Four races in, 32 to go. Let’s get to this week’s Power Rankings.
1. Joey Logano
The guy with two wins in the first four races is far and away the choice for No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings even if those wins are the only two times he’s finished in the top 10 this season.
The calls crew chief Paul Wolfe has made so far have been paying off and while it’s ridiculously early — we’re just a ninth of the way through the season — Logano is looking like a good bet to make the final four for the second time in three seasons.
Sunday’s race was the first of the season with NASCAR’s new rules for short tracks. NASCAR cut downforce at all tracks one mile and shorter for the 2020 season, an effective reversal of its 2019 rules after the higher-downforce rules didn’t produce very good racing a season ago.
“Boy, hats off to NASCAR for collaborating with the teams, the track, and ultimately putting on a way better race than what we saw here last year, which is a combination of a lot of things that made it a lot better,” Logano said.
“Obviously the smaller spoilers allowed us to race, a softer tire had more falloff, and then with the awesome sauce up top, it really put an extra wrench into the race to where we showed up here saying I don't really know what we're going to do.
“Even before the race, I was like, ‘Well, I don't know how this top is going to work out, if it's going to wear out, what is going to happen on the long runs, short runs, restarts.’ There's so many unknowns.
“Those unknowns made it a great race. Even as the teams figured it out throughout the race, it still produced good racing where cars were able to pass, get close to other cars, do things. Just a way better short track package than what we had last year.”
2. Kevin Harvick
Harvick is the only driver with top-10 finishes in all four races and is the only driver with an average finish better than 10th. Oh, his average starting position is also the best in the Cup Series at 5.0.
Harvick was second to Logano at Phoenix on Sunday and here’s what he said about those new rules.
Kevin Harvick explains what he likes about the short-track package used at Phoenix this year: pic.twitter.com/5hG0lheXsz— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) March 9, 2020
3. Alex Bowman
After a top-10 finish in the first stage Bowman ended up finishing 14th. That was worst of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars and if you’re looking for a Hendrick bounceback, that’s a pretty good sign.
But while Bowman was the “worst” Hendrick driver on Sunday, he’s also the only one with a win so far.
4. Ryan Blaney
Blaney’s day ended before the first stage did. He was right behind Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin when the two made contact shortly after a restart and ended up getting the worst of the damage. While Hamlin and Keselowski were able to carry on, Blaney had to park his car.
He finished 37th and tumbled from the points lead to sixth in the standings.
“A couple of us were three-wide,” Blaney said. “I was happy to be on the top. I thought we were going to roll the top pretty good through three and four there. It looks like the 11 tried to send it in there below the 2 and got loose and hit him and then overcorrected and got us. We got up in the dirt and we just ran right into the fence.
5. Chase Elliott
Elliott started on the pole and finished seventh. He earned the fourth-most points of anyone during the race thanks to a second-place finish in the first stage.
6. Jimmie Johnson
Again, it’s early. But Johnson looks like he’s not going to miss out on the playoffs for a second straight season. Johnson finished 12th on Sunday and was the highest finisher of any driver who started outside the top 20.
Johnson is fifth in the points standings, just behind teammates Bowman and Elliott.
“Definitely not the day we wanted, but we fought like hell all day long,” Johnson said. “The guys had a great pitstops and got this [No. 48 car] positions and the pits and we have a lot to build on. I am so proud of this team.”
7. Kyle Larson
Larson started and finished fourth, though it’s not like he hung there all day. He had to make some ground up after a slow start.
“We still got a top-five, so it was a nice day for us,” Larson said. “We fought back from a really bad car from the first run and tuned on it to come away with a top-five, so that was good.”
8. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto was 13th on Sunday and is currently tied for ninth in the points standings. Ten more top-10 finishes through the next 32 races will give him 11 for the season. He entered 2020 with 11 top-10 finishes in his entire career.
9. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski looked like he had a chance at a win but as soon as Logano passed him for the lead with 24 laps to go, Keselowski started fading back on his older tires.
Keselowski pitted with less than 10 scheduled laps to go but a caution right before the scheduled end of the race scuppered any chances of him driving through the field for a top 10. He ended up 11th.
10. Denny Hamlin
The Daytona 500 winner finished 20th and on the lead lap despite a car that needed a ton of bodywork to be decent after that crash.
11. Kyle Busch
Busch finished third on Sunday, an achievement given that he thought he didn’t have a very good car when the team arrived to the track on Friday.
Here’s what he said about the new downforce rules in effect for the race weekend.
“You could definitely follow a lot closer,” Busch said. “You could get up into a guy’s left-rear and be close enough to their left-rear and follow them close enough that you could try to make a move on them or make a run on them up off the corner. Get them a little loose to be able to make a move on them. I felt like there was certainly some positives. I felt like some of it was also kind of the same as what you get. When you get strung out, you get strung out. I don’t think you’re going to be able to captivate these cars close enough together for three-and-a-half hours at a time at one-mile race tracks when your very grip limited.”
12. Aric Almirola
Almirola finished eighth and did not make Martin Truex Jr. a fan in the process.
“I just got ran over,” Truex said after he parked his car with less than 30 laps to go thanks to a crash. “He ran into the back of me earlier getting into [Turn] 1. I hung on to it. These restarts are crazy, it’s fanned out. [Johnson] was in front of me. I wasn’t sure if he was going to come up in front of me on the short shoot or not. Then [Almirola] ran into us. Can’t finish a race, it sucks.”
Almirola said after the race that it was simply a mistake.
“Honestly, it was just a mistake,” Almirola said. “We got down into Turn 1 there and he checked up slightly sooner than I expected him to and I was literally an inch or two off his bumper through the dogleg getting down into 1. Just the slight delay from the time that he got on the brakes to when I got on the brakes, I got into the back of him and crashed him.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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