It finally happened. After weeks of publicity and hype, Kyle Busch scored his 200th career victory across NASCAR’s three national touring series in Sunday’s Auto Club 400. Busch is looking unbeatable, but will this trend last as NASCAR moves back east?
Once again, Martin Truex Jr started deep in the field at Auto Club but came away with an impressive top 10 after fighting a damaged race car throughout the day. If Truex gets to qualifying better, can he finally be a threat once again?
Although the season is young, Chevrolet’s struggles look to be continuing. However, Kurt Busch has strung together four straight top 10s. Can Busch carry the bow-tie and rally the rest of the Chevrolet troops as the season progresses?
Ryan Blaney quietly drove his Ford into the top five at the two-mile California track, which backed up a third-place result at ISM Raceway a week earlier. After a rocky trio of races to begin the season, will Blaney’s last two performances be indicative of the performances of his fellow Penske teammates?
Questions circulate as the series moves to the first true short track this season, Martinsville Speedway. Some drivers are looking to carry momentum from the west coast swing into the paperclip-shaped track, while others are hoping to use the short track edge to turn around their season. Our Frontstretch experts had the challenging task of determining the top 12 drivers in NASCAR — well, at least the 2nd to 12th best.
How the power rankings are calculated: Following the conclusion of each Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, members of a voting panel, including Frontstretch writers and members of accredited media outlets as well as writers from other sites and social media personalities, submit their top 12 drivers for the Power Rankings.
The drivers are then given points based on their ranking by our panelists, with first place getting 12 points, and each subsequent driver getting one fewer point until the 12th-place driver, who gets a single point. Points are then added together, and the rankings are subsequently produced.
Power Rankings: Auto Club 400 Edition
1. Kyle Busch – 216 Points
First place votes: 18 (Unanimous)
Last week’s ranking: 1st (No Change)
Our panel was unanimous in picking Busch as their number one driver in present-day NASCAR. With immense buildup over the last month, Busch has now reached the golden number: 200 wins. Although that number includes Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck series victories, many in the NASCAR sphere have been comparing (or lack thereof as the majority concludes) Busch’s accomplishment to Richard Petty’s “unreachable” mark. But, Michael Waltrip might have put it best. Yep, its from Mikey of all people.
— Michael Waltrip (@MW55) March 18, 2019
“He’s good, no doubt. Now that he’s hit 200 wins can we talk about something else?” -Dan Greene, Frontstretch
“Genius move by Busch. He hates the new package, and he keeps winning so fans will also hate it.” -Michael Massie, Frontstretch
2. Joey Logano – 187 Points
Last week’s ranking: 2nd (No Change)
For the second straight week, Logano sits in second in the power rankings behind Kyle Busch. However, citing the results of the first five events, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing look to have the best grip on the new aero package. Can the Penske brigade, led by defending champion Logano, dethrone Busch though? A runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway certainly helps, but they still have some work to do.
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) March 17, 2019
“Logano returns to Martinsville for the first time since the bump and run on Martin Truex Jr. Hopefully, they qualify next to each other, ride in the driver intros truck together and race together the whole day.” -Massie
3. Brad Keselowski – 174 Points
Last week’s ranking: 6th (+3)
The second Penske driver, Keselowski, also had a superb showing at Auto Club. The No 2 driver piloted his Ford to a third-place finish, right behind Busch and Logano. But, Keselowski seemed focused on his other teammate, Ryan Blaney. Doesn’t Keselowski sound like a dad?
Very proud of @blaney this weekend. He’s come so far…
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) March 16, 2019
“With another fast car, I guess you could say this most recent run was Wurth it for Keselowski at Fontana.” -Rob Tiongson, The Podium Finish
4. Kevin Harvick – 142 Points
Last week’s ranking: 5th (+1)
With Kyle Busch winning in every car he drives, the Big Three from last year might be no more. Sure, Truex has had a change of scenery, but where has Harvick been? He’s only third in points, has no wins and a dismal four top 10s through five events. Geez, he already had three wins at this point in 2018. Last season, Happy was cruising to victories, but he’s now “fighting” for them. But come on, he might not be having the best start in recent years, but he is still a force to be reckoned with.
