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. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4): Screw it, let’s have some fun shuffling up the top of the rankings this week. Yeah, Harvick is in his 17th season so he’s been around a while. But the fact that there are just three tracks (Kentucky, Pocono, Texas) where he hasn’t won now that he got that Sonoma victory is proof of his overall — and possibly underrated — excellence.
He’s also a great example of the idea that NASCAR drivers peak in their late 30s. Since Harvick’s age-34 season in 2010 he’s won 25 races. Yeah, moving to Stewart-Haas Racing helps, but he had 11 wins from 2001-09.
2. Kyle Larson (LW: 1): Larson’s race got off to a bad start when he was collateral damage in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s turn 11 spin. Unlike Junior, his day didn’t rebound after the incident. And like Junior, he was involved in a three-wide kerfuffle that ended with Danica Patrick spinning and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s car in the garage.
Larson ended up a lap down in 26th.
3. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): Like many cars including Harvick’s, Busch had some significant front-end damage. But he ended up finishing fifth after charging through the field over the final stage because he had fresh tires.
Busch and team executed what appeared to be an unconventional strategy in the final laps of the second stage. With tires at a premium, Busch drove slowly to save his tires knowing that the caution was going to come out and he’d make up the track position.
4. Martin Truex (LW: 2): This is really harsh for Truex, who had the race’s fastest car. He won the first stage and looked primed to battle Kevin Harvick for the race win until an engine issue sidelined his car.
If the Truex luck is back, the No. 78 team better hope it goes away before the playoffs. But at the same time, Truex has logged so many playoff points (and is in line for a hefty bonus for being near the top of the points standings) that he can survive some bad luck at the beginning of the playoffs.
“For about the past 20 laps, [I had] been on seven cylinders,” Truex said after his engine bit the dust. “After we made that last pit stop, when we lost the lead to Harvick, soon as I left pit road, I lost a cylinder. I was surprised we were able to keep up with them as well as we could on seven, but just shows how strong the car was.”
5. Chase Elliott (LW: 5): Elliott finished eighth, which is impressive given that Sunday’s race was just his second Cup race at Sonoma. And that he wrecked his primary car in Friday’s second practice session.
As drivers in Elliott’s experience class keep winning, the pressure to win may seem like its piling up on the driver of the No. 24. But Elliott has been consistent since he stepped into the Cup Series and that’s a better sign of excellence than a fluke win.
Though if you ask Elliott about his performance on Sunday, he won’t give himself a very good grade.
“I don’t think I did a very good job,” Elliott said. “They made good calls on pit road that ended up getting me track position that we needed.”
6. Brad Keselowski (LW: 8): Keselowski was one of the last drivers to pit in the final stage, hoping that a caution would come out and he could stay near the front of the field as everyone else came to pit road with him.
That didn’t happen, but it worked out pretty well anyway. With fresh tires compared to many of his peers, Keselowski charged back up to third by the time of the checkered flag. Had there been a late caution, he could have finished even higher.
“You have to be patient and have to believe in your team because you know they can see things you can’t and obviously they made they made the right call to stay out there long,” Keselowski said. “And when we decided to come in and get tire we were able to move up the field quickly. A few more laps we could have gotten up to second.”
7. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 6): Johnson’s stage 2 win was his first stage win of the year. He ended up finishing 13th after pitting at the end of the second stage and being unable to work his way through the field as the strategy unfolded over the final half of the race.
All that strategy because of the stages was hard to keep track of, Johnson said.
“I had no earthly idea what was going on,” Johnson said. “I passed so many cars. I don’t even know what strategy won. It was very difficult to know what was going on from inside the car. I would assume that caused a lot of great viewing and entertainment that was fun to watch, but I had no clue what was going on out there.”
8. Jamie McMurray (LW: 7): McMurray started second and finished 10th. McMurray said he figured he’d finish higher than that, but as the final stage went green the entire way, his older tires didn’t pay off at the end.
“I thought we were going to be fourth or fifth and some of those guys pitted and actually ran us back down with tires, which you normally don’t see,” McMurray said. “We normally don’t have that long of a green flag run, but overall really good day for our Cessna Chevy.”
9. Denny Hamlin (LW: 10): Hamlin finished fourth, the highest-finishing driver who wasn’t in a Ford. He led the first 10 laps of the third stage after Johnson pitted and then worked his way back to the front as others pitted throughout the final stage.
10. Ryan Blaney (LW: 9): Blaney finished ninth, but he moves down a spot because Hamlin finished fourth. He said his team pitted early in the final stage thinking there would be a caution late in the race and the team would have a chance to pit for tires. That caution never happened, as you know from that being written about 50 times prior to Blaney’s entry.
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: NR): Bowyer’s second-place finish ties his best of the season and, more importantly, moves him ahead of Matt Kenseth for 11th in the points standings. With Harvick’s win, seven of the top 12 drivers in points don’t have a win. Kenseth is 12th. Because nine drivers have official wins and Joey Logano is in encumbered purgatory, Bowyer is the last driver in to the playoffs on points at the moment.
12. Joey Logano (LW: 11): Logano finished 12th after he got a late pit road speeding penalty. He had high hopes for his race without the penalty.
“We had the winning strategy and scored a lot of stage points,” Logano said. “With a little more speed we maybe could have won the thing. I just sped down pit road and lost so much track position after that.”
Lucky Dog: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth.
The DNF: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got crashed out after his girlfriend Danica Patrick went spinning. He finished last.
Dropped Out: Matt Kenseth
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