Race Weekend Central

The 10: NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings After Martinsville

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series went short track racing at Martinsville Speedway Monday. The original plan was to run on Sunday, but for the first time in 25 years, a Cup Series race was postponed due to snow. The Blizzard of ’93 postponed the Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway for an entire week.

Though the track was in great shape, the roads and parking areas around Martinsville were a mess, leaving NASCAR and track officials no choice but to postpone the race to Monday. Even so, it was unfortunate for those fans whose work or schooling kept them from being able to attend the postponed event.

After the 500-lap race was complete, Clint Bowyer found Victory Lane for the first time in 190 races. Though snapping the long winless streak was the main storyline, there were many other headlines that filled the air along with the smell of racing fuel. Whether it was the fact that Chevrolet seemed to begin its off-week too early or the unusually clean Martinsville race that took place, there was plenty to talk about following the day-late event.

Even though the race didn’t have nearly as much carnage as past Martinsville races, the Power Rankings sure did take a beating.

1) Kyle Busch (+2)

Busch finished second for the third time in four races in Martinsville. Despite earning yet another top-five finish, he was not able to lead as many laps as he has in previous races this season. His post-race interview was about what you’d expect from the ultra-competitive driver, and you could visually see the frustration beginning to brew on his face.

Another weekend, another second-place finish for the driver of the No. 18 M&M Caramel Toyota Camry. Despite the fact that Busch seemed upset, and rightfully so, the driver still found time to sign an autograph following the race.

Now Busch heads into the off-weekend as the point leader following his runner-up result. The fall race at Texas hasn’t always been kind to the driver of the No. 18, but he has earned the victory in the spring race twice (2013 and 2016).

2) Martin Truex Jr. (-1)

Truex was awarded his third straight pole after qualifying was canceled on Saturday night due to the weather. The defending series champion led the first four laps of the STP 500, but once Virginia native Denny Hamlin took the lead from him, Truex was unable to lead the field again during the rest of the event.

With that said, Truex remained consistently inside the top five the entire day which resulted in a fourth-place finish.

Even without the dominating run that has come to be expected from Truex, the result was an improvement over the 16th-place finish in the 2017 Martinsville spring race. Should that improvement bring some concern to the field? Is the No. 78 team showing that they are perhaps even better in 2018?

3) Kevin Harvick (-1)

“Mr. Where-Did-He-Come-From” showed his face a few times inside the top five on Monday and was able to secure a fifth-place finish. But for the second straight weekend, Harvick failed to lead a single lap.

His Stewart-Haas teammate Bowyer managed to find Victory Lane, however, which secures SHR’s fourth win in six races this season. Harvick noted in his post-race interview in the media center that SHR was the team to beat so far — and how can you argue?

SHR has been in position to win all six races this season. Aric Almirola led in the closing laps of the Daytona 500 and Harvick could have won last weekend at Auto Club Speedway had it not been for an admittedly aggressive move that ended his chances.

Harvick is now leading the charge for what could turn into all four SHR cars making the playoffs.

4) Clint Bowyer (+5)

Bowyer made the biggest move forward in the power rankings this week after earning his first victory since 2012. He finally earned that coveted grandfather clock and with that victory came a spot in the playoffs where he’ll join his teammate Harvick.

Good thing there’s an off-weekend because Bowyer is going to have one heck of a party back in Charlotte.

5) Brad Keselowski (-1)

Keselowski’s performance on Sunday was the story of his season: Great out of the gate and then fizzling out in the end. He had a strong No. 2 car to begin with on Monday, but it didn’t reflect in the end with a 10th-place finish. He only led one lap but managed to secure a total of 16 stage points.

All three Team Penske cars finished inside the top 10 on Monday, the second straight weekend that happened — but as we noted in an article written last weekend, this could change in two weeks at Texas.

6) Joey Logano (-1)

Logano continued his strong season with a sixth-place finish on Monday, just barely missing out on his third top-five finish of the 2018 season.

The driver of the No. 22 for Team Penske is continuing his best stretch since before his win at Richmond was deemed encumbered last season — and if you look at the next few races, Richmond is just around the corner.

After running consistently inside the top 10, Logano and his team need to find that one “thing” it seems to be missing in order to compete for victories. Logano has at least one victory at each of the next four tracks (Texas, Bristol, Richmond and Talladega). Could his winless streak be coming to an end sooner rather than later?

7) Ryan Blaney

Another race in the 2018 season saw Blaney lead a good chunk of the laps but still, he couldn’t find the final piece of that puzzle to earn his second career victory.

On Monday, though, Blaney won the second stage of the race and had a strong car in the final stage. It seemed the team made the wrong adjustment on one pit stop and afterward were able to fix the handling on Blaney’s No. 12.

The damage was already done, leaving him to play catchup, which ultimately landed Blaney in third. Unlike his Team Penske teammates, Blaney has been able to put himself in position to win and could potentially find Victory Lane when the series returns to Texas in two weeks.

8) Denny Hamlin (-2)

Hamlin led a majority of and won the first stage of the STP 500 and was considered a favorite to win the race. However, he began his downhill slide after winning the first stage, ultimately resulting in a 12th-place finish.

It seems as though Hamlin has either the strongest car out there or a mid-pack car. For some reason, it has become a consistent problem over multiple races for the No. 11 team this season. Las Vegas was the only race where Hamlin didn’t lead a lap. At Fontana, he led just one circuit and led a combined 81 laps in the next three races. Looking at those statistics, it is surprising that he hasn’t yet won a race.

Something is certainly “off” for the No. 11 team but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t become a race-winning contender again as the season progresses.

9) Alex Bowman (NR)

Bowman led the way for Hendrick Motorsports in Monday’s race, finishing seventh. It’s his highest finish since earning his career-best result of sixth at Phoenix in 2016 while he was filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

https://twitter.com/AlexBowman88/status/978418339100930048

Bowman has improved over the course of this season so far, and after two straight 13th-place finishes, the seventh-place result could be the beginning of something special for him and his first victory could be just around the corner.

10) Chase Elliott

For the first time in two Martinsville races, Elliott failed to lead one lap on Monday. Though a ninth-place finish is an improvement, there could be cause for concern for the No. 9 team.

At the next four tracks (Texas, Bristol, Richmond and Talladega), Elliott failed to lead a lap last season. With the struggle that has been facing HMS lately, these next four races should be a good indicator of how the organization is adjusting to the new Camaro.

About the author

His favorite tracks on the circuit include Barber Motorsports Park, Iowa Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, and Bristol Motor Speedway.

During the season, Christian also spends time as a photographer with multiple other outlets shooting Monster Energy AMA Supercross, Minor League & Major League Baseball, and NCAA Football.

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Dan

Wow Clint Bowyer wins 1 race and he is ranked # 4. Really?

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