Definitely not what we want, and we have a lot of work to do.. But a hell of a day today fighting all day.. @KevinHarvick and the pit crew did a great job today, and the road guys fought all weekend on the car! @StewartHaasRcng
— Rodney Childers (@RodneyChilders4) March 18, 2019
“Kevin Harvick doesn’t have a win yet? Oh the horror! This is an off year for Harvick.” -Jake Baskinger, Jake Baskinger on YouTube
5. Kurt Busch – 139 Points
Last week’s ranking: 7th (+2)
You would expect a driver with an energy drink sponsorship to have fire, vivacity and aggression out on the race track. Instead, Kurt Busch has been lurking in the shadows. With all the emphasis placed upon his younger brother, the elder Busch has been clicking off top 10 after top 10, a-la former teammate Aric Almirola. Quietly, Busch has become the most consistent Chevrolet driver in the field. Is he on the precipice of getting Chevy its first win of 2019?
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) March 18, 2019
“The Outlaw continues to fly the flag high for the Bowtie.” -Kobe Lambeth, Kobelambeth.com
6. Martin Truex Jr – 120 Points
Last week’s ranking: 3rd (-3)
Once again, Truex had a poor qualifying effort, which put him deep in the field. Yet, he, with the aid of crew chief Cole Pearn, was able to navigate his way up through the field with ease … that is until he caught Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The driver out of New Jersey suffered significant right-rear damage after being collected in a stampede to the high side of the race course to avoid a spinning Stenhouse. A solid eighth-place finish did follow, however.
We had an awesome @BassProShops Camry today. Just got in a bad spot on that one restart and hurt our car pretty bad. We never gave up on it and finished eighth with a car that probably shouldn’t have finished eighth. On to Martinsville. #TeamToyota pic.twitter.com/InsHAX9qrB
— Martin Truex Jr. (@MartinTruex_Jr) March 18, 2019
“Truex seemed to be coming through the field when he was collected in a crash, so he came through a second time, now in a damaged car, to finish 8th.” -Ryan Holman, Ryan Holman on YouTube
7. Denny Hamlin – 106 Points
Last week’s ranking: 4th (-3)
What have you done if you are a driver and get booed at a track in your home state? You must have done something outrageous. Let’s ask the Chase Elliott fans. Two seasons later, there is still a cloud of dissent surrounding Hamlin when he strolls into Martinsville. We will see how the crowd reaction presents itself, but just remember, a large amount of Elliott supporters still use FedEx to ship their packages.
— Jayski.com (@jayski) March 18, 2019
“2019>2018 for the driver of the No. 11.” -Adam Cheek, Frontstretch
8. Ryan Blaney – 96 Points
Last week’s ranking: 9th (+1)
Two top fives in a row for the son of the Buckeye Bullet isn’t bad. As the final Penske car, Blaney capped off an incredible weekend for the team, which put all three of its Mustangs inside the top five. But, why stop when you are already succeeding. If Blaney’s petition succeeds, there might just be a fourth Penske car in the near distant future, for the Buckeye Bullet himself.
Would be cool if Mr. Penske could hook him up with one last quality ride so we could watch the two do you duke it out in Cup cars.
— Justifiably Pale (@JustifiablyPale) March 17, 2019
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) March 17, 2019
“Ran well but Brad’s paint scheme was better.” -Greene
“Please don’t listen to Dan Greene.” -Zach Gillispie, Frontstretch
9. Aric Almirola – 93 Points
Last week’s ranking: 8th (-1)
Another race, another top 10.
