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. Kyle Busch (LW: 2): Busch entered the playoffs with one career playoff win. He now has three after wins in the last two weeks.
Busch is the hottest driver in the Cup Series right now and is heading to a track where he won the All-Star race earlier this year. Given the secret sauce that Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota has right now, Busch is going to be a favorite at Charlotte on Sunday and at Kansas in two weeks. There are no favorites at Talladega.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): Truex started first and finished fourth at the track where he got his first win. And perhaps stunningly, he didn’t win a stage. Truex has won 19 stages through 29 races. Busch has won 13. Everyone else in the Cup Series field has won a combined 27 stages.
3. Kyle Larson (LW: 3): Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, the drivers at Nos. 3 and 4 in the stage-win race won stages at Dover on Sunday. Brad Keselowski won the first stage while Larson won the second. Larson led 137 laps and ended up finishing fifth.
4. Chase Elliott (LW: 8): Was Busch’s pass of Elliott heading to the white flag a product of Busch having a faster car at the end of the race or Elliott simply getting caught in lapped traffic? Our guess is it was a bit of both.
“I thought if I had a clean track, I could have run as fast as he did, but I didn’t, and I should have done something different,” Elliott said after the race. “So that’s just on me, and he did a better job than I did. At the end of the day that’s what it comes down to.”
5. Brad Keselowski (LW: 4): Keselowski ended up at the front near the end of the first stage with the help of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s caution. He then tried to stay out longer than everyone else on the final pit stop sequence of the race in an attempt to get a late caution and find himself a few spots higher on the track. That didn’t work out and he finished 10th.
6. Matt Kenseth (LW: 7): Kenseth is on quite the run of efficiency. He has eight top-10 finishes in his last 11 races. He was 11th on Sunday, meaning that was his ninth-worst finish in the past three months. With results like that, don’t be surprised if Kenseth is in contention for the final four at Phoenix. At least Alex Bowman won’t be in that race?
7: Denny Hamlin (LW: 5): Hamlin had an axle issue and ended up with a finish outside the top 30. If something like that happened in the next round, he could be in serious trouble. But thanks to the enhanced bonus point carryover in this playoff format, his trouble would be lessened. That’s a good thing.
8. Kevin Harvick (LW: 6): Harvick finished 17th after his disastrous spin and crash at New Hampshire and still comfortably advanced. Again, that’s good news. We don’t need first-round upsets happening every year in the playoffs.
9. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 10): The Dover master finished third on Sunday even though he led only five laps. As the defending champion of the fall race at Charlotte, we have a sneaking suspicion that Johnson will be in the mix for the win on Sunday.
10. Jamie McMurray (LW: 11): McMurray failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying. If you were looking for playoff bubble drama, that poor qualifying effort was an easy place to look. But McMurray gained 17 spots throughout Sunday’s race and finished ninth. There was no playoff drama here.
11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: NR): Stenhouse provided some. He hadn’t pitted when Earnhardt crashed and ended up gaining some massive stage points in the first stage. That allowed him to keep a gap on Ryan Newman and advance to the second round.
12. Ryan Blaney (LW: 9): Blaney finished 23rd, three laps down. At least there are no concrete tracks left on the schedule?
The Lucky Dog: The highest-finishing non-playoff driver was Clint Bowyer in sixth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh.
The DNF: Uh, if it’s not Hamlin, the rest of the candidates are guys you expect to finish worse than 35th.