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): We are all living in Martin Truex Jr.’s NASCAR oyster.
His hastily arranged marriage with Furniture Row Racing in the late stages of the 2013 season is blossoming far more than anyone ever expected. And Truex has now gone from a driver who had exceptional speed but couldn’t get things to go his way (2016) to the most dominant driver in the sport.
“You know, last year was certainly a successful season but felt like we didn’t show how good we really were,” Truex said. “We didn’t achieve the things that we thought we were capable of, and so this year I feel like we’ve done a better job. Obviously we’ve been more consistent with the points lead and the stage wins and all those things.”
Truex’s four wins — the most of anyone — and 16 stage wins — again, the most of anyone — will put NASCAR’s new playoff points system to the test over the final 10 races of the season. If the objective was to reward dominant drivers with a significant head start towards the final round, Truex is making NASCAR’s new formula look prescient. Now he just needs to avoid disaster in the first nine races of the playoffs before racing three other drivers heads up for the title.
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): It’s not an direct comparison, but if there’s a driver that’s taken on the “Truex in 2016” role, it’s certainly Busch.
Busch won Saturday’s Xfinity race at Watkins Glen and probably had the fastest car during Sunday’s Cup Series race. But after a pit stop issue after the first stage, Busch didn’t get a chance to sniff the lead.
He drove like hell to get back to the front, but as you know, was involved in a bus stop spin with Brad Keselowski. That pretty much ruined Busch’s chances for the win, though he ended up finishing seventh.
3. Denny Hamlin (LW: 4): Hamlin finished fourth, which continues an interesting trend.
“Another fourth place finish – I don’t know how many that is this year but definitely been ringing them off,” Hamlin said after the race. And we’ll now do the math for him.
Hamlin has moved up four spots in the points standings over the last eight races. And in those eight races, Hamlin has accumulated six top-five finishes. One of those was a win at New Hampshire. Every other top-five finish has been a fourth.
That’s a really good trend until you realize that fourth in the final points standings means Hamlin was last among title contenders at Homestead. Though fourth is better than fifth, right?
4. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick ended up 17th at the Glen even though he probably had a top-10 car. He was involved in a bizarre incident on pit road that caused a lot of damage to the front of his car
Harvick was pulling out of his pit stall as Brett Moffitt went to go pull into his a few stalls ahead of Harvick. But Moffitt stopped right in front of Harvick’s pit box to let the car preceding his pit stall to go. Harvick’s team, clearly unaware of Moffitt’s plan not to be in the way (and therefore in the way of Harvick), gave him the all clear and Harvick rammed into the back of Moffitt’s car.
5. Brad Keselowski (LW: 6): Keselowski moves up a spot because he probably had a top-five finish heading his way until a late pit stop penalty. When he pitted from the lead with four laps to go — Keselowski wasn’t going to make it to the end on fuel — he drove through too many pit boxes and had to serve a penalty. He finished 15th.
Keselowski also provided this quote about his tangle with Kyle Busch and if he’d be speaking with his rival.
“Nah. I don’t think he is really the listening type, so that is pretty doubtful,” Keselowski said.
Much like their Xfinity incident at Michigan, what happened at Watkins Glen was organic. And yet another reason why the two drivers have the best rivalry in the sport.
6. Kyle Larson (LW: 5): Larson’s summer swoon is incredible. He started second and finished 23rd at Watkins Glen.
Five races ago, Larson was a point ahead of Truex Jr. at the top of the points standings. Then a 35-point penalty happened for failing post-race inspection at Kentucky. And now Larson has finished outside the top 20 for the past three races.
Combine those finishes with the penalty and Truex’s recent success and Larson is now third in the points standings, six points behind Kyle Busch and 122 behind Truex.
7. Matt Kenseth (LW: 9): It’s fun to wonder what would have happened at Watkins Glen if the race was 91 laps instead of 90.
Kenseth was chasing down Truex and would have gotten one chance to get to his bumper based off the rate he closed in over the final two laps. Given Kenseth’s position in the points standings, it seems fair that Kenseth would be as aggressive as possible with his bumper to get into the playoffs.
A Kenseth win would mean that just two spots would be open in the playoffs on points and those spots would be in the hands of Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray …
8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 8): And a Kenseth win would have dampened the playoff chances of Bowyer ever so slightly. Had Kenseth won on Sunday, Bowyer would be 34 points out of a playoff spot (behind McMurray). Since Kenseth didn’t, Bowyer is 28 points out of the playoffs.
While Bowyer is glad his car made it to the end on fuel (and he finished fifth), he’s probably happier that Kenseth didn’t win the race.
9. Kasey Kahne (LW: 7): Kahne finished 16th in his final race before Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement that he wouldn’t be with the team in 2018.
Coincidentally, he was driving a car that was sponsored by the documentary currently airing on Complex’s Rated Red that chronicles Hendrick’s 2016 season. Yes, the final time Kahne drove for Hendrick before publicly becoming a lame duck driver was in a car used to promote the team. It’s quite Kahne.
10. Daniel Suarez (LW: 12): Suarez finished third at the Glen and is now ahead of drivers like Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kahne and Austin Dillon in the points standings.
They all have wins and will make the playoffs. Barring a surprise, Suarez won’t.
11. Chase Elliott (LW: 10): Elliott finished 13th after starting fourth on Sunday. He’s just five points ahead of McMurray and therefore 39 ahead of Bowyer for the first spot that’s currently out of the playoffs. He’s not far from the danger zone.
12. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 11): When watching the cool-down lap of Sunday’s race, Johnson’s car appeared on the screen. We wondered “wow, that was a quiet race for Jimmie. Where did he finish?” The answer is 29th.
Lucky Dog: Ryan Blaney finished eighth despite a late pit stop. You can make a very good argument he deserves to be at No. 12 over Johnson.
The DNF: Trevor Bayne didn’t even take the green flag because of brake issues. He rejoined the race nine laps down.
Dropped out: No one.
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