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
Kyle Busch put together another great performance in Thunder Valley and came out with his second win of the season. He led 117 laps on the afternoon, the second-most to only Kyle Larson. He’s been truly dominant this season with an average starting position of 5.8 and an even better average finishing position of 5.4; both statistics are the best in the sport. Over his last six races he has two wins, three second places, and one third place finish.
He’s carrying tons of momentum heading into the race at Richmond Raceway on Saturday night. Rowdy has four career wins at the track, along with 15 top-5s over his 25 starts. Who can stop him??
2. Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick may be one of the few drivers who can stop Kyle Busch. After all, he does have three wins already this season. “Harv” ran outside the top-10 for most of the day at Bristol but brought home a solid seventh-place finish in the end. He sits third in the standings heading into Richmond this weekend. He’s earned three career wins at the track, with the most recent coming back in April of 2013.
3. Joey Logano
Logano continues to plug away each week and produce solid results. He snagged his seventh top-10 of the season Monday at Bristol with his ninth-place finish. His seven top-10s is tied with only Kyle Busch for the most in the series. It was one year ago this weekend that Logano won his last race. He started fifth and led 25 laps en route to his only win of the season. As we all know, the win was encumbered, meaning it didn’t count towards the playoffs. He didn’t’ win again in 2017 and missed the playoffs on points. He’ll look to repeat and win Richmond again this year, but avoid the post-race inspection failure and solidify his playoff berth.
4. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney had an incredible run going at Bristol until he got caught up in a wreck. He easily had the best car on the track and had already led 100 of the first 118 laps run as the end of stage one neared. Lap cars wrecked in front of him and he was unable to avoid the crash. The result was a 35th place finish. He slips to sixth in the standings, 98 points behind points-leader, Kyle Busch. He’s got some serious work to do at Richmond where he has an average finish of 30.25 over his four career races there.
5. Kyle Larson
Larson ran a stellar race, Sunday and Monday, but was unable to secure the victory. He led a race-high 200 laps en route to his second runner-up finish of the season. While leading midway through the race, he spun off the front of Ryan Newman’s car while putting him a lap down. He made an incredible save and kept his car off the wall as several cars miraculously avoided him. Larson has an average finish of 10.38 at Richmond, with his lone win at the track coming back in September, the last time NASCAR visited the circuit.
6. Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer pieced together his fifth top-10 of the season. He had 13 all of 2017, and is nearly halfway there through only eight races. He has an average finish of 8.9 so far this season, the third-best in the entire series. Bowyer has two career victories at Richmond, with the most recent occurring back in the fall 2012 race. But, he’s been on a bit of a rough streak over his last four races at the track. He has four straight finishes of 15th or worse, with three outside the top-20.
7. Martin Truex Jr.
The defending series champ has a had a rough go the last two weeks. He blew a right front and crashed out at Texas, finishing dead last. Then, he got caught up in the lap three wreck at Bristol which damaged his car far beyond being competitive. He finished the race 42 laps down, with a car that was missing the hood and the majority of the front end. He’s slipped to seventh in the points and in the rankings after his two race skid.
Richmond is one of the few tracks that Truex Jr. could use some work at. He owns an average finish of 20.04 at the track with eight top-10s over his 24 starts at the track.
8. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski’s finishing position at Bristol isn’t indicative of how he ran all day long. He won both stages and led 67 laps between Sunday and Monday. Late in the race his car faded a bit and also developed a tire rub. The tire eventually blew and he smoked the outside wall, requiring repairs that would put him five laps down. The silver lining is that he earned two playoff points from the stage wins that will be huge when the playoffs begin. “Kes” has one win at Richmond that came back in the fall of 2014.
9. Aric Almirola
Almirola’s surprise season just keeps on chugging. He came into Bristol with only two top-10s over his 18 starts there, but he earned his third top-10 by the end of the race. He brought it home in the sixth position after starting back in the 19th spot. It appears that the new Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) equipment is making the difference this season for Almirola as he puts together great runs week after week. He’s only finished outside the top-15 once, 32nd at Texas, after getting caught up in a wreck that wasn’t his fault. He’ll look to keep the strong runs coming this weekend at Richmond.
10. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin finished the day a lap down in the 14th position. He was battling for the lead at one point and led four laps, but developed a loose wheel and was forced to pit under green. He went two laps down at the time and was only able to earn one lap back the rest of the race.
Hamlin sits eighth in the standings heading into his home track, Richmond Raceway, where he’ll be one of the favorites. His three wins at the track are the second-most in the series, one less than teammate Kyle Busch. He’s captured three poles, the most of active drivers, and has led 1,653 laps at the track. The next closest active driver in laps led is Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch with 1,061 and 1,057 respectively.
