Once NASCAR announced that Kyle Busch could compete for the championship, he had two goals once he was back in the racecar: win a race and get in the top 30 in points. He accomplished one of those Sunday, winning on the road course in Sonoma. He also moved up two positions in the standings to 37th, 136 points out of the top 30.
Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch were the dominant cars all day, leading 43 and 42 laps, respectively. While leading, Johnson stayed out while a majority of the field pitted for fuel and tires, including Kurt Busch. Johnson fell out of the top five in the closing laps and finished sixth, while Kurt Busch finished second to his brother.
Probably the two biggest surprises in the top 10 were Clint Bowyer and Sam Hornish Jr. who finished third and 10th, respectively. It was Bowyer’s first top five of the season and Hornish’s second top 10.
We’ve officially reached the halfway point of the season, which means teams head back to Florida for the Fourth of July weekend in Daytona. But before we go three-wide racing, see how your driver ranks after the first road-course race of the season.
How The Rankings Are Calculated: Frontstretch does our power rankings similar to how the Associated Press does them for basketball or football. Our expert stable of NASCAR writers, both on staff and from other major publications will vote for the top 20 on a 20-19-18-17… 3-2-1 basis, giving 20 points to their first-place driver, 19 for second, and so on. In the end, Mike Mehedin calculates the points, adds some funny one-liners, and… here you go!
Big track, short track, intermediate track, restrictor-plate track, road course – it just doesn’t matter for Harvick and his SHR team. They continue to remain extremely consistent – the fourth-place finish at Sonoma was his 11th top five in 16 starts – but even more important to their eventual title defense hopes is that they are producing on every type of track. Mike Zizzo, Texas Motor Speedway
First Place Votes: 3
Six-time appeared to be driving off into the sunset at Sonoma until the race’s last caution set him up for failure. Expect Johnson to get his fifth win soon. Aaron Bearden, Frontstretch
First Place Votes: 1
Logano’s name comes up when many attempt to predict the 2015 NSCS champion. Sliced Bread is getting really slick. Dwight Drum, RaceTake.com
A lot of internal back-and-forth in Kurt’s mind the final laps of Sunday’s race. I wonder how hard he was actually pushing to get by his brother, who didn’t have a win, and desperately needed one to have a remote chance of making the Chase. Michael Mehedin, Frontstretch
Earnhardt Jr. no doubt learned much and had fun on his trip to Germany with Amy. He still has time to practice saying “I do.” while he practices on NASCAR’s fast tracks. Dwight Drum, RaceTake.com
An early accident at Sonoma ended his day for a season-worst 42nd-place finish, but expect Truex Jr. to bounce back with some restrictor-plate racing at Daytona this weekend. Mike Zizzo, Texas Motor Speedway
While Keselowski is typically strong at Watkins Glen, he continues to struggle at Sonoma. The Michigan native never looked comfortable Sunday, finishing 19th. Aaron Bearden, Frontstretch
Kahne, like many of the young drivers in NASCAR recently, is productive on and off the track. It’s likely he will get a win before his first child is born. Dwight Drum, RaceTake.com
Surely thankful a road race is not in the Chase. Kenseth can’t afford two potential mulligans with Talladega looming in the final 10 races. Michael Mehedin, Frontstretch
McMurray fell just one position shy of scoring his third Sonoma top 10. He still sits seventh in points, but with the winner total at 11 with 10 races remaining until the Chase, the pressure for McMurray to get to Victory Lane continues to ramp up. Aaron Bearden, Frontstretch
Busch has been up and down since his return – 36th or worse twice and among the top 11 in the other three starts – but Sunday’s win at Sonoma may have been a sign of things to come. With a win under his belt, look out for Rowdy to be even more aggressive and chasing more wins. Mike Zizzo, Texas Motor Speedway
Hamlin’s a great short-track driver, and he’s strong on intermediate tracks and superspeedways. Just don’t pick him on a road course. Aaron Bearden, Frontstretch
Keep an eye on Bowyer as he is starting to rebound from a slow start to the season. After posting a pair of top-10 finishes in his first 12 starts, he has recorded three in his last four, including a season-best third at Sonoma. The Sonoma performance also was his first top five of the season. Mike Zizzo, Texas Motor Speedway
It’s been a challenging time for Newman without crew chief Luke Lambert, but the South Bend, Indiana driver rallied to score a ninth-place finish at Sonoma. Lambert will be back atop the box at Daytona after serving a six-race suspension. Aaron Bearden, Frontstretch
A lot of hype over Gordon’s final race in his home state. Too bad he wasn’t able to back that up with a better finish. Michael Mehedin, Frontstretch