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. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): You’d expect a guy who has wins in two of three races this season to have a ridiculous points lead. But he doesn’t. That speaks to the hit Harvick took in the Daytona 500 with his early crash.
Anyway, let’s talk about how Harvick will probably be occupying this space in Power Rankings next week. He’s won five of the last nine races at Phoenix and hasn’t finished any lower than sixth in that stretch. It’s an insane run that will probably only be derailed if he has a mechanical issue or a pit road problem on Sunday.
Heck, he could have a pit road problem and be just fine. His team had issues with the NASCAR-issued air guns on his first two pit stops at Las Vegas and he rebounded nicely. With the pit guns proving to be extremely unreliable through the first three races — let’s make no mistake, this is a NASCAR disaster and they need to own it — perhaps the sport would show more urgency and ownership if a pit gun problem derailed Harvick’s chance at winning on Phoenix.
Why? As one of the sport’s outspoken personalities and a guy that has influence (and a way with words), Harvick lighting into NASCAR officials for what appears to be a significant lack of research and development on the pit guns would push the issue more front and center than it’s been through the first three weeks. Just look at the adjustments NASCAR was making to the pit guns before last week’s race at Vegas. Wouldn’t some offseason testing have figured this change out long before the season began?
I’m no rocket genius scientist, but having to explain this change NASCAR made to the guns after the second race of the season really exposes the lack of practice and testing of this equipment in the offseason. pic.twitter.com/kStd3BwI9F
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) March 4, 2018
2. Ryan Blaney (LW: 4): One of the drivers tailing Harvick in the points standings is Blaney, who started first and finished fifth on Sunday. Blaney is just four points behind Harvick in the standings thanks to a 48-point day he had at Vegas.
Blaney was a mainstay in the top five throughout the entire day. He was fourth in the first stage and second in the second stage. So yeah, he could have finished a little better than he did. But an average finish of eighth isn’t anything to scoff at.
“Overall it was a good weekend for us,” Blaney said. “That is what we need to do, just have good, consistent weekends like that. Hopefully we can do the same for the rest of this west coast swing and the rest of the season.”
3. Kyle Busch (LW: 10): Busch finished second and led 10 laps. He was one of the few people fighting for second place throughout the entire race.
He was asked after the race if he could view beating everyone who isn’t named Kevin Harvick as a win of sorts. He said he did.
“Definitely, second is fine if you get your butt beat as bad as we got our butt beat,” Busch said. “We’ll take that finish. It was a win for the field as the 4 was a class of his own.
4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 2): One of the constants in NASCAR is Hamlin’s ability to speed on pit road. Hamlin had a decent car throughout the race but sped on pit road and then had a late engine problem. He finished 17th.
Oh, he had pit gun problems too. He was a tad frustrated about being unable to get his lap back.
“Then a caution comes back out and somebody else gets the ‘lucky dog’ – every time I was in the ‘lucky dog’ position and I needed to get the caution to get back on the lead lap we didn’t get it,” Hamlin said. “I felt like we had a strong car and then we dropped a cylinder there with about 30 to go and ended up seven cylinders.”
5. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7): Keselowski finished sixth and had a car that was the opposite of what he was expecting. That must be an odd feeling as a driver to have your mental gameplan turn out to be completely different.
“We had really good short run speed and I thought we would be really good on the long runs today but it turned out we were really good on the short runs,” Keselowski said. “That wasn’t at all what I was expecting.”
6. Joey Logano (LW: 5): Logano was a spot ahead of Keselowski in fifth. He’s three points behind Harvick for the points lead, so it’s conceivable he could leave Phoenix with the points lead even if Harvick wins the race or gets a top-five finish.
7. Austin Dillon (LW: 3): After winning the Daytona 500, Dillon is settling into familiar top-15 Richard Childress Racing territory. The team hasn’t been good enough to come close to competing for the win, but it hasn’t been terrible at all. And that’s typically good enough to make the second round of the playoffs. He finished 13th at Vegas.
8. Kyle Larson (LW: NR): Larson won the Xfinity race on Saturday and finished third on Sunday. That’s not a terrible weekend. He was once again the best Chevrolet, continuing the theme he established throughout the 2017 with the old Chevy car. No other Chevy driver finished in the top 10.
It was kind of odd to lap three out of the four [Hendrick Motorsports] cars there in the first little part of the race,” Larson said. “But our team, I guess ‑‑ I don’t know, whatever we do different helps us out. All we really get from Hendrick is their engines, so they could be doing stuff way different than us.”
9. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 9): Truex finished fourth after starting fourth. The defending Las Vegas champion didn’t have anything for Kevin … OK, you get that point.
“We had to change some things from how we did them last year and it appears those guys are really quick right now,” Truex said. “We have to hand it to them, they did their homework and they’re really fast and they’re doing a good job. I’m not going to be the one that sits here and says there’s an unfair advantage because I haven’t figured that out yet. We’re going to go back to work and we’ve got some things coming that we’ve been working on. We’re right there, we just can’t get the balance of our car where we need it.”
10. Paul Menard (LW: 8): Menard finished ninth. Here’s his weekend in his own words.
“We unloaded fast on Friday and fell behind a bit on Saturday,” Menard said. “We all got together last night and talked about what we needed to do and it worked out for us. A solid car all day.”
11. Aric Almirola (LW: 6): Almirola finished 10th, his second-straight top-10 finish of the season after his Daytona 500 crash on the last lap. Yes, Almirola has more top-10 finishes in the No. 10 car this year than Danica Patrick did all of last season. We bet that won’t come up in the comments below.
12. Erik Jones (LW: NR): Jones finished eighth and was 11th at Atlanta a week ago. He was also running near the front of the field when he got crashed at Daytona.
Lucky Dog: Jimmie Johnson, who got his best finish of the season.
The DNF: Michael McDowell led 10 laps early in the race because he didn’t pit and then his engine died.
Dropped Out: Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.