NASCAR Power Rankings: A dilemma at the top for the first time in 2018

From The Marbles

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.

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1. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 4): Truex became the second driver in 2018 to win a race while also winning its first two stages. Kevin Harvick did that at Las Vegas, but as you know, Harvick we penalized 20 points for rocker arm and rear windshield violations after the race. If NASCAR doesn’t announce a penalty for Truex on Wednesday he’ll be the first driver to win a race and both its other stages in 2018 with a legal car.

Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn said Harvick’s early exit from Sunday’s race didn’t affect the way the team attacked. Harvick was probably going to be Truex’s best challenger as the race went on — had he been driving a car that wasn’t severely damaged for the last 75 percent of the race.

“Obviously they’ve been really successful so far this year,” Pearn said. “Whether they were in the race or not, I don’t think we would have played anything any different.”

2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): Harvick went crashing after contact with Kyle Larson. If you’re forgetting what happened early in the first stage, Harvick got a little loose off the exit of turn 2 as Larson was to his inside. That bobble allowed Larson to pull alongside as the two drove down the backstretch and Harvick moved down towards Larson just as Larson had moved up ever-so-slightly towards him.

Harvick’s car went careening off the outside wall and his chance at four-straight wins was toast.

“I went down to side draft and he was coming up and we touched, and it just knocked the thing to the right and spun out,” Harvick said. “I don’t know that it’s his fault. I think that’s my fault for coming down the race track right there and trying to side draft and then as we touch it just came back up the race track. I was just trying to get a little too much right there.”

3. Kyle Busch (LW: 2): Busch had an eventful evening after he finished third. He was unhappy with a perception that he avoided a post-race interview with Fox and blew off media center responsibilities (NASCAR now mandates that only the top two finishers in a race have post-race media center obligations). So he spent much of the time after the race firing off tweets like this.

And this.

And this.

Busch’s tweets aren’t going to change the perceptions people have of him. By now there probably aren’t very many NASCAR fans ambivalent about Busch. And whether or not you like him, dislike him or respect him or not, you can’t argue that Busch isn’t entertaining.

Denny Hamlin was sixth on Sunday. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Denny Hamlin was sixth on Sunday. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3): Hamlin was sixth and had a top-five car for most of the day. Alas, Hamlin didn’t finish in the top five thanks to, you guessed it, a pit road mistake. Again.

“I flew through my box again. Once I got that remedied, it looked like were some somewhere around a fourth or fifth-place car. Even a third-place at times. In the long-run we were exceptional but we were just too slow on the short-run to keep up. Those guys would pull seven seconds on us and we’d maintain after that and gain a little.”

5. Kyle Larson (LW: 9): Larson was second to Truex, but by the time he got past Busch for that position he had no hope of running Truex down without a caution. That late caution has a tendency to show up at ACS — the previous four races had gone over 400 miles. Alas, Sunday’s race ended on the prescribed lap with Truex more than 10 seconds ahead of Larson.

The second-place finish also breaks a streak of wins at two-mile tracks for Larson. He was the defending champion of Sunday’s race and has won the previous three races at Michigan dating back to August of 2016.

6. Brad Keselowski (LW: 6): Keselowski finished fourth and has finished in the top 15 in the last four races since crashing out at Daytona. He was asked after the race if Harvick’s success provided optimism for everyone else driving a Ford. Keselowski felt like Harvick was an outlier, at least compared to himself and perhaps his Team Penske teammates.

“Well, I think Kevin has been off to a great start,” Keselowski said. “The rest of us maybe just kind of so‑so.  We haven’t really competed, I don’t feel like, for a win anywhere.  We’ve been right in that fifth to 10th range I think over the last four or five weeks.”

Joey Logano finished fourth on Sunday. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Joey Logano finished fourth on Sunday. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

7. Joey Logano (LW: 8): Guess what? Keselowski’s teammates were in that fifth to 10th range on Sunday. Logano finished a spot behind Keselowski in fifth after starting the final cycle of pit stops by being the first car among the lead group to pit.

8. Ryan Blaney (LW: 6): Blaney finished eighth, which is a pretty good accomplishment considering he fought a very loose car for much of the race. TV cameras caught him dead sideways off one corner and then hitting the wall off another.

9. Erik Jones (LW: 12): Jones was a spot ahead of Blaney in seventh. He was just a tick behind Busch and Hamlin throughout much of the race and has now recorded three-straight top-10 finishes.

10. Chase Elliott (LW: 5): Elliott finished 16th on Sunday, the worst of all four Hendrick Motorsports cars. That’s a team victory of sorts given that all four cars were inside the top 16 after a slow start. It’s obviously not much consolation for Elliott, who is still outside the top 20 in points because of the penalty he got after last week’s race.

Clint Bowyer (R) has been consistently consistent in 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Clint Bowyer (R) has been consistently consistent in 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 10): Bowyer finished 11th, the first car a lap down. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Truex’s speed and a 68-lap green flag run to end the race meant just 10 cars finished on the lead lap.

12. Jimmie Johnson (LW: NR): One of those cars on the lead lap was Johnson, who finished ninth. While Hendrick got all four cars in the top 16, Johnson was the only one in the top 10.

The Lucky Dog: Austin Dillon’s 10th-place finish was his first top 10 since winning the Daytona 500.

The DNF: Trevor Bayne crashed out of the race on lap 108 with an apparent tire failure. It was a vicious impact that Bayne said was the hardest hit he’s ever had in a race car.

Dropped out: Aric Almirola

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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