Following each race, I will rank the top 20 drivers based off of their finish over the weekend, their previous ranking and the momentum they’re carrying into the next race. Below the driver’s name, you can see a ↑ or ↓ that indicates whether they’ve climbed the rankings, fallen down the rankings, or ↔ indicating their ranking did not change. If a driver is new to the top 20 ranking, a “↑NPR” (not previously ranked) will be shown next to the “Change:” indicator.
1. Kyle Busch
Rowdy did it again. Kyle Busch found some speed late in the race and pulled away off a late restart to win the night race at Richmond. Busch is on fire right now having won three straight races and finished in the top-3 across his last seven starts. He leads the points over second place, Joey Logano, by 56 points. He also leads the playoff standings with 17 points, five more than Kevin Harvick in second. It’ll be tough for him to make it four straight at the wild card that is Talladega. He does have one career win at ‘Dega that came back in April of 2008.
2. Joey Logano
Logano pocketed two stage wins Saturday night at Richmond but wasn’t able to repeat as the race winner from 2017. He led 92 laps enroute to his fourth place finish. Logano’s car faded as the sun set but he was still able to remain in the top-5. He sits second in the points and is still looking for his first win since Richmond of last year. “JoLo” has two career wins at Talladega that came in October of 2015 and October of 2016. He should be a factor for the win as long as he can avoid “the big one.”
3. Kevin Harvick
Harvick only led eight laps at Richmond but kept his car new the front for the majority of the evening. He finished fifth and was the highest finishing Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) driver of the night. He’s fourth in the point standings and second in the playoff standings heading down to Alabama. Harvick has one career victory at Talladega, but it came eight years ago in April of 2010. Back then he still drove the 29 car for Richard Childress Racing (RCR).
4. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer had another solid top-10 run at Richmond. 10 years ago, back in 2008, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrecked while in first and second, allowing him to slip by for the win. In 2018, Bowyer led 45 laps but finished ninth. He finished in the top-10 of both stages on the evening and left the track with 43 points in his pocket. He finds himself third in the season standings, 86 points back from Kyle Busch. Bowyer is having arguably his best season to date and he’ll look to continue it at Talladega. The SHR driver has two career wins at the track, way back in October of 2011 and October of 2010.
5. Kyle Larson
Larson wasn’t able to get out front and lead any laps but he ran solidly inside the top-10 all night. He finished the night up in the seventh position, tallying his fifth top-10 of the season. Late in the race, teammate Jamie McMurray showed his displeasure with Larson for an unknown reason by trading some paint under caution. Larson claimed he didn’t know what it was about, but said they’d be okay. In Larson’s eight starts at ‘Dega, he only has two top-10s. His best finish of sixth came back in October of 2016.
6. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski had a solid day at Richmond, earning himself a top-10 finish in the eighth position. He also finished eighth in the second stage of the day to earn a few stage points. He did an incredible job of avoiding a spinning Ricky Stenhouse Jr. late in the race as he squeezed between the inside wall and the 17, missing both by a mere foot. ‘Kes’ has five career wins at Talladega scattered across his career. He won his first start at the track back in 2009 while driving the 09 car for Phoenix Racing. He picked up his fifth win at the track back in the fall of 2017, the last time NASCAR visited the Superspeedway.
7. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin ran well at his home track, leading six laps, enroute to a third place finish. Although he finished the race with a podium result, he never finished a stage inside the top-10. He found some speed late in the race and battled with Chase Elliott in the dying laps for the runner-up finish, but Elliott prevailed. The Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver has one career victory at ‘Dega that came back in May of 2014. He sits sixth in the points after nine races this season.
8. Martin Truex Jr.
It appeared that Martin Truex Jr. was on track to get his first short track victory until a late hiccup on pit road set him back in the pack. He wasn’t able to bounce-back and finish in the 14th position. He led the most laps on the night, 121, but wasn’t rewarded with the finish he had hoped. He’s in the midst of a cold streak heading into Talladega with finishes of 37th, 30th, and 14th over the last three races. Truex Jr. has never won at Talladega, and he’s on a streak of three-straight finishes of 23rd or worse.
9. Ryan Blaney
Blaney had a bit of an off night at Richmond on Saturday. He’d been running in the top-10 consistently in nearly every race this season, but he just didn’t have it at Richmond. He failed to earn any stage points throughout the race and finished in a paltry 22nd position. He slips to eighth in the point standings and ninth in my power rankings after the clunker on Saturday. Blaney hasn’t had great luck at Talladega in his short career. He’s earned two top-10s in his seven starts, but none since 2016. He has an average finish of 20.86 at the Superspeedway.
10. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch became the 21st driver in NASCAR history to lead at least 9,000 laps in his career. He was able to accomplish the feat with his 98 laps led at Richmond. He ran up front for most of the race, finishing third and fourth in the two stages, but faded late in the race to an 11th place finish. Busch finds himself ninth in the points heading into Talladega. He’s never won there but has a very respectable average finish of 15.88 at the highly unpredictable track. SHR has looked great so far this season and Busch has too, watch for him to run well at ‘Dega.
11. Jimmie Johnson
“7-time” put together back-to-back top-10s for the first time this season from Bristol to Richmond. He scraped the wall early and didn’t look to be having great night, but he bounced back very strong and fought for a sixth place finish. He’s finally starting to come alive and climb the standings. Johnson has won at the Superspeedway twice in his career but hasn’t experienced much success in recent years. He’s finished 22nd or worse in three of his last four trips to the track and has only led three total laps over those four races.
12. Aric Almirola
Almirola finished outside the top-10 for the fourth time in the last five races. He ran well early, finishing second in the first stage and third in the second stage. He finished the day with a 17th place finish due to a pit road issue. Outside of a stellar sixth place run at Bristol, he’s in a bit of a skid heading into Talladega. He’s been great at Talladega recently, as he’s finished in the top-8 the last three races. Watch for a bounce-back race at ‘Dega this week for the Stewart Haas driver.
13. Erik Jones
Jones experienced a grueling night at Richmond. He even found himself a lap down at one point and had to battle to get his lap back. He was eventually able to get it back and salvage a respectable 13th place finish. As we hit the 1/4 mark of the season, Jones sits 12th in the point standings, 47 points inside the playoff picture. He’s got his work cut out for him at Talladega, he’s finished 33rd and 36th in his two starts at the track after wrecking out both times.
14. Alex Bowman
Bowman found himself in a similar boat as Jones for the majority of Saturday night. He fought to get his lap back and battled a racecar that wasn’t really up to his liking. He’s still the highest Hendrick driver in the point standings in the 13th position. Bowman has a best finish of 16th at ‘Dega, but an average finish of 31.20 at the track. Look for him to improve on his average finishing position as long as he can avoid “the big one.”
15. William Byron
The rookie continues to improve week after week. He looked great at Richmond and his 12th place finish isn’t very indicative of how good he was throughout the night. He started ninth and drove his way to two top-5 stage finishes, fourth and fifth. A pit road speeding penalty set him back late and was the reason behind the non-top-10 finish. The great run is still extremely encouraging as he heads into his first career race at Talladega in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS). He finished 36th in his only Xfinity start at the track after he wrecked out after only 32 laps.
16. Chase Elliott
Elliott fought for a runner-up finish at Richmond on Saturday night. He stole the second position from Denny Hamlin on a late restart but wasn’t able to run down Kyle Busch for the lead. The second place finish was his second top-3 of the season, he finished third at Phoenix a few weeks back. Elliott has an average finish of 15.24 at Talladega with a best finish of fifth in his first career start there back in May of 2016. He’s started inside the top-8 in all four of his starts at the track. If he can avoid wrecks, he’ll have a great shot at his first career win.
17. Austin Dillon
Dillon has only earned one top-10 since he won the season-opener at Daytona. After his win, his best finish has been 10th and his average finish has been a dismal 17.5. Dillon has an average finish of 20.00 over his nine starts at Talladega. He’s earned two top-10s and one top-5 both in the 2016 season. Everyone has a shot at the win on restrictor-plate tracks and he did win the first restrictor plate track of the season. He could be a factor late in this one.
18. Paul Menard
Menard hasn’t finished in the top-10 since Las Vegas, which seems like ages ago. He opened the season with two top-10s in the first three races, but since then his average finish is 22.5. He’ll look to get back on the right track at Talladega where he’s earned six top-10s over his 23 career starts at the Superspeedway. For the first time this season he finds himself outside the playoff picture as he’s now 18th in the points.
19. Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman left Richmond with a brutal result of 37th. He only gained five points from the race, and four of those came from his seventh place finish in the second stage. He made heavy contact with the wall when he was forced into it by Jamie McMurray with less than 50 laps to go. Newman has never won at Talladega but he’s coming off a second place finish the last time NASCAR visited the 2.66 mile long track.
20. Daniel Suarez
Suarez finds his way back into the top-20 rankings after falling out after Auto Club. He’s strung together two good runs in a row, all while nursing a fractured thumb the last three weeks. He finished 11th at Bristol and 10th at Richmond, his second top-10 of the season. He’s climbed back to the 21st spot in the points after a sluggish start to the season. He’s starting to hit his stride as NASCAR rolls into Talladega. In his rookie season he finished 19th and 15th at the track and led 11 laps late in the second race before getting wrecked. Suarez will look to continue his good runs at Talladega and compete for his first career win.
Falling out of the rankings: — Darrell Wallace Jr. (previously 20th)
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