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. Austin Dillon: When you win the Daytona 500 you get to be No. 1 in Power Rankings even if you only led the last lap of the race.
We picked Dillon and his Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman to miss the playoffs this season because we weren’t sure what RCR would have after the loss of Paul Menard and, more importantly, the sponsor dollars his family company provided.
Well, we’re a week into the season and one of our preseason predictions are wrong. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Dillon is in the playoffs unless he somehow misses out if more than 16 drivers win a race in the first 26 races.
2. Ryan Blaney: Blaney started third and finished seventh. That doesn’t tell anything close to the full story. He led 118 of the race’s 200 laps. Blaney had the race’s dominant car, especially in the third stage when the drivers who survived the first two stages seemed content to not trash any more equipment until William Byron went spinning with 10 laps to go.
He lost the lead briefly after the ensuing restart and got it back on lap 197. But as Kurt Busch snuck in front on lap 194 and tried to stay ahead of Blaney, Busch went spinning and Blaney got some damage, effectively ending his chances for the win.
3. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin was the only driver who led more than 20 laps throughout the Daytona 500, further underscoring Blaney’s dominance and highlighting Hamlin’s ability to be a contender for the race win after an early pit road penalty left him a lap down.
Hamlin was the driver best-suited to take the checkered flag on the overtime restart but couldn’t get the push he tried to set up from Paul Menard and Chris Buescher behind him to get away from the field for the win.
4. Darrell Wallace: Hamlin and Wallace, of course, made contact as they raced for second behind Dillon. Wallace slammed into Hamlin in a move for the position before the line, and Hamlin said the contact cut his tire. Then, without the steering he needed, Hamlin’s car shoved Wallace’s into the wall.
That led to Wallace making a comment about Adderall and Hamlin being asked about it. Hamlin and Wallace were then in a brief argument outside the media center.
— Ben Black (@ben_black7) February 19, 2018
NASCAR is back! Hamlin took to Twitter to explain the incident Tuesday afternoon.
5. Joey Logano: Here’s another guy who came back from an early pit-road penalty to be in contention for a top five at the end of the race. Logano had one of the strongest cars throughout the race but was fighting for track position thanks to a speeding penalty.
Thanks to the final big crash of the race, Logano restarted eighth with two laps to go and finished fourth. Given his plate-racing ability and the strength of his car, he could have been a contender for the win with another lap or two.
6. Aric Almirola: We don’t want to know how many times Almirola is going to replay the final lap of the race in his brain for the rest of his life.
He did pretty much what he could have that lap, and did a nice job of avoiding trouble through the first two stages. That was probably due to some patience from starting in the back of the field because he had to go to a backup car from a qualifying race crash. But he was fourth in the second stage and his 33 points were the eighth-most of anyone.
7. Paul Menard: Menard’s first race in the No. 21 car turned out pretty well. He was competitive for most of the day and ended up finishing sixth. His 42 points were as many as Dillon scored. Since Menard doesn’t talk much, we’ll end this entry right here.
8. Chris Buescher: Buescher finished fifth for his third-career top five and his seventh top 10. We’re interested to see what happens at JTG-Daugherty Racing this year with a technical alliance (outside of engines) with Hendrick Motorsports. Will the team’s results improve? If they do, who does it vault over in the pecking order?
9. Ryan Newman: Now that Dillon is in the playoffs, the onus is on Newman to get there. If Richard Childress Racing is truly leaner and meaner in 2018, we’ll find out over the next few weeks at tracks like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club.
10. Michael McDowell: McDowell’s first race with Front Row Motorsports ended with a ninth-place finish. That’s a nice comeback after he missed his pit stall during a round of green-flag pit stops in the final stage.
11. AJ Allmendinger: After finishing third in the 2017 Daytona 500, Allmendinger’s season went south, scoring just four more top 10s throughout the rest of the season. Allmendinger was 10th on Sunday. He better hope this isn’t a terrible sequel.
12. Justin Marks: It’s the only time Marks may ever appear in these rankings, so we might as well give him some love. He finished 12th on Sunday, the first car one lap down. It’s the best finish in the history of Rick Ware Racing. Sometimes it’s good to be lucky.
The Lucky Dog: David Gilliland finished 14th after his small team had to go to a backup car after a crash in Thursday’s Duel race.
The DNF: 15 drivers didn’t finish the race, 14 of them because of crashes. Corey LaJoie finished last when his engine failed after completing just eight laps.
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