— Smithfield Brand (@SmithfieldBrand) March 17, 2019
“Getting close to the bacon. He needs to have a good car at the end like he had at the beginning of the race.” -Baskinger
10. Kyle Larson – 48 Points
Last week’s ranking: 10th (No Change)
Although little notice was given, Larson smacked the wall pretty hard in the scramble to get around the spinning Stenhouse. Larson did manage to come out of his home state with a 12th-place finish with a damaged race car. However, the Californian has made little noise throughout the young season. While his teammate Kurt Busch is off to the best start in several years, Larson has been a tick off, possibly due to the questions surrounding the new aero package. When will the next “SLIDE JOB” moment come? We will have to wait and see.
Not the best race for us yesterday. Got quite a bit of damage at the end of the 1st stage and salvaged a 12th place finish at the end of the race. Had fun on the west coast swing but didn’t get the finishes we wanted. We’ll keep working hard!
— Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) March 18, 2019
“I keep waiting to see Larson try to rim ride at Martinsville and make it work. If anyone can, it’s him.” -Massie
Tied 11. Chase Elliott – 24 Points
Last week’s ranking: Not Ranked
Not a single Hendrick Motorsports car finished in the top 10 … again. Concern might just be creeping in for the Concord, NC based team. Last season, Elliott put a brief end to the highly documented struggles of HMS, by scoring three wins. However, a dismal west coast swing has seemed to emulate the irks of last season. Not long ago, many were asking “when will Chase ever when a race?” Based upon recent performances, we might need to ask, “when will Chase ever win again?” Despite the concerns, the son of Awesome Bill from Dawsonville continues to bring levity and energy to track each week. Oh, and Daniel Suarez has a new biggest fan.
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) March 17, 2019
“He’s not showing the same speed he had at the end of last season. But hey, he’s still the fastest Hendrick car.” -Eric Estepp, Out of the Groove
Tied 11. Austin Dillon – 24 Points
Last week’s ranking: Not Ranked
So, Michael Jordan had the flu game and Keselowski had the flu race. Dillon wanted to join the party too. Although relief driver Cole Custer was on standby, an ailing Dillon persevered through the entirety of the event. He didn’t win the contest, but he did win the pole and arguably had the best race of his season, including a bounce-back 10th-place finish from a cut tire. Maybe drivers should get ill more often.
Suit was a little tight 😂 Can’t thank everyone enough for letting me be on stand by https://t.co/yDFHLMxSP6
— Cole Custer (@ColeCuster) March 17, 2019
“After scoring his first top 10 of the year, Dillon needs to repeat the process of getting sick, having Cole Custer on the pit box and blowing a tire. It was obviously a successful combo.” -Massie
OTHER DRIVERS WHO RECEIVED VOTES
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr: 14 Points
- Erik Jones: 4
- “Survived an encounter with a wild Stenhouse, but fell late in the running.” -Cheek
- Clint Bowyer: 2
- Daniel Suarez: 2
- “I just have a feeling if I don’t place him here, either he or Gunther Steiner will go after me.” -Tiongson
- Chris Buescher: 1
- Jimmie Johnson: 1
- Ryan Newman: 1
THIS WEEK’S VOTING PANEL
|Jake Baskinger||@jbaskinger41||Jake Baskinger on YouTube|
|Bryan Davis Keith||@bryandaviskeith||Frontstretch|
|Rob Dutzar Jr||@rob_dutzar||Rob’s NASCAR Blog|
|Eric Estepp||@ericestepp17||Out of the Groove|
|Darian Gilliam||@blackflagmatter||Black Flags Matter|
|Leon Hammack||@captainblowdri||Working on My Rednck|
|Ryan Holman||@realryanholman||Ryan Holman on YouTube|
|Godwin Kelly||@godwinkelly||The Daytona Beach News Journal|
|Tommy McCoart||@nascarman_rr||Racing Reference|
|Rob Tiongson||@robtiongson||The Podium Finish|
Do you agree with our rankings? Think someone was left out, or that one of the top drivers is overrated? Let us know in the comments, and tell others what your top 12 would be.