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. (LW: 3): Make it four-straight wins on 1.5-mile tracks for Martin Truex Jr. after Sunday’s win at Kansas. We’ve said it many times before and we’ll say it again here: Truex is by far the favorite for the title because of the speed his team has at intermediate tracks.
He bounced back from a weird penalty early in the race for going below the white line as the lead car on the inside row on a restart. Perhaps this is Truex’s odd rule violation for the playoffs. A year ago at Phoenix, he got a pit road penalty for passing the pace car.
Since Truex has amassed so many bonus points already in the playoffs, Kevin Harvick had a good point about Truex’s win.
2. Denny Hamlin (LW: 2): Hamlin sped on pit road during Sunday’s race and came back to finish fifth. While Hamlin doesn’t have a win in the playoffs, you can argue he’s been the most consistent driver throughout the first six races. A broken axle relegated him to a 35th-place finish at Dover but he’s been in the top 12 in each of the other five races. Three top-12 finishes in the third round could be enough to get him to Homestead.
3. Chase Elliott (LW: 5): Elliott’s now advanced a round further than he did a year ago after finishing fourth at Kansas. Elliott has improved his finish in each of his four Martinsville starts, though asking him to make it five straight is probably asking for too much. Elliott finished third at Martinsville in the spring.
4. Ryan Blaney (LW: 7): Blaney originally qualified third but had to start at the back of the field because his car failed inspection following qualifying. No big deal, apparently, as Blaney finished third in Sunday’s race.
He has intermediate track speed that quasi-teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano don’t at the moment. And he was fast at Texas in the spring before some interesting strategy fumbled away good track position in the middle of the race.
5. Kyle Busch (LW: 4): Busch was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the trouble Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson had on Sunday. Busch started the day outside the playoffs but made it in with relative ease thanks to a win in the first stage and a fifth-place finish in the second.
6. Kevin Harvick (LW: 9): Harvick finished eighth on Sunday and felt that both he and Kyle Busch could’ve had better finishes if it wasn’t for an ill-timed caution. AJ Allmendinger brought out a caution 32 laps after the race resumed following a massive crash on the backstretch. By the time Allmendinger’s caution was over there were just 25 laps to go.
“As you look at the result of the day you want to have a chance to win,” Harvick said. “We had a car capable of winning. Just got stuck in a box and the box kept on getting smaller and smaller. The caution came out with the 47 and that put us and the 18 in a bad spot. That was it.”
7. Brad Keselowski (LW: 1): Keselowski finished 13th on Sunday. He was automatically in the third round because of his Talladega win and now heads to a track where he’s the defending champion. Keselowski is putting a lot of stock in Martinsville, because of his earlier success there and the fact that the winner can take a deep breath of sorts for the next two races before going to Homestead to race for the title.
Keselowski’s finish could have been a lot better, but he sped on pit road during that caution for Allmendinger.
“The pit road speeding penalty was ridiculous because I was way under pit road speed and running right with everyone else both times and they didn’t get a penalty,” Keselowski said after the race. “I will have to see that one for my own eyes.”
8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 10): You need to be good to make it through the playoffs, but you also have to be lucky. Johnson’s race probably fits into both categories.
He finished 11th — a very good finish given the context — despite spinning and causing cautions two times. When he went sliding through the infield grass it’s a minor miracle that the front clip wasn’t ripped off his car.
Had Kyle Larson not blown an engine, Johnson would have missed out on the third round of the playoffs by four points. Instead, he enters the third round tied for the fourth seed with Harvick.
9. Kyle Larson (LW: 6): Larson’s day ended less than 100 laps into the 267-lap race thanks to a blown engine. Every year a driver seems to get eliminated because of an engine issue and Larson may be 2017’s example. It’s a simple case of crap luck.
But Larson had crap luck throughout the entire second round. He was at the front of the field when he got tagged by Kurt Busch’s spinning car at Charlotte. He finished 10th. He got caught in a late wreck at Talladega, a race where he had a chance at another top-five finish. He finished 13th there.
Larson missed out on the third round by nine points. It’s no guarantee he has 10 extra points if those Charlotte and Talladega incidents don’t happen, but it’s sure fair to wonder how things would have played out without damaged cars.
10. Matt Kenseth (LW: 8): Kenseth was involved in the massive crash on the backstretch on lap 199. He then had to take his car to the garage for the rest of the day because his team had one too many crew members working on the car to fix the damage. Yes, an extra man over the wall to fix the car caused Kenseth’s day to come to an end.
It’s fair to wonder if the penalty is excessively harsh. But unlike other NASCAR rule instances we’ve seen in the past few weeks, it’s a rule that’s been known by the entire garage for the whole season. Though Kenseth did have a good point after he climbed from his car.
“I don’t know what any of the rules are,” he said. “Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lug nuts out of pit boxes to one to many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed.”
11. Kurt Busch (LW: NR): Busch finished second at Kansas on Sunday. It’s just his second top-three finish of the year and his sixth top-five of the season and he had to come back from a lap down early in the race to get it.
“Actually, I brushed the wall early on, got a lap down, had to dig out of that hole all day. For the call early to stay out and then to put on scuff tires to limp it home through one of the stages, that was a gutsy call by [crew chief] Tony Gibson,” Busch said. “I have to say hats off to Gibson for that because that put us back on the same sequence with the leaders and the tires. That gave us the same amount of sets of stickers that we could use towards the end of the race.”
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: 11): Stenhouse’s playoff run ended Sunday after a 29th-place finish thanks to contact with the wall.
Lucky Dog: Chris Buescher finished sixth, a spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The DNF: There’s no need to do one this week. This spot is all Larson’s.
Dropped Out: Jamie McMurray
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