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 an ↑ 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. Kevin Harvick
Harvick continued his winning ways as he collected his third consecutive win on the season. He has now won three of the four races in 2018 and has led 433 of the 1,111 laps run, that’s an astounding 38.9 percent. He’s on arguably the hottest streak of his career as he won three consecutive races for the first time ever. He’ll look to continue his career hot streak as NASCAR travels to Auto Club Speedway this weekend. He’s run well at the track, with two runner-up finishes over the last three races.
2. Kyle Busch
For the second week in a row Busch was the runner-up to Kevin Harvick. It looked as if he would end Harvick’s win streak, leading a race-high 128 laps. ‘Rowdy’ has looked stronger each race after his tough day at Daytona. His first win of the season could come this week at Auto Club. He has four top-3 finishes, including two wins, over the last six races there.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex Jr. qualified on the pole at Phoenix but Kyle Larson stole the lead from him on the first lap. He was only able to lead three laps throughout the race but still finished fifth, tallying his third top-5 of the season. He’s looked strong each race in 2018 but hasn’t looked dominant just yet as he did all of last season. He’s only led 14 laps so far this season, and is heading to Auto Club where he picked up his best finish of fourth last season.
4. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin experienced a nice bounce-back race at Phoenix as he finished the day fourth. He led 33 laps and fought to hold Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch behind him for a while in the final stage. He finds himself sixth in the standings and has three top-5s in four races this season. Hamlin has an incredible average starting position of 2.5 over his last six Auto Club races. The problem is that he has an average finish of 20.0 over those same six races.
5. Joey Logano
Logano had his first clunker of the season on Sunday when he finished 19th. He qualified fifth and ran in the top-10 early, but faded to the mid-teens late in stage one and for the remainder of the race. His 19th place finish was his first non-top-10 of the season. He slipped a bit in the rankings down to fifth, and also down to fourth in NASCAR’s point standings. He’s a great candidate to bounce-back at Auto Club, where he has four top-7s over the last five races.
6. Ryan Blaney
Blaney had an up and down day at Phoenix, as did the entire Penske team. In the three previous races Penske cars had run in the top-10 and finished within it for the most part. Phoenix was the first time that didn’t happen this season. All three struggled throughout the day and finished outside the top-15. Blaney will try to rebound at Auto Club. He has two previous starts at the track and a best finish of ninth, one year ago.
7. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski, the lowest Penske car in these rankings and in the point standings, had an up-and-down day at Phoenix. He finished in a dismal 15th position, but was able to finish seventh and second in the first two stages, accumulating him an extra 13 stage points. He used pit strategy to get himself track position for the stage finishes. He’ll be strong at Auto Club this week where he has three top-10s, including one win, over his last three races.
8. Kyle Larson
Larson experienced one of the strangest days at Phoenix. He started second and stole the lead on the first lap. He led several stage one laps but eventually finished the stage third. Then spun out in stage two and faded back for the rest of the race. Larson finished the day 18th, one-lap down to leader Kevin Harvick. He slips to eighth in the rankings and eighth in the points standings following his strange day. He started and finished first last season at Auto Club and led a race-high 110 laps. Watch for Larson to have a much better race this weekend.
9. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer had another solid day at Phoenix as his strong start to the season continues. He’s earned one top-5 and two top-10s so far and sits ninth in the points. He only picked up one stage point with his 10th place finish in stage two, but the end result of sixth surely pleased him and his team. He’ll look to keep it going this week at Auto Club where he finished third in his first race with Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) a year ago.
10. Chase Elliott
Elliott recorded his best finish of the season at Phoenix when he parked it in third at the end of the day. He ran top-5 all day and looked like he might even have a shot for a win at the end. He’s been the strongest Hendrick Chevy this season and is the highest Hendrick driver in the points in 16th. In his two races at Auto Club he’s finished sixth and 10th. He should continue to climb the point standings and power rankings at Auto Club.
