tape is the new wave of NASCAR spoiler tape.
Johnson finished eighth. And no, before you start looking for your sense of humor, we’re not accusing Johnson’s car of having illicit tape.
10. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth finished ninth, one spot behind Johnson. He’s also ninth in the points standings now. But we have him in 10th. Sorry Matt.
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11. Ryan Blaney: Blaney finished 11th, right behind McMurray.
12. Joey Logano: Logano gets the courtesy spot reserved for a driver not in the playoffs after he finished seventh on Sunday. Will he get a win in the playoffs? He’s by far the best bet of any non-playoff driver, though it may not be a good bet overall.
The Lucky Dog: Paul Menard’s 14th-place finish was his best since finishing third at Daytona in July.
The DNF: Erik Jones’ spin relegated him to 33rd, between Reed Sorenson and Jeffrey Earnhardt.
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