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: 5): Not a bad time to get your second win at Martinsville, eh? Busch’s victory means he’ll be one of the four drivers racing for the championship at Homestead in less than three weeks.
And it’s a deserved berth in the title race. Busch has been one of the four best drivers throughout the season — a Homestead without him running for the title wouldn’t have been reflective of NASCAR’s desire to have the season’s best drivers running for the title.
Martin Truex Jr. is almost certain to join him at Homestead, but the other two spots are up for grabs. We aren’t sure who will be joining them.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): Truex finished second at Martinsville, his best finish ever at the short track. It’s also fair to wonder if he would’ve won the race if it was a lap longer. He had the preferred inside line on Busch as they headed to the finish line.
Given he’s won four-straight races on 1.5-mile tracks, Truex is the undisputed favorite Sunday at Texas. A win there, and he’s guaranteed to be joining Busch in the final. But hell, he could finish 25th and still clinch a spot in the final.
The maximum points available in a Cup Series race is 60. Truex is up 67 points on fifth-place Jimmie Johnson. If he can keep the gap between himself and fifth above 60, he will clinch a spot in the final round on points.
3. Chase Elliott (LW: 3): Elliott’s become a sympathetic figure because of his popularity. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being the guy who replaces Jeff Gordon and who Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he’d root for in his post-racing life. But there are perks too. Namely, you get some of their fans.
If Elliott was, say, Busch or even Denny Hamlin, it’s hard to see the outpouring of support he’s gotten since Sunday night duplicated. Did Elliott deserve to be wrecked? No. But did he lose the right to be raced cleanly in the waning laps after running Brad Keselowski up the track? Yes.
It’s also worth noting that Elliott himself once dumped another driver for a far less pivotal NASCAR win. In 2013, Elliott wrecked Ty Dillon for the win in a Truck Series race at Mosport. Given Elliott’s youth, it’s hard to compare events that happened four years apart. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be used for context.
4. Denny Hamlin (LW: 2): Hamlin has apologized for putting the bumper to Elliott, and has admitted he intentionally hit the No. 24. But Hamlin clearly said after the race that he wasn’t saying he was trying to wreck Elliott and we’re inclined to believe him.
If Hamlin was trying to purposely crash Elliott and not just move him up the track, he could have just hit Elliott in the middle of the corner as Elliott tried to get back to the gas. That type of maneuver has a far greater chance of crashing a driver.
Instead, Hamlin hit Elliott as the two were heading into the corner. That type of move is typically designed to simply send a driver higher on the track. It clearly didn’t work as designed — the execution was flawed.
5. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7): Much like the spring race at Martinsville, Sunday’s race was (partially) dominated by Busch and Keselowski. Busch led 184 laps while Keselowski led 108. After running down Elliott on lap 471, Keselowski looked like he was going to cruise to victory.
Nope. A caution brought out by his teammate’s flat tire set up the chaos that we saw unfold. If Logano pits, Keselowski probably wins the race. We wouldn’t encourage Team Penske to dwell on that hypothetical.
6. Ryan Blaney (LW: 4): Blaney had an eventful final laps of the race. He was right behind Joey Logano when Logano spun and set to restart sixth on the penultimate restart of the race. Curiously, NASCAR moved Clint Bowyer ahead of him just before the restart happened despite Bowyer being behind Blaney for the four laps preceding Logano’s crash and not passing Blaney between the time of Logano’s spin and the caution unless Bowyer’s car had a turbo boost option it used on the backstretch.
Anyway, Bowyer ended up finishing third while Blaney was crashed in a heap at the finish line. Though Blaney did finish eighth, so he has that going for him.
7. Kevin Harvick (LW: 6): Harvick slid over the finish line two spots ahead of Blaney. And the two Ford drivers had a couple minor racing real-estate disputes during the course of Sunday’s race. We’re wondering if this is actually what Harvick said to Blaney after the race.
“I just told him I said, ‘Look, if you’re gonna park it at Martinsville, you’re gonna get hit.’ He didn’t like getting hit and I didn’t like the cheap shots, the brake checks and the hitting down the straightaway,” Harvick said. “It’s like I told him, I said, ‘If you want to race hard and you want to run into me after I pass you, that’s fine, but slamming me down the straightaway and brake-checking me is another thing.’ That’s the easy way to race.”
8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 8): Johnson, a nine-time winner at Martinsville, finished 12th. That’s good for seventh out of the eight drivers still in the playoffs. And given that Johnson didn’t lead the 123 laps that Elliott did, he doesn’t move from the eighth spot.
9. Matt Kenseth (LW: 10): Kenseth finished ninth. Which is where he is in Power Rankings. Yay for coincidences.
10. Clint Bowyer (LW: NR): Bowyer’s third-place finish is his best since he finished second at Daytona in July.
11. Kasey Kahne (LW: NR): Kahne finished 16th, but he’s now 11th in the points standings. There’s a decent shot Kahne could finish in the top 10 in points in his final season with Hendrick Motorsports.
12. Kyle Larson (LW: 9): Larson was not complimentary of how he races at Martinsville following his crash.
“I just got tight up off [turn] 2 and got into a lapper’s left-rear and I just spun really quick and hit the inside wall,” Larson said. “Another Martinsville for us. I’ve got to figure out how to get around this place. I suck here.”
Lucky Dog: Trevor Bayne, who finished sixth as he crashed across the finish line.
The DNF: AJ Allmendinger, who finished last. Not a good season for the Dinger.
Dropped Out: Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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