Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick loses the race but keeps the top spot here
Kevin Harvick still leads the pack (Getty).
Welcome to Power Rankings. As always, Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it’s the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. Direct all your complaints to us at email@example.com and we’ll try to have some fun.
1. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): Harvick dominated Sunday’s race and was understandably unhappy with the way the team struggled on pit road. The lost track position from those struggles cost Harvick the win, as he couldn’t chase down Martin Truex Jr. at the end of the race.
Should Harvick have called out his pit crew the way he did? Well, better now than in a Chase elimination race when a poor pit crew performance can smash a driver’s championship hopes. Verbal lashings don’t have much practical application themselves, but they can certainly help spur improvement. Harvick was certainly looking for that improvement before the Chase begins in less than two weeks.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 10): After all the things that have derailed potential great performances this year for Truex, it was fitting that his second win came when he clearly didn’t have the best car. And also fitting that it came via pit road performance. Like Harvick’s struggles Sunday, there have been numerous times where pit road has bitten Truex. Is it a sign that pit crews are way too important in the scheme of NASCAR when we’re talking about their performances in the top two entries of Power Rankings this week?
3. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3): Hamlin led 13 laps and finished fourth. It was an appropriate finish, as Hamlin had a top-five car, though it certainly didn’t feel at any time that he had a winning car. Of course, that feeling will be prevalent when a driver leads 214 laps like Harvick did. Hamlin knows that feeling pretty well, especially at Richmond. Remember when he lost the race because of a flat tire after leading 95 percent of it?
4. Brad Keselowski (LW: 2): Make that three entries about pit crews in the top four this week. Keselowski ended up finishing ninth because of two loose wheel problems with his left wheel. Both times the wheel wasn’t fastened properly onto the hub, causing a vibration in the car. And rather than risk it (which given Keselowski’s points position is really, really stupid), the team had Keselowski come in to get the wheels fastened. Keselowski finished ninth.
5. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): Will Busch and Keselowski enter the Chase tied atop the points standings? Both drivers lead the series with four wins and both have had recent success at Richmond. Busch was punted out of the lead at Richmond this spring, though we’re guessing the track will be significantly different at night on Saturday than it was during the day in April. Busch finished 11th at Darlington.
6. Kyle Larson (LW: 8): It sure looked like Larson could get a second-straight victory late in Sunday’s race, didn’t it? Instead Larson ended up finishing third as he didn’t have enough car to compete with Harvick and Truex. Larson led 45 laps and they all came from lap 285-329 until he conceded the lead because two cars stayed out during a caution flag.
7. Joey Logano (LW: 6): Logano’s Tony Stewart throwback car looked sweet, even though it didn’t fit the 1970s and 1980s theme that was set for the race. Stewart isn’t that old. He drove that Shell car in the Busch Series in 1998, which means Logano was 8 years old at that time. Doesn’t that make you feel old?
Regarding Darlington, Logano finished fifth and he sure wished that the final two caution flags could have been avoided. After the race he said he felt his team had the best car over the course of a long run. Had the race gone green for the final 44 laps, Logano might have finished higher than fifth.
8. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 4): Johnson had one of the best-looking throwback cars with the blue-and-yellow Lowe’s paint scheme, so it was a shame to see it crumpled up when Johnson hit the wall. He crashed as he got loose underneath Carl Edwards and hit the inside wall after spinning around.
Johnson spun as he was in a scrambling position because of an unapproved modifications penalty on pit road. NBC’s cameras captured a member of Johnson’s team pushing down on the right-rear decklid of the car during a pit stop. And, if we’re being honest, the push didn’t look that forceful or impactful. We understand why a lower right-rear would be beneficial, but there’s not much tolerance to move the car in that area because of the clearance between the car and the tire. But we’re not engineers so what do we know?
9. Chase Elliott (LW: 11): If, before the season, you told someone that Elliott would be the highest-ranked Hendrick Motorsports driver in the points standings through 25 races, you’d have been laughed at. Yet here we are in a place where Elliott leads the Hendrick brigade while in 10th in the standings.
The laughing is not an indictment of Elliott in the slightest. It’s become very clear why he already gets some of the most raucous cheers in pre-race intros and why he’s 10th in the points standings. It’s just that no one would have guessed a rookie would have been ahead of Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and/or Kasey Kahne. But with Junior’s concussion issues, Johnson’s relative struggles and Kahne’s less-than-relative struggles, Elliott is atop HMS Mountain.
10. Jamie McMurray (LW: 7): McMurray had to pit again late in the race because his team didn’t get all four wheels tight. And while McMurray could have risked racing to the finish with less than 20 lug nuts fastened, was it worth a potential suspension of crew chief Matt McCall at Richmond with a Chase berth on the line? Probably not.
The decision to fasten all the lug nuts looks even better now as Ryan Newman is facing a points penalty for a laser inspection failure after the race. The gap between McMurray and Newman for the final spot in the Chase is currently seven points and could go up to as many as 17 or 22 when the penalty is announced.
11. Kurt Busch (LW: 9): Maybe Busch is getting his swoon out of the way before the Chase begins. Busch’s car ended up in a crumpled heap after a vicious hit with the wall thanks to Paul Menard’s flat left-rear tire. Menard’s car slid up the track when the tire went down and clipped Busch, sending him careening into the inside wall.
It’s becoming incredibly obvious throughout this season that teams need to get their cars to pit road as soon as a driver reports a tire going down. Menard’s team waited on Sunday and Busch paid the price.
12. Matt Kenseth (LW: NR): Kenseth finished sixth on Sunday. We really want to be with him watching the Truck Series race this fall if and when Cole Custer goes after John Hunter Nemechek on track for his revenge. Will Kenseth, in ultimate Matt Kenseth fashion, be emotionless and make a wisecrack? Will he feel proud? Angry? Ashamed. We need to know these things.
Lucky Dog: There really aren’t any good candidates this week. Should we really be complimenting Kasey Kahne on finishing seventh?
The DNF: Brian Scott and Trevor Bayne brought up the rear. Scott because he was crashed by Tony Stewart and Bayne because of an engine problem.
Dropped Out: Tony Stewart