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: 2): Pause for a second and consider just how dominant Truex has been that there are now wonders if he’s vulnerable at Homestead after he was passed for the lead with less than 10 laps to go while going for his fifth-straight win at a 1.5-mile track.
While Truex clinched his way into the title race at Homestead via points despite finishing second, losing to Harvick has to sting just a little bit. Harvick, along with Kyle Busch, has emerged as one of the few drivers who has been able to stay in the same zip code as Truex on 1.5-mile tracks. And now Truex is going to be facing both of them for the title. Truex is still the favorite for the title, but his “overwhelming favorite” status may simply now be “major favorite.”
Who will be the fourth driver that joins them?
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 7): As we noted last week, Harvick entered Sunday with a great record of success at Texas but hadn’t scored a win there. He’s winless no longer, thanks to that pass of Truex.
“I think as you look at the season, your ultimate goal is to wind up at Homestead with an opportunity to win the championship,” Harvick said. “I think if you look at the way the year has gone, you would expect to race [Truex] and [Busch] for the championship. I think everything from there was kind of a little bit of an unknown.
“When we had Kyle [Busch] on the outside looking in, I think everybody was a little bit surprised. When [Larson] was eliminated, that was definitely a little bit of a surprise. I feel like if [Larson] was still in the mix, he has so much confidence going into Homestead, he feels like that’s his best racetrack. I think he would have been hard to beat down there.
3. Brad Keselowski (LW: 5): If Keselowski ends up being the fourth driver joining Busch, Harvick and Truex — and subsequently wins the title — his Texas comeback is going to be a thing of lore.
Keselowski suffered a cut tire on first-corner contact from Busch. He then got the lap back midway through the race and clawed his way all the way back to fifth.
If he isn’t the fourth driver that makes the playoff field and Denny Hamlin or Ryan Blaney is, then Texas will still be a what-if race for Keselowski. Because he didn’t earn any points in the first or second stages, Keselowski got just 32 points overall. Hamlin (19 points back of Keselowski for fourth) got 47. Blaney, (22 points back) got 42. The significance of stage points can really undercut the previous value of a late-race comeback.
4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 4): If Hamlin misses out on Homestead, Martinsville will be to him what Texas would be like to Keselowski if he misses out. Hamlin finished seventh at Martinsville — even has he spun on the final corner — but got just 31 points. If he had scored five stage points in each of the first two stages at Martinsville he’s looking at just a nine-point gap to the 2 car heading into Phoenix.
5. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): Ultimately, the contact between Busch and Keselowski was inconsequential for Busch because of his status as Martinsville winner. But it’s also fair to think that Busch would have liked to see how he stacked up to Truex and Harvick in the final 1.5-mile race before Homestead. Busch ended up finishing 19th.
6. Ryan Blaney (LW: 6): Like Hamlin, Blaney is currently on the good isn’t good enough third round track. he finished sixth at Texas after finishing eighth at Martinsville. If he somehow misses out on the final round of the playoffs by a few points at Phoenix, it’ll be fair to wonder just how consequential NASCAR’s curious — and from what we’ve found, obviously wrong — decision to put Clint Bowyer ahead of him on the second-to-last restart at Martinsville was.
7. Chase Elliott (LW: 3): Going from 34th to 8th at a tricky track is an impressive feat. Elliott also did it pretty quickly — he scored three more points than Keselowski did.
8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 8): With the 2014 and 2015 Cup Series champions racing for the title at Homestead in two weeks, will the 2013 and 2016 champion join them as well? Probably not. After a bizarre showing at Texas where Johnson’s car was off all day and crew chief Chad Knaus didn’t take advantage of an early wave-around opportunity to get a lap back, Johnson has to win at Phoenix to get in to the championship round.
Johnson won three-straight fall races at Phoenix from 2007-09. He hasn’t won at the track since it was repaved in 2011.
9. Matt Kenseth (LW: 9): Kenseth finished fourth on Sunday, his first race since going public with the inevitable news that he wouldn’t be racing anywhere in 2018 and potentially beyond. Kenseth going out quietly the same year as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and (potentially) Danica Patrick leave the sport is quite Kensethian.
10. Kurt Busch (LW: NR): Busch set a track record at Texas with his qualifying lap on Friday, but it’s fair to question if his lap — or any laps run Friday, for that matter — was actually faster than the previous track record held by Tony Stewart. When Texas widened out turns 1 and 2, it made the track shorter when drivers follow the inside line. Busch finished 9th.
11. Kasey Kahne (LW: 11): A week after he was 11th in Power Rankings, Kahne finished 11th at Texas. Synergy.
12. Joey Logano (LW: NR): Logano’s seventh-place finish at Texas ties the best finish he’s had at a 1.5-mile track since he was third at Texas in the spring.
Lucky Dog: Erik Jones finished 10th and is within striking distance of Clint Bowyer for 18th in the standings.
The DNF: Kyle Larson is not having a good stretch.
Dropped out: Bowyer, Larson
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