NASCAR Power Rankings: Martin Truex Jr. surges to the top

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 nickbromberg@yahoo.com and we’ll try to have some fun.

1. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 5): As of right now, Truex would have at least a 15-point lead on everyone else who makes the NASCAR playoffs. That lead would only get larger if he moves into first in the points standings ahead of Kyle Larson … who is ahead of Truex by a single point.

All three of Truex’s wins this season have come on 1.5-mile tracks. While we understand that it may be grating for members of the No. 78 team to hear people say the team is only good on intermediate tracks. But if you’re going to be great on a subset of NASCAR tracks, the best option by far is intermediates.

Five of the 10 playoff races are made up of 1.5-mile tracks, including the season finale at Homestead. If Truex can jump to a 20-point or more lead on the rest of the field in the playoffs, watch out.

2. Kyle Larson (LW: 2): The duel between Truex and Larson for the top spot in the points standings is one of the best things NASCAR has going for it. Sure, the sports would probably like a five-driver fight for the regular season points leader bonus, but the excellence the two drivers have shown this season is staggering.

While Larson and Truex are separated by a point, third-place Kyle Busch is 100 points behind Truex. That’s nearly the maximum points available in two full races.

3. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): Given that Busch was passed for second on the penultimate lap by Larson and ended up finishing fourth, it’s easy to paint Kentucky as yet another failure to win by Busch. He restarted as the first driver with fresh tires behind Truex and didn’t get it done.

But Truex’s car was by far the best of anyone else’s Saturday night and tires really weren’t worth much because of the fresh Kentucky pavement. And while Busch had a top-five car, it’s probably fair to say Larson’s car was better than his was — especially when you consider that Larson made 90 passes.

4. Chase Elliott (LW: 4): Elliott passed the second-most cars of anyone (66) and he finished third ahead of Denny Hamlin and Busch, who finished fifth.

Per the transcript after the race, Elliott’s post-race news conference lasted all of one question and was very characteristically Chase.

“I would say it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t phenomenal, but it was a well-executed night on pit road and on that last restart, I thought, so that was nice and came home with a solid top 5.”

Elliott’s first win is coming sooner rather than later. Hopefully he doesn’t say it wasn’t a perfect day when he hits victory lane.

5. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3): Harvick scrapped for a top 10 and finished ninth. He also sped on pit road and had to cut his way back through the field after doing so.

Harvick has scored the fourth-most stage points of any driver this season and is fourth in the points standings. He’s 10 points behind Busch and thus has a great shot at being the best regular-season driver not named Larson or Truex.

6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: 7): Stenhouse finished 14th, which is an acceptable finish given the way Roush is having to fix intermediate track struggles.

But it’s not a finish that’s going to win a championship. And as he noted at Daytona after winning for the second time this season, Stenhouse realizes that. Don’t be surprised if Stenhouse has a top-10 car at New Hampshire this weekend though.

7. Clint Bowyer (LW: 9): Bowyer finished a spot ahead of Stenhouse and given that he was involved in the early stage 2 accident with Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, that’s a pretty good rebound.

Bowyer was lucky and sustained the least damage of the three cars because he didn’t slam into a wall. But the car wasn’t perfect afterward, and that can be a huge hindrance at such an aero-sensitive track like Kentucky.

And thanks to Matt Kenseth’s late accident, Bowyer is now 17 points ahead of Kenseth for what’s the provisional final spot in the playoffs.

8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 6): Johnson was simply wrong place, wrong time when Keselowski got loose underneath Bowyer.

“I saw it all happening and was trying to get slowed down, but in a low air situation I was in I could only push the brakes so hard,” Johnson said. “I honestly thought I had it missed and just caught [Keselowski’s] car with my right front. Pushed the fender in or broke the suspension, something happened where the car was pulling real hard to the right and took me up into the fence and finished her off there.”

9. Denny Hamlin (LW: 12): Hamlin was very unhappy with Jamie McMurray early in Saturday night’s race after McMurray made an aggressive move:

He ended up finishing three spots ahead of McMurray in fourth. Hamlin now has three top-five finishes in the past four races and they’ve all been fourths.

10. Jamie McMurray (LW: 10): McMurray finished seventh and moved up from eighth to sixth in the points standings. He’s seven points ahead of Hamlin, which is a perfect way to end their entries in Power Rankings this week.

11. Ryan Blaney (LW: 11): Blaney also sped on pit road and he finished 10th. Blaney’s nine top-20 finishes are the fewest of any driver inside the top 20 in points, yet he’s 13th in the standings thanks to his 124 stage points. If Blaney is going to be a factor in the playoffs, he’s going to have to avoid bad finishes on a much better basis.

12. Brad Keselowski (LW: 8): Keselowski has not had a summer to remember so far. He finished third at Sonoma and fifth at Pocono. But in his other races since the last weekend in May, Keselowski has finishes of 39th, 38th, 16th, 31st and 39th. Woof.

A few of those have simply been wrong place, wrong time (like Johnson being collateral damage in Keselowski’s Kentucky incident), so it’s not incredibly concerning at this stage for the No. 2 team. But that doesn’t mean the team can be happy about its summer performance.

The Lucky Dog: Erik Jones finished sixth and is now 14th in the points standings. He could be a sleeper candidate to get a win before the playoffs begin.

The DNF: Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne wrecked right after Keselowski’s crash.

Dropped out: No one

– – – – – – –

Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!