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. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3): Harvick’s move on Kyle Busch wasn’t dirty. Was it necessary? That’s up for debate. You can argue that Harvick had six more laps to get around Busch and he didn’t have to knock him out of the way. You can also argue that Harvick needed to take advantage of the opportunity ahead of him. If it meant knocking Busch out of the way, so be it.
As it worked out, Harvick got so far ahead of Busch after Busch got out of the groove that Busch wasn’t able to challenge him for the lead. And Busch didn’t wreck, either. So it worked out pretty well.
“Definitely your goal is to not wreck him,” Harvick said. “Your goal is to move him out of the groove, get away from him far enough because you know they’re going to be mad.
“Today that was the situation. I knew his car was going to get wide. He was going to be tough to pass. Kyle Busch is one of the toughest to pass when he has control of the race. For me, that was the moment that I needed to make it happen, drive away, he finished second, right?”
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 2): Busch said his team overperformed on Sunday. He clearly had the slower car compared to Harvick at the end of the race.
“We were not in a position we probably deserved to be in. My guys worked really, really hard all day long. The performance of our car just wasn’t great from the onset of the weekend, throughout today’s race as well, too. We kept making it better.
“[Crew chief] Adam Stevens and the guys made some good calls on getting us better, better, and better throughout the day. My pit crew putting us in position to have control of the last restart. To be able to lead that many laps — it was just a matter of those SHR cars, they were really fast. Just a matter every time they get by me and get by me.”
Better to overperform into a good position you don’t deserve than underperform into a bad position.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 1): Truex led 83 laps, the second-most of any driver. But they all came in the first half of the race. He wasn’t in the lead at all after lap 131.
“Just VHT wore off and I was no good anymore,” Truex said of his team’s performance. The VHT is the traction compound that New Hampshire applied to the inside and outside grooves in the corners at the track. “A couple guys – specifically the SHR cars – man, they got rolling there about midway through the race and we just pretty much crapped, so couldn’t ever fix it and we had one set of tires that was funny and on that one run there it was wheel hopping real bad, I just – I couldn’t hang onto it, so we lost some spots there, but pit crew kept us in the game.
If Truex had severe wheel-hop — when the rear tires chatter under braking — he did a heck of a job not spinning out.
4. Ryan Blaney (LW: 7): Blaney’s biggest moment came when he was pitting in the final green-flag sequence of the race. He was on pit road in his stall when Kurt Busch came to pit. Blaney was in stall 2, directly behind Busch, meaning Busch’s entry into his pit stall wasn’t easy.
Busch slowed, thinking Blaney was going to exit his pit. Blaney hesitated, thinking Busch was going to enter his pit. It cost them both time. Blaney finished seventh.
Passed a lot of cars yesterday for sure. Probably the best we’ve been there throughout the whole race. Good effort. Stinks about that miscue on pit road with the 41. Hate it hurt both our days.
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) July 23, 2018
5. Kurt Busch (LW: 8): Busch led a race-high 94 laps. He started first.
“For 95 percent of the day we had pace to be a winner and to lead laps, so that’s what I take away from a day like today, where sometimes we’d be glued sixth to tenth and don’t have the power to lead laps a lot, so I’m happy with that,” Busch said. “Pit road, once in 1,000 years that’s gonna happen. We just shouldn’t have pitted on that lap. Blaney is a good kid. He wanted to let me go, but then I would have blocked him in. I was like, ‘No kid, go.’ That just turned into a total disaster and then restart I just didn’t’ get a good restart behind Almirola when we fifth, so you mess up twice you’re not gonna win the race. “
6. Aric Almirola (LW: 11): Almirola had two messups too. His team had a slow pit stop that lost him the lead under the final caution of the day. Then he had a bad restart. He recovered to third but its not unfair to think Almirola should have been racing Busch and Harvick for the lead.
7. Chase Elliott (LW: 12): Elliott finished fourth, the first of three Chevy drivers in the top 10. He’s inching closer and closer to his first win. If we could rewind back to the start of the 2016 season and told you that Elliott would be winless through the first two seasons and 20 races of his career, what odds would you have put on that happening. 200-1? 500-1?
8. Kyle Larson (LW: 9): Larson finished 12th on Sunday.
9. Joey Logano (LW: 10): Logano was ninth, which is about where he ran through the entirety of the race. He was ninth in the first stage and 10th in the second stage.
10. Erik Jones (LW: 5): The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas qualified well for Sunday’s race but didn’t have much speed. Yeah, Busch was first, but Denny Hamlin struggled for a 13th, Jones finished 16th and Daniel Suarez was 22nd.
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 4): Bowyer hit the wall to bring out the final caution of the race. He finished 35th, though thanks to his stage points his nine points were as many as 28th-place Matt DiBenedetto scored.
12. Brad Keselowski (LW: 6): Keselowski’s brakes started having serious issues. That’s less than ideal at any track. Especially so at New Hampshire, where brakes are crucial for corner entry. He ended up 32nd.
The Lucky Dog: Ryan Newman’s sixth-place finish is his best non-restrictor plate finish since he was third at the fall Richmond race in 2017.
The DNF: AJ Allmendinger only made it 19 laps before he crashed.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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