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: 1): Busch is now the winningest active driver at Bristol. His seven wins at the track are two more than his brother Kurt. No other driver has more than two wins at the track. Maybe Bristol success is genetic?
Busch started first in Sunday’s race and stayed near the front of the field for the majority of it, even if he didn’t consistently have the fastest car. His car was fast when it mattered, though, and he quickly raced from fourth to first after the final restart.
He was asked after the race if rival Brad Keselowski goes “up a notch” in his mind after Keselowski’s tire problem caused a caution right as Busch thought he had a late-race tire issue.
“That’s pushing it too far,” Busch said. “That’s why I said earlier, I was like, fortunately for us, unfortunately for others. I kind of felt bad for him maybe just that much, but it certainly helped our cause, so that was much appreciated. Let’s just go with that.”
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick finished seventh after starting at the back of the field because he missed qualifying on Friday. Harvick crashed late in Friday’s practice session and his team needed to prepare the backup car.
That backup car was pretty decent. In our words, anyway. Harvick also had another pit road problem at Bristol.
“We weren’t that good pretty much the whole time,” Harvick said. “Today we were worse, just really loose, especially taking off, but we stayed in there and fought all day. We had another bad pit stop there at the end and wound up seventh, but, all in all, considering all the circumstances I guess it was a pretty good weekend.”
3. Kyle Larson (LW: 11): Larson’s car was as fast as Busch’s for most of the race. But he couldn’t close out either the race win or the conclusion of the second stage. Larson stayed out on the track after the race’s resumption Monday while everyone else pitted. He sprinted away from the field but got slowed up by lapped traffic. Keselowski, who had pitted for two tires, made the pass and got his second stage win of the day.
Then Larson was out front ahead of Busch and others after the final restart. But Busch ran him down and nudged him out of the way for the win with less than seven laps to go.
Had Keselowski not hit the wall with a tire problem to set up that restart, we’re probably talking about Larson winning the race. Busch would have likely pit for his tire problem and Larson had a six-second lead on the rest of the field.
Alas, Larson is lamenting yet another race that’s gotten away in his Cup Series career. While he’s won five of 155 career Cup Series races, he’s also finished second 16 times.
4. Clint Bowyer (LW: 3): Bowyer finished eighth and had more points than fifth-place Alex Bowman thanks to the glory that are stage points. Bowyer has been one of the best drivers in the spring at Bristol over the past seven seasons. He hasn’t finished outside the top 15 since 2011 and has top-10 finishes in five of those seven races.
5. Ryan Blaney (LW: 4): We’re having a real hard time docking Blaney significantly for what happened on Sunday at Bristol. He dominated the first stage and was leading when cars he was about to lap crashed ahead of him as Trevor Bayne made contact with Chris Buescher. Blaney had nowhere to go and his car was totaled.
On the bright side, Blaney got his accident out of the way on Sunday and didn’t have to return for Monday’s race. That’s better than coming back and crashing out early on Monday, right?
6. Joey Logano (LW: 6): Another race where Logano had consistent top 10 speed. This is a serious theme.
Logano has snuck his way up to second in the points standings thanks to his run of top-10 finishes. After finishing ninth on Sunday, Logano has seven top 10s in the first eight races of the season. Kyle Busch is the only other driver who can match Logano in that category.
7. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 5): Truex got caught in the early accident on lap 3 when Michael McDowell lost control and collected Chase Elliott and others. That meant for a long Sunday and Monday. He ended up retiring after 458 laps with a 30th-place finish.
8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 12): Johnson had his best run of the season at Bristol. He finished third and, perhaps more importantly, was in the top 10 in each of the first two stages. It wasn’t a matter of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus eeking out a good finish.
“I’ve said for weeks now that we’re getting better and it’s great to finally have a result to back that up,” Johnson said.
9. Jamie McMurray (LW: 8): McMurray finished 19th. That doesn’t sound that impressive but look at this car.
— Jamie McMurray (@jamiemcmurray) April 16, 2018
10. Aric Almirola (LW: NR): Almirola finished sixth, one of three Stewart-Haas cars in the top 10. The team didn’t have four there for the second time this season because Kurt Busch had an issue with a loose wheel and ended up 22nd, four laps down.
11. Brad Keselowski (LW: 10): Keselowski only moves down a spot because he had one of the fastest cars in the field on Sunday. He may not have had the speed Kyle Busch and Larson did, but pit strategy helped get him wins in each of the first two stages. Can’t complain about two points to use in the playoffs.
12. Denny Hamlin (LW: 9): Hamlin briefly took the lead before he was forced to hit pit road because of a loose wheel. He ended up finishing 14th.
Lucky Dog: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished fourth after starting fourth. Stenhouse’s optimism about Bristol was on point. We’ll see if his optimism about Talladega is backed up in two weeks.
The DNF: Michael McDowell, who ended his day and the days of others with his early spin.
Dropped Out: Erik Jones
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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