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 more than deserves the top spot in these power rankings as he has won two of the three races this season, and both very convincingly. Over the last two races he’s led 395 of the 592 laps run, that’s a whopping 66.7 percent!
The outlook doesn’t get any better for the field heading to Phoenix. Harvick has an absurd career stat line at the track. He has a total of eight wins, 14 top-5s, and 19 top-10s. He has an average finish of 9.73 over his 30 races there, easily a series-best statistic for drivers with at least five races at the track.
2. Joey Logano
Logano is starting to look like the Logano of old. The Logano of old competed in the top-10 every week and was almost always a threat to win at the end of races. While he struggled to live up to that last season, he looks like he’s found his competitive ways once again.
He’s the only driver this season that has finished in the top-10 in all three races. He led 25 laps at Las Vegas and brought his Pennzoil Ford home in the seventh position. Look for him to be strong again this week at Phoenix where he has one win and six top-10s over his last nine races at the track.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex Jr. bumps up one spot in the rankings following a strong showing at Las Vegas. He started the race in the fourth position and finished the race in the same position. He led six laps during the race, all during green-flag pit cycles. Last season he picked up his first win at Las Vegas and also drove for the cycle at the track.
While he didn’t experience the same incredible success this past weekend, he ran a clean race and brought home another top-5. He’ll look to continue his strong run as NASCAR heads to Phoenix this week, where he picked up his best finish of third there this past November.
4. Kyle Busch
‘Rowdy’ Busch has gotten progressively better each week following his miserable Daytona 500. He finished seventh at Atlanta and followed that up with a runner-up finish last week at Las Vegas. He’s picking up momentum and climbing the standings along with it. He’s made it up to fifth in the series standings, and will look to snag his first win of the season this week at Phoenix.
He has five top-7 finishes over his last five races at the track. He hasn’t won at the track since 2005 when he drove the number 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, no doubt he’s itching to get back to victory lane this week.
5. Ryan Blaney
In his third full season, Blaney has looked more mature and experienced than ever. Whether you attribute it to just having gained more seat time, or if you chalk it up being officially apart of Team Penske, Blaney has taken a huge step forward so far in 2018. He started on the pole at Las Vegas and ran inside the top-5 all race long. Fittingly, he finished the race fifth and finds himself in third in the points standings.
Team Penske has looked daunting this season as they’ve had him, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski all competitive and fast in all three races this season. Blaney could use some work at Phoenix. While he has an incredible 5.8 average starting position and a respectable 14.5 average finishing position at the track, he’ll look to further improve the finishing stat this week with his new Penske ride.
6. Kyle Larson
Larson had a strong race and a strong weekend overall in Vegas. He dominated the Xfinity race on Saturday, leading 142 of the 200 laps enroute to the victory. He didn’t quite experience the same success on Sunday that he did the day before, but a third place finish is still very impressive.
He’s been the lone bright-spot for Chip Ganassi Racing this season, as his teammate Jamie McMurray has severely struggled. He’ll be fast again this week at Phoenix where he has two top-3s over his last three races. The other race, back in November, Larson was the dominant car until his engine let go and he finished 40th.
7. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski falls two spots in the power rankings but only because those who passed him had great days. ‘Kes’ had a strong day in his Discount Tire Ford, he started eighth and finished sixth. After crashing at Daytona, he’s strung together two good runs of second at Atlanta and sixth at Vegas. With those finishes he’s climbed his way up to seventh in the points standings.
Keselowski has a paltry 16.0 average finish at Phoenix over the last four races there, watch for him to try and improve on that number this weekend.
8. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin suffers the biggest slide in this week’s rankings due to his tough day at Las Vegas. He qualified back in 19th but moved his way up to just outside the top-10 before speeding on pit road. The speeding penalty put him a lap down and he was never able to recover. He finished in 17th, two laps down, and slid to eighth in the points standings.
Hamlin has one win and 14 top-10s at Phoenix, so look for a bounce-back race for him in Arizona.
9. Paul Menard
Menard earns the biggest mover in the rankings this week as he jumps up six spots from 15th. Menard ran right around ninth or 10th all race long and finished the race right there in ninth place. 2018 is off to a great start for him with his new team and he sits ninth in the standings heading into Phoenix. Menard was one of only nine drivers who remained on the lead-lap at Las Vegas at the end of the race.
In years past, in the same situation he would have been one or two laps down. He’s taken huge strides already this season and he’ll look to carry the momentum into Phoenix this weekend.
10. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer remains in the same spot in the rankings as Paul Menard slips ahead of him, but Kurt Busch slides behind him. He followed up his stellar third-place run at Atlanta with a real clunker at Vegas. He ran in the high-teens and low-twenties all afternoon and finished in 18th. His Stewart Haas teammates all ran better than him; Harvick dominated for the win, Almirola finished with a top-10, and Kurt Busch had a top-10 day until he wrecked late.
