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: 5): Yeah, we admit this looks really weird on the surface. Moving Busch up four spots after he crashed out at Indianapolis does seem a bit crazy.
But this is how we’re justifying it. Busch had, by far, the best car during Sunday’s race. He would sprint away from the field on every restart and won the first two stages.
And the wreck wasn’t his fault. OK, the circumstances that precipitated it might have been (more on that in a second), but Busch had control of his car. It was Martin Truex Jr. who got loose — understandably so — and slid into Busch, causing Busch’s car to spin into the wall.
Without that crash, we think it’s a safe assumption the Brickyard 400 doesn’t unfold the way it did. Are there still some crazy crashes? Likely. But the battle for the lead isn’t nearly as compelling with Busch and Truex still in the field.
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4): Harvick is the only one of last week’s top five to make it through Sunday’s race unscathed. He solidly had one of the race’s best cars, and finished the first stage in fourth and the second stage in fifth.
He was one of the guys poised to strike after the wreck with Busch and Truex, but a late caution for a crash involving teammates Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch did him in. As Harvick had pitted from the lead group — and wasn’t one of the drivers attempting to stretch his fuel at the end of the race — he wound up back in traffic and finished sixth.
“We were on the lead strategy and unfortunately the strategy that wound up taking over was the strategy that was halfway through the middle of the pack,” Harvick said. “And then when the caution comes out, you know it’s gonna happen when everything gets mixed up and then we were just stuck in a hornet’s net and wound up getting beat up a little bit.”
3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): Busch and Truex had kept their positions at the front of the field through the first 100 laps of the race because they worked very well together on restarts. While Busch had the better car — and led 87 of the 110 laps he completed — the two drivers had an agreement on restarts to not race each other hard into turn 1.
The Toyota teams of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing have been the best in NASCAR at working together on various arrangements and strategies since Truex’s team shifted to Toyota. The manufacturer-first approach (most of the time, anyway) is commendable from an organizational standpoint. And it’s been highlighted because the Toyota cars have been so fast since 2015.
The crash between Truex and Busch was a product of cooperation going away. Before the restart on lap 111, the agreement to work together disappeared because the race could have been decided with just one more pit stop.
That’s why Truex raced Busch so hard into turn 1. Because he was trying to take the lead — and get the benefit of clean air — he got loose underneath Busch. You know the rest.
“I guess we could have continued to play the teammate game and try to settle it on a green flag pit stop, but he could be that much faster than me and yard me by three seconds on a run with the clean air then I would never be able to get the opportunity to pass him back even if we had to settle it on a pit stop,” Busch said.
Truex too took the hindsight is 20/20 approach.
“We worked well together and that’s the hard part about this stuff is when it’s time to go,” Truex said. “I feel awful and just made a mistake. Definitely should have picked the outside and it would have been fine I guess … We had an awesome car today and we got out front, I don’t think they were going to be able to beat us.”
It’s fair to wonder just how the accident is going to help the Toyota cooperation going forward, especially given what Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens had to say to members of Truex’s team after the accident. Because you know there’s going to be a point where Toyota teams are up front and racing each other for vital points in the playoffs.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) July 25, 2017
4. Kyle Larson (LW: 2): It’s a moment lost in the shuffle of what happened over the final laps of the race, but had the Brickyard 400 operated like a typical affair, the way Larson raced Jimmie Johnson down the backstretch in the middle portion of the race would be a big moment.
Johnson didn’t want to cede the position to Larson and blocked the driver of the No. 42. Larson responded by bumping Johnson down the straightaway into turn 3.
The contact meant Larson had to come to pit road on the next caution for tape and repairs. And it also meant he lost a lot of track position.
His late-race wreck came as a product of blocking on the frontstretch from Ty Dillon.
“He just kept running me down and running me down,” Larson said. “We’re to the end and I’m not going to lift. He just ran me down far enough where I had nowhere to go and I clipped his left rear and it got me loose probably down the speedy dry and I just came across the track.
“A ton of blocking today. It was pretty aggressive. I got blocked a few times and I saw people blocking pretty aggressively. It was pretty annoying. But, I was there the whole time on that one, so it was pretty bad. But it was just Indy.”
5. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3): Hamlin also had damage on the front of his car, though his came from pit road contact. He was also involved in the wreck on the penultimate lap of the race that led to the overtime line finish. Though, as you know, Kasey Kahne was nowhere near the overtime line when Hamlin hit the wall.
6. Kasey Kahne (LW: NR): The only way Sunday’s win makes Kahne’s job status at Hendrick Motorsports secure for 2018 is if it brings sponsorship. With Great Clips and Farmers Insurance leaving at the end of the season, Kahne’s scheduled to have an unsponsored car for two-thirds of the season next year.
It’s entirely possible the win will help in the sponsor hunt. Teams in the playoffs get more exposure than those that don’t. But Kahne probably also needs to be more competitive too. He’s still outside the top 20 in points even after the win.
“We need to keep getting better. I think we really need to figure out how to qualify better, get that track position,” Kahne said. “Today the track position was key. Once I got to the front, I felt great. When I was in clean air in the back, I felt great, too. It was just a matter of getting to where we needed to be …”
“We have a lot to work on, for sure, but we are heading the right direction. We won a big race today. I feel good about it, man. I feel like I can still race these cars. I’ve known that, and I’ve wanted to, and I have the passion to. So to be able to get a win at this track, this stage, was great for our whole team today, for sure.”
7. Brad Keselowski (LW: 10): Keselowski called the three-wide moment into turn 3 with Kahne and Jimmie Johnson his “Tin Cup” moment, a reference from the 1990s Kevin Costner movie.
Crazily enough, a Keselowski win would’ve been the first Brickyard 400 win for Team Penske. Yeah, the team that’s the best in Indianapolis 500 history hasn’t won a stock car race at the track.
Keselowski took the outside lane on the final restart, likely hoping he could pinch Kahne down into turn 1. It didn’t work, as Kahne’s car rocketed ahead despite the potential aero disadvantage.
“I felt like I hit [the restart] pretty well,” Keselowski said. “Just Kasey, it stuck. He drove through the oil dry. He didn’t just drive through it, he drove it in there, and it stuck. You know, lots of credit to him for getting it to stick. It was impressive.
“I didn’t feel like I could do that if I was on the bottom lane. Maybe I could have, I don’t know. You never know till you’re in that spot.”
8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 8): We’re confident that a Johnson win would have produced one of the most legendary NASCAR moments of the past 20 years. A seven-time champion with a smoking engine surviving a three-wide moment at Indianapolis to win a record-tying fifth Brickyard 400? Holy crap.
Alas, reality was cruel. Johnson backed his car into the wall, either from the oil leaking from his car, the lack of air pinned on the back of his car or a combination of both. It was still an awesome moment though.
9. Matt Kenseth (LW: 12): Kenseth assumed the race lead after Busch and Truex crashed and sure looked like he was in control of the race for a while. But as the last long green flag run wore on, Kenseth pitted and ceded control of the race to the cars that were trying to stretch their fuel mileage as long as possible. And then when the caution came out for the Bowyer crash, Kenseth was unable to get control of the race back. He finished fifth.
10. Chase Elliott (LW: 6): Elliott’s day went south in a hurry after the red flag for rain. An engine issue ended his day after 43 laps. So Elliott ran 12 laps before the rain, waited nearly two hours to restart the race, and completed just 31 more before having to retire his car. There’s worse work, but that’s rough.
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7): Bowyer has some dramatic wrecks. He slammed hard into the inside wall and then went spinning like a top after his teammate plowed into him. And because of Kahne’s win, Bowyer’s now on the outside of the playoffs with just six races to go in the regular season.
12. Jamie McMurray (LW: 11): McMurray got a piece of the wreck involving Bowyer and had significant damage. But he somehow finished 15th because of the crashfest that ensued.
Lucky Dog: Timmy Hill finished 14th in Carl Long’s No. 66. This is our favorite photo from the weekend.
— Timmy Hill (@TimmyHillRacer) July 24, 2017
The DNF: Corey LaJoie crashed by himself nine laps into the race.
Dropped Out: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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