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. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 2): We feel even more strongly about what we said Saturday night: Let’s just fast-forward to Homestead. While what Truex, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are doing to the Cup Series may seem boring, it’s also intriguing as hell. How are these three teams so far ahead of everyone else? Yeah, Clint Bowyer has won two races, but he feels much closer to the second tier of drivers in the Cup Series than he does to the first tier.
“It’s pretty amazing to be a part of this group, honestly,” Truex said. “I think when I was a kid and you seen Dale [Earnhardt] and Rusty [Wallace] and guys like that, Terry Labonte and you had guys that just dominated and won everything, and watching them, it was like, man, that’s so cool, they’re heroes and they’re such a big deal, and to think that I’m one of those guys this year and I guess last year, too, is just ‑‑ it’s amazing to me. I still pinch myself. I still enjoy every win like it’s the first, and I realize just how lucky I am to be in this position.”
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): Another week, another top-five finish for Busch. He’s finished in the top five in 13 of 19 races so far in 2018. He already has more top-five finishes than he did in 2015, when he came back from gruesome leg injuries at Daytona to win five races in 25 races and win the championship.
Busch is on pace to not only have the most top-five finishes of his career but also the most wins. It’s far from a guarantee that he’ll eclipse his career-best marks, but it’s very safe to say that 2018 has the potential to be the best season of Busch’s career.
3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3): Another week, another top-five finish for Harvick. He’s finished in the top five in 14 of 19 races so far in 2018. He already has as many top-five finishes than he did in 2014 when he won five races over the season and won the championship.
Harvick is on pace to not only have the most top-five finishes of his career but also the most wins. It’s closer to a guarantee here that hell eclipse his career-best marks, and it’s once again a testament to how strong Truex and Busch have been that a potential career-best season from Kevin Harvick isn’t a runaway.
4. Clint Bowyer (LW: 4): Here’s a reason why we think Bowyer is closer to that second-tier — which is still really good! — than the first tier. He was 12th Saturday night at Kentucky while the big three ran far ahead of him.
Bowyer has finished in the top five just six times and has just 10 top-10 finishes. That’s fewer top 10s than the big three has top fives.
5. Erik Jones (LW: 5): Jones got a massive boost with his Daytona win but it’s important to point out that he’s in the midst of the best stretch of his Cup Series career. He finished seventh on Saturday night, his fourth-straight top-10 of the season. Jones is not going to be considered a fluke participant in the playoffs.
6. Brad Keselowski (LW: 9): Keselowski has entrenched himself as the best of the winless crowd in 2018. He finished third on Saturday night, a disappointment because it broke his even-year streak at Kentucky Speedway. Keselowski had won the races at the track in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Stupid Truex out here ruining patterns.
“We’ve been right in that fifth‑ to six‑place range, but I feel like when they drop the green the leaders just drive away from us, and this week, at least at the start of the race, we were able to run with Martin,” Keselowski said. “As the race progressed we couldn’t stay with him, but all in all, that’s still as fast as we’ve been on a mile‑and‑a‑half this year, and that’s something commendable for my team, and I just wanted to make sure they got that recognition.”
7. Ryan Blaney (LW: NR): Blaney was second to Truex at Kentucky. He’s probably been the fastest of all the winless drivers — it’s a tossup between Blaney and Kyle Larson — but every good run seems to come with some associated calamity. There was no calamity on Saturday night, but is that much of a solace when Truex is so far ahead of everyone else?
“I’m bummed that we didn’t win the race because we were so close to doing it and we had a shot,” Blaney said. “Whenever in defeat, you’ve got to look at positives. Whether you run second or you crash, you’ve got to look at the positives on the weekend and figure out where you were the best and where you need to get better. We’ll take both of those away from it. We’ll appreciate what we’ve done on our mile‑and‑a‑half program of we’ve gotten it a lot better, but it’s not good enough.”
8. Kurt Busch (LW: 10): Busch was sixth on Saturday night. It’s getting monotonous in this group to talk about the consistent runs that are far behind the wins that the three drivers at the top of the rankings are racking up but this is where we are in NASCAR.
9. Kyle Larson (LW: 6): Larson had some serious speed in his car but a trackbar issue screwed up his run. The in-car trackbar adjuster was apparently falling down on its own meaning Larson’s car was being “adjusted” as he drove. The team attempted to fix the issue and Larson bounced back to finish ninth after starting last because he missed driver intros.
10. Joey Logano (LW: 7): Logano finished 10th, giving Team Penske three cars in the top 10. Thanks to his wreck at Daytona he lost his lead in the laps completed department to Clint Bowyer and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11. Aric Almirola (LW: 12): Almirola was eighth and remains the fourth-best team on the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing. Unlike in previous years where the fourth-best driver at SHR was outside the top 20 in the standings, Almirola is in 11th and just 12 points out of the top 10.
12. Chase Elliott (LW: 11): Elliott led the Hendrick brigade once again at Kentucky. He was 13th. Despite Chevy cars taking up half the Cup Series grid just five Chevys finished in the top 20 on Saturday night.
The Lucky Dog: Paul Menard made up some serious ground for the final playoff spot on Alex Bowman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The DNF: Bowman lost so many points to Menard because he had a brake issue that sent his car into the wall.
Dropped Out: Jimmie Johnson
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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