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 email@example.com and we’ll try to have some fun.
1. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): Having Busch at No. 1 entering Sunday’s race seems prescient.
But let’s be real: Busch winning a race isn’t a surprise. He’s been getting closer and closer and it was simply inevitable that he was going to visit victory lane. And he did so Sunday by pitting later than everyone else around him and running them down as the laps wound down and the race went green.
Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens admitted after the race that he had underestimated tire wear at the June Pocono race. In that race, Busch got beaten for the lead by Ryan Blaney, who had fresh tires. After he was passed by Blaney, Busch fell back to ninth behind other cars who had fresher tires.
Sunday, he was the guy with the tire advantage. The win (along with a stage win) gave Busch six playoff points, nearly doubling the amount of playoff points he entered the race with (7). Stevens said that Busch’s playoff point total has been of the utmost importance as Martin Truex Jr. has racked up 29 of them.
“I didn’t really have any fears that we wouldn’t make the Chase with our points position,” Stevens said. “So it was all about the Playoff points. You only get ’em one at a time when you win the stage. We’ve won the second-most stages. But the 78 has won a bunch.
“Those add up, but they add up slowly. You have guys that busted off a couple wins. You get in these short three‑race segments, those Playoff points are going to be colossal. The sooner we can start racking them up, the better.”
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick didn’t seem too upset that Busch used the bumper to pass him. Heck, based off Harvick’s comments, Harvick might have been the one that instigated the contact.
Harvick said after the race that he knew Busch was faster and needed to drive the corner “correctly” to keep Busch behind him.
“I got in there and was loose all the way through the corner on entry and just kept holding the brake down, holding the brake down, holding the brake down and finally, I’m sure he thought I was going to go and I didn’t accelerate. I was trying to stay on the bottom to park the thing to get going and he had a good run.”
Harvick finished second and is suddenly within striking distance of Kyle Larson for second in the points standings too. Larson is just 12 points ahead of Harvick.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 3): The season of Truex is marching on. Yeah, he didn’t accrue any playoff points on Sunday, but his advantage over Larson for the top spot in the points standings increased once again.
After finishing third, Truex is now 85 points ahead of Larson for the top spot. That’s massive with just five races to go before the playoffs. Because if Truex finishes the regular season atop the points standings, he’ll start the playoffs with at least 44 extra points.
He said after the race that his team didn’t have the right strategy to win and didn’t have the fastest car anyway. Because that title went to Busch.
Oh, he also said that he didn’t even know the names of the two crew members filling in on his team. Truex is without two pit crew members for the next two races after Joe Gibbs Racing suspended two of his teammates because of the Indianapolis kerfuffle.
“We’ll get to work and hats off to the fill-in pit crew guys, I don’t even know their names yet, but they did a really good job,” Truex said. “We weren’t the fastest guys on pit road, but they did what we needed them to and I have to thank them for that and see our guys in a few more weeks.”
4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 5): Hamlin ended up finishing fourth and third in the Toyota class. He led 18 laps but didn’t seem to have the speed his teammate did or the speed that Truex did.
Hamlin’s race was a good example of how the points system has changed significantly with stage racing, however. He scored 37 points for finishing fourth, but Brad Keselowski got 48 points for finishing fifth. That 11-point margin allowed Keselowski to pull into a tie for fifth in the points standings with Hamlin.
5. Kyle Larson (LW: 4): Larson was a point ahead of Martin Truex Jr. in the standings four races ago. Now, thanks to a 35-point penalty and despite two second-place finishes in that span, Larson is 85 points behind Truex. That’s one hell of a swing.
Sunday was a gut punch to Larson’s place in the points standings. Something in the car’s driveline broke and spit out the back of the car. The malfunction forced Larson to the garage for extended repairs and he finished 33rd.
6. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7): Is Keselowski’s summer swoon over? After a run of miserable finishes, he recorded his second-straight top-five finish with a fifth at Pocono on Sunday. Much like Kyle Busch, Keselowski is in a position where he needs to get as many playoff points as possible. While his 13 playoff points ties him for third-most among drivers, he’s still a long way back from Truex.
7. Kasey Kahne (LW: 6): Another week, another incident involving Jimmie Johnson. This time Kahne didn’t win the race though.
A week after Johnson went spinning following a three-wide moment with Kahne and Keselowski, Johnson went spinning at Pocono after contact with Kahne in turn 3. The contact wasn’t intentional — why would Kahne try to wreck Johnson? — and once again Kahne got the better end of the deal. As Johnson slid into the wall, Kahne was able to finish 11th.
8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 11): Congralations on scoring your first playoff point, Clint Bowyer. How does it feel?
Bowyer won the second stage of the race by not pitting when many of the leaders did and got the point for the playoffs. Assuming, that is, he makes the playoffs. He’s currently 17 points behind Matt Kenseth for the final spot. While Bowyer has to chase down Kenseth, he also has to hope Kenseth or Joey Logano or another winless driver lower in the points standings doesn’t get a win over the next five races.
9. Matt Kenseth (LW: 9): Speaking of Kenseth, he finished ninth after going for a spin on lap 1 and causing a massive crash. Drivers like Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto didn’t even make it a lap before their races were over.
10. Chase Elliott (LW: 10): Elliott finished 10th. Crazily enough, he was the highest-finishing Chevy driver. If Pocono was in the playoffs, this could be a cause for concern. It’s not, so we’re not going to put too much stock in the relative slowness from the bowtie camp.
11. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 8): Johnson is now 11th in the points standings after his Pocono wreck. Pretty crazy that a driver tied for the series lead with three wins is outside the top 10 in the standings, but that about sums up the Cup Series in 2017.
12. Daniel Suarez (LW: NR): Welcome to Power Rankings, Daniel Suarez. He finished seventh at Pocono and is quietly catching fellow rookie Erik Jones in the points standings. Suarez is five points behind Jones, who has been considered a possible sleeper to get a win, though time is running out.
Lucky Dog: While Suarez was seventh, Jones was eighth.
The DNF: We’ll go with Almirola for that lap 1 wreck.
Dropped out: Jamie McMurray
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