11. Aric Almirola
Almirola’s breakout season with Stewart Haas rolled on through Phoenix. He used a two-tire stop to gain track position in the top-10 and he was able to keep it for the rest of the race. SHR finished all four of their drivers in the top-10 and they all sit inside the top-11 in points. He had six top-10s all of last season and already has two in his first four races and finished 11th at Daytona. Expect Almirola to surpass six top-10s for sure this season.
12. Kurt Busch
Busch picked up his second stage win of the season in stage two of Sunday’s race, for a season total of two playoff points. He had a good run at Phoenix and looked to have a fast car that could run with Harvick and his brother Kyle, but eventually faded back late to finish 10th. Stewart Haas is running incredible as an organization right now and Kurt will look to carry his early 2018 success into Auto Club this weekend. He has four poles and one win at the track in his career.
13. Erik Jones
Jones has looked better and better each week this season and has climbed the point standings along the way. He’s expected to take a big step forward in his second season and make the postseason with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). His ninth place run at Phoenix was another step in the right direction. He finished 12th in his first run at Auto Club last season, he’ll try to improve on that this weekend.
14. Alex Bowman
Bowman continues to run well this season in his first year driving full-time for Hendrick Motorsports. He qualified fourth but ran just outside the top-10 all day and finished 13th. He’s finished 22nd and 33rd in his previous two starts at Auto Club back in 2014 and 2015. He should experience much more success at the track this weekend in his new Hendrick ride.
15. Austin Dillon
Dillon finished the race 17th, one lap-down. After his thrilling Daytona victory he has finished outside the top-10 in each race, with an average finish of 14.66. He hasn’t run top-5 since Daytona and has been running fringe top-10 at best the past three weeks. He’s already locked into the playoffs so he can afford to not dominate in the top-10. But, without gaining stage wins or more race wins he’ll re-seed low come playoff-time. He’s yet to crack the top-10 at the end of an Auto Club race, he has a best-finish of 11th twice.
16. Paul Menard
After being the biggest positive mover in last week’s rankings, he sustains the biggest slide this week. He started 14th and ran there most of the afternoon until he blew a tire and crashed out of the race in the final stage. Menard finished second-last in 36th because only one other car was not running at the finish of the race. He only has three top-10s at Auto Club in 15 races, with an average finish of 20.73.
17. Ryan Newman
Newman put together another strong run at Phoenix after he won the event the previous year. He attempted to stretch it on fuel mileage, as he did last year, but his team realized he wouldn’t make it the distance so he was forced to pit late. He still finished 11th, which was a little better than where he ran most of the day.
18. Daniel Suarez
Welcome back to the rankings Daniel! He fell out for a week after a dreary day at Las Vegas, but he bounced back with a top-10 finish at Phoenix. Suarez didn’t pick up any stage points throughout the day but he found some speed late to finish eighth. He ran well at Auto Club last year, he started 10th and finished seventh in his first start at the track. He’s another second-year driver, like Jones, that’s expected to take a step forward and possible make the playoffs this year.
19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse Jr. was forced to start at the rear after going to a back-up car, and he spent most of the day driving his way through the field. He finished 23rd and never really contended for a top-10 as he just didn’t have the speed in his car. He has a fifth place finish and four finishes of 15th or worse in his five starts at Auto Club. It’s tough to predict which Stenhouse Jr. we’ll see this weekend.
20. Jimmie Johnson
Welcome back to the rankings Jimmie! The seven-time Champ, like Suarez, took a one week hiatus from the rankings but jumps back into the top-20 after stringing together 12th and 14th place finishes at Vegas and Phoenix. He ended last season and started this season in a slump, but has looked better the last two weeks. Johnson hasn’t had a top-10 finish over his last 10 races, which is extremely uncharacteristic of him. He has a huge opportunity to snap out of this funk at Auto Club this weekend. He has six wins and 13 top-5s in his 23 career starts at the track. His average finish of 7.13 at the track is the best of active drivers with at least two starts.
Falling out of the rankings: Darrell Wallace Jr. (previously 18th), Chris Buescher (previously 20th)
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