11. Alex Bowman
Bowman put together his best run of the season and the result showed it. In his first four Bristol races he had finished 32nd three times and 20th once. On Monday afternoon he ripped off a fifth-place finish, his first career top-5. He was one of two Hendrick drivers earning a top-5 on the day, veteran teammate Jimmie Johnson being the other. Bowman looked excellent throughout the race and climbs to 13th in the standings, the highest of the Hendrick stable.
Similar to Bristol, Bowman has an average finish of 33.75 at Richmond over his four career starts at the track. Expect him to run much better than that on Saturday night in his Hendrick ride.
12. Erik Jones
Jones had a rollercoaster day at Bristol, and unfortunately for him it ended on a low-point. On Sunday, he found himself battling for the lead and turning fast laps at the front of the pack. But once the race resumed on Monday, he quickly tanked outside the top-20. Then he sustained heavy damage to the grill of his car and wasn’t able to bounce back from that, resulting in the disappointing 26th place finish, six laps down.
He slips a bit to 12th in the points and also 12th in the rankings. Look for a bounce-back race Saturday night at Richmond. In the fall race he finished sixth at the track in just his second career start at the track.
13. Kurt Busch
Busch qualified second, on the outside of the front row with his younger brother, Kyle. After qualifying, things really went downhill from there. He was forced to start at the rear after he crashed in final practice. The race didn’t necessarily go his way either as he finished 22nd, four laps down. He’ll look to fare better this weekend at Richmond. Kurt has two career victories at the track, the most recent coming back in April of 2015. He’s on a streak of four straight top-10s at Richmond, including a finish of fourth in the race back in the fall.
14. Jimmie Johnson
The Jimmie Johnson we’ve all been waiting for finally showed up on Sunday and Monday afternoon. Jimmie finished seventh and third in the first two stages and then finished the race in the third position. This was his best finish of the season and his first top-5 run of the year. He battled for the lead with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski for several laps but still wasn’t able to lead his first laps of the season. Johnson is tied with Hamlin and Harvick for the second-most wins at Richmond with three. He’ll look to carry this momentum into Richmond and grab his first win of the season.
15. Austin Dillon
Dillon finished the race 15th but ran inside the top-10 for a good majority of the race. It was a decent bounce back race for him as his previous two finishes were outside the top-25. He sits 14th in the point standings but has already solidified his playoff berth with his win at Daytona. Heading into Richmond, he has his work cut out for him. In his eight career starts at the track he has seven finishes of 20th or worse, and the other start was a respectable 13th place finish.
16. Ryan Newman
Newman had a wild day at Bristol. He battled for the lead several times, was a lap down several times, and even spun the leader out while fighting to stay on the lead lap. Plus, he sustained heavy rear end damage early on in the race but it barely affected him. He ended the day on the lead-lap and finished 10th, his second top-10 finish of the year. Newman has one win at Richmond over his 32 starts at the track, but it came 15 years ago.
17. Paul Menard
Menard had a car that, for most of the day, looked like a top-5 car that could challenge for the win. But as the race went on he faded outside the top-10. He finished the race in the 13th position, and finds himself 16th in the point standings. He hasn’t earned a top-10 finish since the third race of the season when NASCAR visited Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Menard may have a tough day ahead at Richmond, as he’s only earned one top-10 at Richmond over his 22 starts and it came back in 2013.
18. William Byron
Byron looked like a top-10 car early in the race as he drove his way into the top-10, but he wasn’t able to keep it there. He faded outside the top-10 and eventually into the high-teens. By the end of the race he slipped down two laps and finished in the 18th position. He did have his bright spots throughout the day, driving his way into the top-10 and avoiding several wrecks. In Byron’s two Xfinity starts at Richmond, he finished seventh and 30th due to a crash.
19. Chase Elliott
Elliott had yet another rough day at the race track. He got caught up in a wreck on lap three, and like many times this season, it wasn’t his fault. Elliott was behind the eight ball for the rest of the race as he needed several extra pit stops to repair his car. He ended the day 29th, 27 laps down. He continues to slide in the point standings and my power rankings as he now sits 23rd and 19th in the two. Over his five starts at Richmond, he has an average finish of 16.20 with one top-10, a 10th place finish that he earned in the fall race in 2017.
20. Darrell Wallace Jr.
Darrell Wallace Jr. finds his way back into my power rankings for the first time since he fell out of the rankings after the Phoenix race. Bubba led his first career laps in NASCAR’s top series on Monday, a total of six. This was the first time that an African American driver led laps since 1963 when Wendell Scott did at Jacksonville. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to keep the lead and he eventually faded down the stretch to a 16th place finish. He’ll be making his first career Cup start at Richmond this weekend, look for an energetic and motivated Bubba on Saturday night.
Falling out of the rankings: — AJ Allmendinger (previously 20th)
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