Welcome to the 2018 edition of our weekly NASCAR Power Rankings. Our continuing feature will attempt to rank and assess the moment’s top 12 drivers in the Cup Series. You’ll probably disagree with our rankings. And that’s fine. Give us your feedback either in the comments below or on Twitter.
1. Kevin Harvick (LW: NR): Harvick was running near the front of the field in the Daytona 500 when he got taken out in a wreck that wasn’t of his own doing. So vaulting him up from the depths of the unranked to the top of Power Rankings is a no-brainer after his dominating win at Atlanta.
As NASCAR’s veteran stars have left the sport over the past few seasons, Harvick has embraced his role as elder statesman in NASCAR. And, quite frankly, NASCAR is probably better for it. While Jimmie Johnson is well-suited for the elder statesman role, Harvick is far more willing to stir the pot (for better or worse) than Johnson is. Every sport needs a pot-stirrer, and Harvick’s rationale for doing so is always pretty well-thought out.
“We’re in a great spot in our sport, and I think [Sunday night] there was a lot of experience,” Harvick said. “Next week there will be a lot of young guys in the mix with a racetrack that’s a little calmer with things that you don’t have to have in your memory bank. But we’re in a great spot in our sport because we have these young guys that are fired up and can drive the car fast and have great stories and have ties to great family heritage of our sport, and you have guys that you’ve never heard of. And that’s what you have to have.”
“The diversity from young to old is something that we haven’t had in a long time, and we’re going to corral everybody to make sure that they realize that we all need each other in order to make this sport what we all want it to be.”
2. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3): Hamlin was one of the veterans at the front of the field on Sunday. He didn’t have a winning car, but he had a strategy that gave him a passing chance at a win and one that worked out for a top-five finish. Hamlin’s still not the points leader thanks to a lack of stage points, but he’s the guy with the best average finish through the first two weeks. That’s not a bad place to be in.
“I knew that we had really good long run speed,” Hamlin said of his team’s decision to try to pit one time fewer than the rest of the field. “We were short of the 4 car, but we were probably one of the better cars on long runs.”
3. Austin Dillon (LW: 1): Dillon finished 14th on Sunday at Atlanta but was actually third in class among Chevrolets. The manufacturer struggled, though it’s hard to put much stock in their performance given Atlanta’s unique characteristics.
Dillon did that while also starting from the back of the field.
4. Ryan Blaney (LW: 2): The dial-tone finished 12th on Sunday, about where he ran for most of the day as he didn’t score any stage points. Because he didn’t score any stage points, he ended up falling from his perch atop the points standings following Daytona. Blaney is now second, six points behind …
5. Joey Logano (LW: 5): … this guy, who took over the points lead with a sixth-place finish on Sunday. Logano was on the same strategy Hamlin was on and it worked out. Logano didn’t have the speed that the other Team Penske driver (Brad Keselowski) had so it made sense to try something to get a good finish. It worked out.
He also provided a good comment about Harvick’s success at Atlanta.
“[Harvick’s] Ford was dominant, but he can be on a tricycle and probably be that fast here,” Logano said.
6. Aric Almirola (LW: 6): Almirola is having a nice start to his first campaign with Stewart-Haas Racing. After finishing 11th following his last-lap crash off the front bumper of Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500, Almirola finished 13th on Sunday. And hey, at least the car was in one piece at the end of the race.
7. Brad Keselowski (LW: NR): Much like last year, Keselowski was the only driver consistently able to challenge Harvick at Atlanta. Unlike last year, Harvick didn’t make a late mistake that gave Keselowski the win. There was little chance that Keselowski or anyone was going to beat Harvick straight-up on Sunday. And without a mistake from Harvick, that didn’t happen.
“Shoot, I think we all threw everything we had at him,” Keselowski said. “He drove a great race and he had a really fast car, and that’s a potent combination.”
8. Paul Menard (LW: 7): Menard finished 17th on Sunday and is tied for ninth in the points standings with Almirola. This is your weekly Paul Menard update. Save big money at Menard’s.
9. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: NR): Truex’s team was one of the teams that had issues with the standard-issue air guns. If you’re unfamiliar with NASCAR’s new air gun policy, the sanctioning body is leasing pit guns to teams in 2018 instead of teams developing and supplying their own air guns. The idea is designed to level the playing field and potentially reduce costs, but it also takes the blame from the teams and their own equipment and puts it on NASCAR and its supplier when things go wrong like they did for some teams on Sunday.
Is there a sport that has more unintended possible problems become a reality because of new rules and regulations than NASCAR? There can’t be.
Oh, Truex finished fifth.
10. Kyle Busch (LW: NR): Busch started first, led nine laps and finished seventh.
“We were top five, top seven all day,” Busch said. “It was pretty good. I never had anything for the leaders at all. And then I got snookered on strategy there for three spots.”
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: NR): Bowyer finished third to round out the all-Ford podium.
“What we have to do is get more consistent, know what I mean? Over the course of my career, that’s kind of what’s kept me in the game is consistency, and last year we were spraying it all over the place,” Bowyer said. “We’ve had good run and back it up with a bad one or two bad ones and then a good one. We were all over the place.”
12. Kurt Busch (LW: NR): The 2004 champion finished a spot behind his brother in eighth. That’s where he is in the points standings too thanks to one of those cliched (relatively) good points days at the Daytona 500 despite crashing out late.
The Lucky Dog: The top 15 was pretty expected, so we’ll go with William Byron’s 18th-place finish despite going down a lap early in the race.
The DNF: The BK Racing car driven by Gray Gaulding failed to complete 100 laps and finished last. BK Racing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection before the Daytona 500. Seems like a good way to run a race team.
Dropped Out: Lots of people, including AJ Allmendinger, Chris Buescher, Justin Marks, Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman and Darrell Wallace.
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