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. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): When you finish sixth and no one right behind you in Power Rankings finishes ahead of you, the top spot goes unchallenged. Truex led five laps and was at the front for most of the day.
It was a departure from his two trips to Pocono in 2016. He finished 19th in the spring race and then 38th after hitting the wall because of a tire issue in August.
38th was about where he started on Sunday too. But he had a fast car and quickly worked his way through the field.
“But when the race restarted for the final time we weren’t in the preferred outside lane,” Truex said. “We wanted to be fourth instead of fifth and have the inside lane. But [race winner Ryan Blaney] got that spot by just beating us off pit road.”
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4): Harvick finished second to Blaney and got within a couple car lengths over the final two laps. He scored 51 points Sunday, the only driver in the field to score over 50 points. He did so by finishing second in the first stage and fourth in the second stage.
He gave himself a scare near the end of the second stage, accidentally shifting from third gear into second gear between turns 2 and 3 on the final lap of the stage. The miscue allowed Truex to slip by for third in the stage, and, unlike Dale Earnhardt Jr., didn’t prove costly to Harvick’s day.
“I just have to thank the Roush Yates engine shop for building a pretty sturdy engine because it should have blown up and it never blew up,” Harvick said.”
3. Kyle Larson (LW: 3): Larson finished a spot behind Truex in seventh. He won the second stage after a one-lap shootout following a 23-minute red flag for crashes involving Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray.
The sequence at the end of the second stage showed a huge flaw in NASCAR’s decision-making process in race officiating in its new stage-racing reality. After fans sat through the red flag, NASCAR had its regular 10-minute break between the second and third stages. Counting caution laps between the red flag and the one-lap sprint, fans saw one lap of racing in 40 minutes.
If stage racing is NASCAR’s solution for fans’ attention spans then the sanctioning body also has a responsibility to keep those fans tuned in. Outside of ardent NASCAR fans, who is going to watch 40 minutes of a race broadcast for one lap?
4. Kyle Busch (LW: 5): Busch drove Blaney like hell to try to prevent a pass Let’s revisit that.
As the laps clicked off after Blaney passed Busch it was evident why Busch fought so damn hard to keep Blaney behind him as Busch faded to ninth.
The drop back in the field was a bit predictable. Busch had the strongest car throughout Sunday’s race and was out front when the race’s final caution flag flew. As the rest of the field dove to pit road, Busch stayed out.
It’s easy to blame Busch’s pit strategy for a giant miscalculation, especially as it was interim crew chief Ben Beshore’s first race atop Busch’s pit box. But if Busch had hit pit road, a bunch of cars could have stayed out on the track.
5. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7): Keselowski almost won the strategy lottery, as the race’s final caution (for Kasey Kahne’s incident in turn 1) came as he pitted from the lead. Keselowski and his team had stayed out on the track in the hopes of getting a caution and they got it.
Keselowski restarted second, but didn’t get a great restart. He ended up finishing fifth.
“I don’t know, I feel like I probably could have won it if I had just gotten that launch,” Keselowski said. “Kyle got a great launch. He went a tiny bit before the line, but not enough to where NASCAR was gonna call it, and I didn’t get the launch I needed.”
6. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 2): Johnson gave a great example of the quick thinking drivers have to employ. As his brakes failed entering turn 1 in the second stage, Johnson had to decide whether to crank his car towards the infield or simply drive straight into the wall.
“I told myself if this even happened again I would turn immediately into the outside wall and try to slow myself down, but my instincts, you are looking at the corner, you look at all that real estate to the inside and I pointed it down to the infield,” Johnson said. “Once I was in the grass, I was like, man, I’ve been here before, I should have just turned dead right into the wall and got to the wall right away. You have a split-second decision to make there.”
7. Ryan Blaney (LW: NR): It was not a perfect race for Blaney, at least until he took the checkered flag. In addition to having a loose wheel early in the race that necessitated a second pit stop, Blaney couldn’t communicate with his team via his in-car radio. He could hear them, they couldn’t hear him.
“I could say it put you in your own head a little bit more if you’re not talking as much,” Blaney said. “No, I would still key the radio and I actually forgot the radio was broken after the last pit stop. I was trying to talk, and they’re like, yeah, we still can’t hear you. I completely forgot it was still broken. It’s definitely something I’ve never had happen before, but luckily I could hear them and we were able to work something out.”
8. Chase Elliott (LW: 10): How many NASCAR fans thought Chase Elliott would win a race before Blaney? Fifty percent? More? That’s not a diss of Blaney by any means; Elliott’s popularity and his position in Jeff Gordon’s car at Hendrick Motorsports likely meant a majority of NASCAR fans thought he’d be the first 2016 rookie to win.
He finished eighth and is ahead of Blaney by six spots in the points standings.
9. Jamie McMurray (LW: 6): McMurray’s brakes were fading and the problem was compounded when he apparently hit some debris from Jimmie Johnson’s car. The faulty brakes and debris compounded to send McMurray into the wall and cause a fire underneath his car.
10. Denny Hamlin (LW: 9): Hamlin’s being consistent, even if he’s not leading a bunch of laps. His 12th at Pocono is the sixth time in the last seven races he’s finished inside the top 12.
11. Austin Dillon (LW: 8): Dillon is now in the top 20 in points after finishing 13th for the second-straight week.
12. Matt Kenseth (LW: 12): Kenseth finished 10th and is now 10 points outside of Clint Bowyer for a spot in the top 10.
Ten different drivers have won races — Kenseth isn’t one of them — but only four of those drivers are in the top 10. The points standings are going to be very important later this summer.
Lucky Dog: Erik Jones finished third, his best finish of the year. He also led 20 laps as pit stops cycled through.
The DNF: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s missed shift meant he finished only ahead of Cody Ware, who retired after 35 laps because of a vibration.
Dropped out: Darrell Wallace passed out after the race. Thankfully he was OK and checked and released from the infield care center after.
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