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. Brad Keselowski (LW: 9): No, Brad Keselowski didn’t assume the role of best restrictor plate racer with his win on Sunday. He was already there.
Keselowski’s recent dominance on plate tracks had previously established him as the driver to beat. Sunday’s victory was his fourth in 13 plate races dating back to the fall Talladega race in 2014. No other driver can match that success.
His success Sunday needed some luck too. After pitting to fix a faulty radio, Keselowski narrowly missed multiple wrecks as he drove to the front. Talladega can be random. But Talladega also rewards those who are the best at managing the draft.
“I think we made it through three big wrecks, and the races here at Talladega in the spring and both Daytonas, we got caught up in all the big ones,” Keselowski said. “This one we made it through all the big ones. I thought we were probably pretty strong at those other races and didn’t have the luck. Today we had the luck that we needed, and then we were able to execute at the end with the moves on the last two or three laps.”
2. Denny Hamlin (LW: 5): Hamlin was the only other playoff contender who had a shot at the win in the late laps. It was not a good day for drivers in the playoffs.
Hamlin finished fifth and is still fifth in the standings, 21 points ahead of teammate Kyle Busch in ninth. He didn’t move up in the points because he collected just one stage point, finishing 10th in the second stage.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): Given the craziness of Sunday’s race, there’s no consistent rhyme or reason to these Power Rankings. So since Truex won a week ago at Charlotte he only drops two spots despite being the instigator of the biggest crash of the race.
“Well I tried to get into a hole that was closing up at the wrong time and by the time that I got in the brakes trying to get out of there I got [David Ragan] a little bit on the right rear and he got squirrely out there and all hell broke loose,” Truex said. “Just was trying to get to the end and get some track position and try to get towards the front and have a good day and ended up causing a wreck, so I hate it for everybody.”
4. Kyle Busch (LW: 4): Busch was caught up in that accident and his left-front tire went bouncing across the track. His car got destroyed that much.
Busch could be lower in Power Rankings given he’s ninth in the standings. But his recent history at Kansas Speedway is good and he’ll have one of the fastest cars throughout the weekend. A stage win or two could be good enough to get Busch into the third round even if he doesn’t win the race.
5. Chase Elliott (LW: 2): Elliott’s team has had speed on intermediate tracks as well and he’s got a 20-point cushion on Busch. He had a pretty fast car at Talladega and had the track position to match it. But contact with Daniel Suarez crushed his car with less than 10 laps to go.
6. Kyle Larson (LW: 3): Larson’s car got beat all to hell in that aforementioned incident but ended up finishing 13th and the first car a lap down because it was at least driveable. Only 14 cars finished Sunday’s race, the fewest cars running at the end of an event since a 1986 race at Talladega that was won by Bobby Hillin Jr.
7. Ryan Blaney (LW: 11): Blaney had a pretty good car too. And guess what? He ended up crashed. He still finished 18th. Yay for top 20s.
8. Matt Kenseth (LW: 10): Kenseth had a pretty good car too. And guess what? He ended up crashed. He still finished 14th. Yay for top 15s.`
9. Kevin Harvick (LW: 6): Harvick’s race had quite the inglorious ending. He was in the big crash that started with the contact between Ragan and Truex but his car wasn’t damaged enough to sideline him for the race.
Harvick’s race was over in the next wreck. And it looked really bizarre. As Blaney’s car was sliding sideways, Harvick and Brendan Gaughan approached him. Harvick got into the back of Gaughan, but both drivers had the opportunity after the bump to make maneuvers to avoid Blaney’s car.
Yet both drove straight into him. Did they not see him? Lock up the brakes while trying to come to a stop? Get incorrect information from spotters?
Harvick still finished 20th. What a weird race.
10. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 7): Johnson is officially listed as parked in the NASCAR box score because NASCAR said he worked on his car during the red flag. According to Johnson, there was a miscommunication that led that happening.
But the thing I’m most concerned about is that there was a cue given to our spotter for our guys to start working on the car,” Johnson said. “We went out and made a lap and advanced quite a few spots as a result. Now it looks like NASCAR is trying to take that away from us. Us and a few other cars heard the cue to allow the guys to start working when the red flag had finished but we didn’t get the cue on pit row. I’m still not clear on what all went on. I think we’re in a bad situation as a result. Hopefully NASCAR can look at it and we can get this rectified.”
Johnson finished 24th, the second of the cars who completed 171 laps. If he made it to 172 complete laps, he could have finished ahead of AJ Allmendinger. Danica Patrick, who finished 21st, completed 175 laps.
11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: 12): Stenhouse had a fast car again but … wait for it … got caught in a crash. He finished 26th.
12. Jamie McMurray (LW: 8): Given the events of the final 20 laps, McMurray’s miscue feels like it happened years ago. But also given the events of the final 20 laps, McMurray has to be wondering where he could have finished if he didn’t crash out so early.
Lucky Dog: Gray Gaulding — yes, Gray Gaulding — finished ninth.
The DNF: Let’s give it to Clint Bowyer who publicly expressed his frustration with his crew after his crash. Yeah, Bowyer’s had a tough season and was mired in the pack when the six-car accident on lap 153 happened. But his public actions towards his team were a tad unnecessary.
Related: Watch Jimmie Johnson in the go90 original series “Road to Race Day”
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