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NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin moves up 3 spots after win No. 3

Watkins Glen, the second and last Cup Series road course race of the season, is up next. Who else is ready for some more road racing?

1. Kyle Busch (LW: 1)

Busch finished ninth on Sunday and at times looked set to sweep the season at Pocono.

While the traction compound at Pocono undoubtedly helped the racing — Denny Hamlin credited its presence in the outside groove of turn 1 for being able to make his race-winning pass — track position was still of the utmost importance like it was in June. And cautions didn’t fall the right way for Busch’s strategy to ultimately work out.

And Busch lost track position in the final stage. He took over the lead on lap 116 after Ryan Preece hit the wall and led through lap 133 when he had to pit for fuel to make it to the end. That pit stop put Busch back in the pack. A couple of late cautions helped him get back into the top 10 — and allowed others to not run out of gas — but ninth really wasn’t indicative of Busch’s day. He led 56 laps, second only to Kevin Harvick’s 62.

2. Denny Hamlin (LW: 5)

Hamlin views himself as a contender for the title following Sunday’s win.

“Certainly we are contenders most weeks,” he said. “I mean, there's not a week that shows up I don't think we can win. I don't know how many teams really could say that, five or six maybe. But certainly I think we're versed in the sense we can win anywhere. I think our speed has showed it.

“We earned this one today. I didn't just go out there and block from the lead. We had to go up there and pass for the lead with 10 laps to go. It was hard earned. Last week was going to be hard earned if we got that one done. Came up a little short.”

He’s not wrong, either. Hamlin now has three wins, is fourth in the points standings and his average finish is exactly 10.0. That’s good enough for third in the series.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 3)

Truex finished third on Sunday and rued not passing Erik Jones for the lead before Hamlin decided to go for the win as the three drivers were both trying to save fuel and race for the win.

But he was also thankful that he was able to end up finishing third after the two late cautions.

“We were running second to [Jones], and we thought we were in better shape than him on fuel,” Truex said. “He started saving more, and I started saving more. I thought, ‘Man, I probably ought to try to pass him here. Then we got in lap traffic and [Hamlin] got around me. Then I got by [Jones], and then [Hamlin] had the control of the race after that.

“When the caution came out, he got to lead the restart. I was on the bottom. You can’t do anything from the front row on the bottom. We were kind of in a sucker hole there, and a little bit lucky to come back to third.”

4. Joey Logano (LW: 2)

Logano finished 13th after starting second and finishing second and third in the first two stages. Because of those stage points, he scored three more points than Busch did on Sunday and retains a six-point lead over the driver of the No. 18 at the top of the points standings.

5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4)

The only driver to lead more laps than Busch finished sixth after starting from the pole. Like Busch, Harvick could have finished better if the race had gone green to the end.

“If the caution doesn’t come out I think we were in good shape, but that’s the way it goes, especially at this place,” Harvick said. “You have to have the cautions fall your way and you have to have everything go right. We just had a few little things here and there that didn’t go our way and wound up sixth.”

6. Erik Jones (LW: 7)

Jones is making Joe Gibbs Racing look like a four-car monster. After finishing second on Sunday his average finish over the last three races is 2.66 as he’s moved up five spots in the points standings from 18th to 13th. He’s getting exceptionally close to getting his first win of the season. If and when he does, it’d be the first time since 2016 that all four cars at JGR had won a race in a single season.

“We're close every week,” Jones said. “Third, third, second. We're right there. We're doing great building points, but it would be great to knock a win out. We're just so close, it stings a little bit more when you get close to it.”

7. Brad Keselowski (LW: 8)

Keselowski hit the wall in the opening laps of the race and was forced to come down pit road so his team could fix the damage.

He ended up getting back into a position where he thought he could win the race without any cautions near the end if other drivers had to pit for fuel. Instead, he settled for eighth after the two late yellows.

“I made a huge mistake the first two or three laps there,” Keselowski said. “I was running hard behind [Daniel Suarez] and I slid up and tagged the wall, but I was able to get it onto pit road and get it fixed and claw our way out and get into a position at the end where I thought we were gonna win the race. Then whoever that car was just stopped on the race track and cost us a shot at the race. We weren’t gonna win it honest, but we put ourselves in position at the end, so I’m really disappointed on that.”

8. Kurt Busch (LW: 6)

The latest chapter in the contact between Kurt Busch and Ricky Stenhouse series was the final caution of Sunday’s race.

Monday, Busch said he was taking the high road while Stenhouse invited him to come on over.

9. William Byron (LW: NR)

If Jones wasn’t on such a roll Byron’s recent success would be getting a little more notice. His fourth-place finish on Sunday was his third top-eight finish in the last five races. And his lowest finish in that span is an 18th. He’s a solid 12th in the standings.

10. Aric Almirola (LW: 10)

Almirola keeps plugging along. He finished 12th and is now just two points behind Chase Elliott for eighth in the standings thanks to Elliott’s recent misfortune.

11. Ryan Blaney (LW: 12)

Blaney was 10th on Sunday despite causing a caution after his car spun with a flat tire in turn 3 on lap 99. The flat came from contact with Daniel Suarez as the two drivers were racing into the tunnel turn.

“I was the top of three, he was the bottom of three and the middle guy backed out and he didn’t have any angle into the corner,” Blaney said. “He drove off in there probably the hardest out of all of us and when you get no angle into the corner your car goes straight, so that’s what he did. He had plenty of room. As soon as he dove off in there you know what’s coming, but at that point there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just racing.”

12. Alex Bowman (LW: 9)

Bowman was 20th on Sunday.

Lucky Dog: Daniel Hemric finished seventh. That’s second only to his fifth-place finish at Talladega earlier this season.

The DNF: Chase Elliott’s in the midst of a miserable stretch. He’s finished 29th or worse in four of the last six races after he was 38th and last on Sunday because of a crash that came from a flat tire.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports

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