Welcome to the 2018 edition of our weekly NASCAR Power Rankings. Our continuing feature will attempt to rank and assess the moment’s top 12 drivers in the Cup Series. You’ll probably disagree with our rankings. And that’s fine. Give us your feedback either in the comments below or on Twitter.
1. Kyle Busch (LW: 4): As you probably know by now, Busch now has points wins at every track on the Cup Series schedule. He’s the first driver in Cup Series history to do that, which of course has heightened the Hall of Fame conversation surrounding him.
That’s odd to us. Busch was a surefire Hall of Famer before Sunday night’s race. While his Coca-Cola 600 win only solidifies his status among the best and most diverse drivers of all-time in NASCAR, you haven’t been paying close attention if you think it actually boosts him.
“I’ll tell you what, I don’t know that I’ve ever had a car that good at Charlotte or in other places,” Busch said. “I don’t know. It goes up against one of my Brickyard cars. It was just so good at the Brickyard a few years ago, but tonight was pretty awesome. I could pretty much go anywhere I wanted. That thing was so racy. I’d just go to the middle, I’d go to the bottom, I’d just run wherever I wanted to. It was good and gripped up and felt really, really strong and comfortable wherever I needed to go.”
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): Yeah, Harvick finished last, but he did so after he drove his way from 39th to the top five within the first 85 laps of the race. That’s impressive as hell, just like Harvick’s entire season has been.
But despite leading the series with wins, Harvick is now trailing Busch in playoff points because of that encumbered Las Vegas win. Since Busch swept all three stages in Sunday’s race, he has 25 playoff points. Harvick has 24.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 3): Truex isn’t nearly as dominant as he was last season, but he’s a consistent fixture at the front. Truex finished almost four seconds behind Busch on Sunday for his eighth top-five finish in the first 13 races of the season. That’s a pretty damn good rate.
Someone asked Truex after the race if he could have caught Busch had the race gone another fuel run. First, we don’t need to race over 700 miles in the Coca-Cola 600. Second, Truex said no.
“Seemed like every time we’d pit under green, we were faster for 20 laps,” Truex said. “I don’t know if that’s him taking care of his tires because he had such a big lead, because at the end of the long runs he was faster. If it had went green there’s no telling. He may have just maintained that gap. I really have no idea to be honest. At the end of the day, we ran second. He kicked everybody’s tail. That’s just the way it goes. That’s how it is.”
4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 6): While Truex has eight top-five finishes, Hamlin has eight top 10s after he was third on Sunday night. Hamlin’s tied for sixth in the points standings with Kurt Busch after his performance.
“We’re just ‑‑ we’re third or fourth best every week,” Hamlin said. “That’s frustrating. But it could be 35 spots worse. We’ve just got to ‑‑ we just need two or three tenths a lap. It seems like that’s kind of what I’m off, and I just can’t get the speed out of the car. I was just handling a certain way, and it’s just a razor’s edge for us. We’re either really good or we’re average at best. We need to get a little bit better.”
5. Joey Logano (LW: 2): Logano started second and led the first laps of the race. That was his race highlight. He fell out of the top 10 in the first 100 laps, meaning he didn’t score any stage points in the first stage. He didn’t score any stage points period because he spent the rest of the night attempting to recover from a spin that happened after Jimmie Johnson spun. Logano finished 22nd.
6. Kyle Larson (LW: 8): Larson had one of the drifts of the Cup Series season.
That happened on lap 273 while Larson was running inside the top five. He stormed back again over the final 125 laps and ended up finishing seventh. Larson’s getting really good at making up track position he’s lost. Granted, you don’t want to be losing it in the first place, but that perserverance is going to be a good playoff trait.
7. Kurt Busch (LW: 5): Busch finished eighth, so it’s a bit harsh to drop him two spots for that. But what else are we supposed to do? Drop Logano seven spots? Maybe we should have done that.
8. Brad Keselowski (LW: 12): Keselowski finished fourth, the highest-running non-Toyota in the field.
“I ran as hard as I could tonight and the team did a great job the last few stops to put us in a position and that was just kind of what we had,” Keselowski said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and try to find some more speed. If we keep this execution that we had tonight, then we’ll get some wins, but we’ve got to have more speed.”
9. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7): Bowyer was in the top 10 at the end of the first two stages, got dropped back to the end of the lead lap and then ended up finishing 12th.
“It was like we had track position and cars were way back and laps down and then all the wrecks opened the door for them to get the laps back,” Bowyer said. “Then we lost track position on tires there and kind of halfway got it back, but it was just a frustrating weekend altogether, really.”
10. Chase Elliott (LW: 11): Elliott was 11th. Most importantly for Hendrick Motorsports, that was the third-best finish among the team’s four drivers. Yes, we’re at the “baby steps” phase of touting Hendrick’s 2018 improvement.
11. Jimmie Johnson (LW: NR): Johnson had an incredibly impressive comeback too after that stage 2 spin. He ended up finishing fifth. Did he have a race-winning car? Probably not. But that fifth-place finish could have gone a lot smoother if it wasn’t for that issue.
12. Erik Jones (LW: NR): Jones finished 19th after starting fourth on Sunday. Why does he deserve this final spot? Because he was damn fast and might have been a legitimate challenger to Busch at the end of the race.
Jones was in position to race Busch heads-up for the win in the final stage but this happened. Yep, that’s Kasey Kahne’s car hitting Jones’ pit gun.
This GIF makes us wonder why NASCAR doesn’t penalize drivers that hit other teams’ equipment but penalizes a driver if he runs over his own team’s equipment. Given running over your own airgun is a penalty, it seems that running over someone else’s airgun in their pit box should be a penalty too.
The Lucky Dog: Alex Bowman was ninth.
The DNF: Austin Dillon’s average finish minus the Daytona 500 is outside the top 20.
Dropped Out: Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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