Bowyer hasn’t had a top-10 at Phoenix since 2013 when he finished sixth in the number 15 car for Michael Waltrip Racing. Maybe he should ask his teammate, Kevin Harvick, for some pointers on finishing in the top-10, considering he’s done it 11 times over the last 12 races at Phoenix.
11. Kurt Busch
Busch had a solid top-10 run going until he lost control and wrecked out of the race. He claimed he wasn’t even pushing it 100 percent, but the car simply stepped out on him and when he tried to save it, he took out himself and Chase Elliott. Busch finished in a terrible 35th position, but salvaged nine points because of his seventh and eighth stage finishes prior to wrecking.
He should finish much better this week at Phoenix where he has seven top-7s over the last nine races.
12. Aric Almirola
Almirola had another “Almirola-esque” day; he kept his car clean and hung around for a decent finish in the end. He also did a great job of avoiding Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott as they wrecked in front of him during the final stage.
He’s quietly having a solid season so far with this new team and he’ll try to pick up another top-10 this week at Phoenix. He’s had two top-10 runs at the track in his career and his most recent came this past November.
13. Erik Jones
Jones had a very solid run all day long at Vegas. He qualified ninth and ran around 11th for most of the day, but he picked up some speed late in the race. He finished eighth, his career-best at the track, and inched his way up to 19th in the standings. Although, the points standings aren’t very indicative of his talent and speed this season.
He was running strong and near the front at Daytona but got caught in a wreck that wasn’t his fault, resulting in a putrid 36th place finish. He should be a factor this week at Phoenix, he finished eighth and fourth at the track during his rookie season.
14. Austin Dillon
Dillon has followed up his Daytona win with two sub-par finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas, finishing 14th and 13th, respectively. His average finish over his four full seasons in the sport is 18.25 (not counting this season’s three races). This season, he’s beat that number in all three races with his first, 14th, and 13th place finishes for an average finish of 9.33.
Dillon has some work to do this week at Phoenix where his average finish is 22.13. He only has one top-10 at the track, a ninth place finish back in 2016, so don’t expect his second win of the season to come here.
15. Chase Elliott
In two of the three races this season Chase Elliott’s car has found it’s way back to the garage on a tow-truck. He had a top-10 run going at Las Vegas until Kurt Busch wrecked on his own. Busch’s car got loose and when he tried to correct it, he took a hard right and slammed both cars into the outside wall. Elliott was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, which seems to have happen a lot in his young career.
He’s currently buried in 21st in the standings, but don’t expect him to be back there for long. The kid has many wins in his future and the first of career could be waiting for him at Phoenix. He has a series-best average finish of 7.75 at the track and was the runner-up finisher at the track this past November.
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse Jr. started in the top-10 at Las Vegas, but never really saw it again after that. He ran most of the race outside the top-15, a lap or two down. He ended the race two laps down in the fourteenth position. He’s a force to be reckoned with at restrictor plate tracks, but he has yet to prove he can run up front on non-restrictor plate tracks.
He’s Relying on victories at restrictor plate tracks is tough to bank on, so he’ll have to step it up outside of them if he wants to reach the playoffs again in 2018.
17. Alex Bowman
Bowman put in a good effort at Vegas and came out with a 16th place finish, easily a career-best. His previous two finishes of 43rd and 37th left him with a 40.0 average finish. He was going to top that no matter what because there were only 37 cars in Sunday’s race, but he finished much better than 37th. He has an average finish of 17.7 so far this season, which is right where he finds himself in the points standings, and my power rankings, 17th.
He’s surely looking forward to Phoenix this weekend where he finished sixth back in 2016 when filling in for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. He also led 194 laps that day, so look for a very strong race out of Bowman this weekend.
18. Darrell Wallace Jr.
Bubba Wallace Jr. never eclipsed the 20th position throughout the day at Las Vegas, except during green-flag pit stops. He started the race 26th and hung around the low-twenties for most of the day. He finished in the 21st position, three laps down. He’s locked in a tight rookie of the year battle with William Byron this season, and he’s off to a good start so far as he sits 15th in the points standings.
19. Ryan Newman
Newman is new to the rankings this week following the departure of Jamie McMurray and Daniel Suarez from the top-20. He’s had an up-and-down three races so far this season. He finished eighth in the Daytona 500, and followed it up with a strong qualifying run at Atlanta to start second. But, he encountered issues before the end of the first stage that put him a lap down and he wouldn’t recover from it.
He bounced back with a solid 11th place finish at Las Vegas and he finds himself 14th in the points standings. He won the Phoenix race a year ago on a fuel mileage gamble, he’ll be looking to do the same this weekend.
20. Chris Buescher
Buescher cracks the top-20 this week as he’s quietly put together a decent season so far. While only three races in, he sits 16th in the points standings.
He’s finished fifth, 25th, and 15th, so it’s tough to predict what we’ll see out of him this week at Phoenix. He has an average start and finish of 31.5 at the track, but he’s likely to finish in the mid-to-low twenties this weekend.
Falling out of the rankings: Jamie McMurray (previously 17th), Daniel Suarez (previously 20th)
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