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. Kyle Busch (LW: 1): We’re running out of superlatives to describe Busch’s season to date. He leads the Cup Series with 17 playoff points, has led laps in eight of nine races and leads the points standings by nearly a full race over the guy in second place.
If you want to put Busch’s season into some perspective, his 17 playoff points are seven more than Martin Truex Jr. had through the first nine races of 2017. And we all know how relatively easy Truex had it throughout the first nine playoff races because of the points he accrued through the regular season.
Asking Busch to keep this torrid pace up is a massive request. But his early-season excellence has given him quite the playoff head start even if he slows down as the summer hits.
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick’s 12 playoff points are also more than what Truex had last year. If both Harvick and Busch get to the final four it will be the third time they’ve both been a part of the title race at Homestead and the fifth time in five seasons that at least one of them has been racing for the championship. For as unpredictable as NASCAR has made its playoff format in recent years, Harvick and Busch have been insanely steady.
3. Joey Logano (LW: 6): Logano is that guy 56 points back of Busch in the points standings. Logano won the first two stages on Saturday night and finished fourth.
“We lost the handling a little bit that last stage and I fell back to sixth,” Logano said. “We made some adjustments to get the speed back and then we were able to make some good adjustments to get the short-run speed where we were lacking early in the race. Then we had a really good pit stop at the end, which put us in position but not quite close enough to make something happen.”
Crazily enough, Logano has now gone a full season’s worth of races since his last (encumbered win). While his team may not have the outright speed to challenge for wins at the moment, he’s inching closer and closer to victory lane.
4. Kyle Larson (LW: 3): Larson bounced back from some mid-race struggles and finished seventh after starting fifth.
Hell, “mid-race struggles” may be an understatement. Larson went a lap down but got the lap back via the free pass. He went another lap down as his team repaired damage from teammate Jamie McMurray’s bizarre run-in with the side of Larson’s car and got the lap back again just 13 laps later.
Larson then sprinted toward the front over the final eight laps of the race.
5. Clint Bowyer (LW: 4): Bowyer had a top-five car for most of the race but ended up finishing ninth. We’ll let Bowyer tell you how that happened.
“We had a really good car, it’s just frustrating there at the end,” Bowyer said. “All hell breaks loose. We lost a couple of spots on pit road and that gets you back and then you get on the outside and get stuck behind somebody that spun their tires and you knock the front fender in on [William Byron] because he spun his tires. The next thing you know you’re tenth thinking, ‘Boy, how did this night go to ruin so fast?’ Then it’s just beating and banging and everybody dive-bombing on the bottom.”
6. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 8): Johnson was sixth on Sunday night after hitting the wall off turn 2 very early in the race. Johnson said his car was much faster once he got the original set of tires off the car and made progress through long green-flag runs.
“We’re taking steps forward,” Johnson said. “I’d love to take a jump forward, but we’re definitely taking steps forward.”
7. Denny Hamlin (LW: 12): Hamlin was third Saturday night at his home track. He didn’t have the speed his teammate did and said his team is a little bit behind. Hamlin struggled as soon as the first practice began but the team was able to make changes to the car as the weekend went on.
“We’re a little bit behind. We fought back,” Hamlin said. “We had a 15th-place car early and we were able to battle back there and get it right there in the top three. Really need a longer run for our car to come in. It seemed like our car was very strong off the corners late in the run, but just on the short runs there at the end that was Achilles heel.”
8. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 7): Truex had a fast car but issues on pit road late in the race put him at the back of the top 10. He never got near the front again.
“Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate,” Truex said. “The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments, and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short.”
9. Brad Keselowski (LW: 11): Keselowski is the most recent winner at Talladega and has been the best driver in the Cup Series at the plate track. Keselowski has won four of the last seven races and a driver in a Ford car has won each of the last five Talladega races. The most-recent non-Ford winner at Talladega is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the spring race in 2015.
Keselowski was eighth Saturday night.
10. Ryan Blaney (LW: 5): Blaney crashed in a race for the second weekend in a row. He wasn’t leading in Saturday night’s race when he crashed at Richmond, however. Blaney still somehow finished on the lead lap in 22nd and is eighth in the points standings.
11. Chase Elliott (LW: NR): We’re waiting for Elliott to be penalized Wednesday. OK, kidding. A second-place run is what Elliott and his team needed. Assuming they don’t get a third points penalty this season.
“I think we have to continue to be realistic with ourselves,” Elliott said about Hendrick Motorsports’ relative lack of speed. “We can’t look at the results tonight and think we’re right there, because in reality I think we still have some work to do. I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing. I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.”
12. Kurt Busch (LW: NR): Busch wins the toss up for the final spot after finishing 11th. He’s tied with Blaney for eighth in the standings, so given his Saturday night finish and his spot in the top 10 he’s just as good of a choice as anyone else.
The Lucky Dog: Daniel Suarez was 10th.
The DNF: Trevor Bayne was 21st but found out Monday that he’s no longer the full-time driver of the No. 6 car.
Dropped out: Aric Almirola, Jamie McMurray
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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