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. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): Busch stays at the top spot this week despite an ill-fated decision to hit pit road during a caution that flew on lap 139 of Sunday’s race at Pocono.
Busch was leading the race when a caution flew for debris. He and crew chief Adam Stevens made the decision to pit for fresh tires, thinking the tires would be useful over the final 21 laps of the race.
That didn’t work. Track position was key, and Busch ended up finishing third.
“Yeah, it was a little disappointing that the tires didn’t mean anything more than they did there at the end with guys that had 10, 11 laps on their tires and they were able to still outrun us and beat us for us having fresher rubber,” Busch said. “Clean air was king.”
2. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 3): The man who benefitted from that clean air gets to move up to No. 2. Truex inherited the lead from Busch because he stayed out on the track. That worked like a charm as Truex survived a couple of restarts and raced away from the field for his second win of the season.
Busch, Truex and Kevin Harvick have combined to win 11 of the first 14 races of the season and are the only drivers who have won multiple races in 2018. Unsurprisingly, they were three of the four drivers who raced for the title at Homestead in 2017.
Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn said after the race that his decision to leave Truex out on the track was made a little easier because he wasn’t leading at the time. Since Busch was in front, Truex had the chance to play the opposite game.
“It was just win, one side or the other, it was pretty much a coin flip really when it came down to it,” Pearn said. “It’s kind of a nicer spot to be in. If we were running second at the time, leading, it’s a tougher decision, I think, and once [Busch] ducked off [to put road], made the call to stay. Just thought our best odds was to do something different, and obviously it worked out.”
3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick falls to third in Power Rankings this week despite leading the series in wins and leading 89 of the race’s 160 laps. That happens sometimes. We endorsed Busch’s decision to pit at the time and thought the fresh tires he had would get him back to the front. They didn’t, and Harvick even challenged him briefly for third over the final laps of the race.
Harvick, Busch and Truex combined to lead 133 of the race’s laps.
“We just lost our track position of being in the lead and lost control of the race,” Harvick said. “That is what did us in there. We restarted second and then third and lost a spot on each restart as you start on the inside. Our Busch Ford was really fast and the guys did a really great job. When you are racing [Busch and Truex] you are splitting hairs and they were just better than us on pit road today.”
4. Kyle Larson (LW: 6): Larson also stayed out and was the guy who gave Truex the best run over the final laps of the race. Well, we say “best” only because he finished second. Truex checked out from the field thanks to that clean air.
Larson said that finish was a product of having good restarts at the end of the race.
“I ran probably sixth or seventh all day long and finished second,” Larson said. “Was happy about that because I felt like obviously we were at a little bit of a disadvantage on tires there, but the track position overcame that. But I felt like if I didn’t have a good restart on any one of those, I would have fell back outside the top 5 from those guys on fresher tires.”
5. Brad Keselowski (LW: 8): Keselowski led 10 laps, primarily thanks to some pit strategy calls on fuel. The first two stages of the race didn’t have any cautions, and Keselowski led seven laps in the first stage before pitting and then three laps in the second stage of the race.
Keselowski is fifth in the points standings, about where he belongs based on the speed he’s shown throughout the season.
6. Joey Logano (LW: 5): Logano is third in the standings and finished ninth, a nice recovery after a pit road penalty at the end of the first stage because he ran out of gas. But Logano wasn’t content with that bounceback.
“We just didn’t get the gas tank full on the first stop and ended up running out of gas and then we had to pit while the pits were closed and went down a lap and then there just weren’t any cautions to get the lap back,” he said. “Once we did it was just too late. We finished ninth and at least we got back up there some but I feel like we should have finished top-five with the car we had.
7. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 11): Johnson keeps plugging away. His No. 48 team has become the second-best Chevrolet team behind Kyle Larson’s recently and Johnson was eighth on Sunday.
“We just need to keep improving, but we’re slowly chipping away at it,” Johnson said.
8. Denny Hamlin (LW: 5): Hamlin got loose underneath Alex Bowman and the two drivers crashed on lap 147. Hamlin ended up retiring from the race because of the crash damage.
9. Kurt Busch (LW: 7): Busch finished 19th, the third out of four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers. It broke a run of four-straight top-10 finishes for the No. 41 car.
10. Ryan Blaney (LW: NR): Blaney gets back into Power Rankings this week after starting on the pole and finishing sixth. He didn’t have a race-winning car (or anything close to it, really), but Blaney finishing a race in the top 10 with a good car has to be a good feeling after seeing so many strong runs disappear with crashes or other problems so far this season.
11. Chase Elliott (LW: 12): Elliott was 10th and, like Logano, was dissatisfied with that finish.
“We had a good car, I felt like it was much better than where we finished,” Elliott said. “I didn’t do a very good job on that last restart. With old tires we fell back and had to put on tires and I had too much ground to make up.”
12. Aric Almirola (LW: NR): Almirola started 34th and made the biggest charge of anyone throughout Sunday’s race. He gained 27 spots and finished seventh.
Lucky Dog: Austin Dillon’s 12th-place finish is his best finish since he was 10th at Auto Club in March.
The DNF: Derrike Cope finished the race on the track eight laps down, but he’s got to either get out of the way or just get off the track in races he competes in. We understand StarCom Racing sees benefits from fielding a second car in select races, but the former Daytona 500 winner is a roving chicane.
Dropped Out: Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Eagles star rips Fox News for misleading anthem photo
• Trump taunts NFL again: ‘No escaping to Locker Rooms!’
• Yankees’ Judge sets MLB record for futility
• Dan Wetzel: NFL gets what it deserves for trying to appease Trump