Race Weekend Central

The 10: NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings After Bristol

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series made its first stop in “Thunder Valley” for the Food City 500 on Sunday. The race began as the threat of rain continued to loom, and precipitation interfered with the race three times on Sunday, creating what looked like a long day at the Bristol Motor Speedway. After a rain shower brought out the fourth red flag, NASCAR made the call to postpone the rest of the race to Monday.

When the race resumed on Monday (after further weather delays), conditions weren’t much different from the previous day, with the exception of the bitter cold that hit Eastern Tennessee. Brad Keselowski had a fast hot rod on Monday and looked to earn his first victory at Bristol since 2012. That was until a left front tire on his No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Fusion went flat and he made contact with the outside wall. The caution set the stage for what fans have been missing about the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”

The bump and run returned as Kyle Busch scored his second straight victory not only of the 2018 season but his second straight at the Bristol Motor Speedway.

1. Kyle Busch

Monday, Busch earned his second straight victory at the Bristol Motor Speedway after pulling off the victory last season in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Without a doubt, Busch has earned these last two race wins and has shown he’s one of the best in the business when it comes to running down a leader during the final stages of the race. Busch is one of those drivers whose competitors don’t want to be viewing his bumper with the laps winding down.

Despite having five previous victories at Bristol, Busch hadn’t won a Food City 500 since 2011 and after struggling in this race the last few seasons. The trip to Victory Lane puts Busch in a tie with Kevin Harvick on the playoff grid. It is early in the season but it looks like two of this year’s championship contenders have risen to the occasion.

2. Kevin Harvick

In what was an unusually quiet weekend for Harvick this weekend, the driver of the No. 4 still managed to pull out his sixth top-10 finish of the season. Harvick is taking the phrase “if you ain’t first, you’re last” a little too seriously. In eight races this season, Harvick has either finished inside the top 10 or outside the top 30.

The driver of the No. 4 Ford continues to have a consistent season and is generating the same speed each and every weekend. The only issue is that his competitors are catching up and he’s having to battle more drivers for position.

He has found Victory Lane at least once in his career at the next five tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule (Richmond, Talladega, Dover, Kansas, Charlotte). With that statistic on his side, it’s pretty certain Harvick will snag another win very soon.

3. Joey Logano

2018 is shaping up a lot like 2017 did for Logano. In eight races so far this season, he’s only finished outside the top 10 once (19th at Phoenix). He currently sits second in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points ahead of four race winners (Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon).

Though his ninth-place finish wasn’t quite what the No. 22 team was hoping for, it was yet another momentum-building day for the No. 22 team. Perhaps the positive momentum can carry into Richmond this weekend where he earned his lone 2017 victory. The win was later deemed encumbered by NASCAR, and Logano’s performance went downhill, ultimately resulting him missing the playoffs for the first time since he joined Team Penske in 2013.

Richmond could very well be the place where Logano takes his first victory of the 2018 season. They just need to make sure they keep it legal.

4. Clint Bowyer

For someone who battled for the win last season at Bristol, it was unusual to not see Bowyer right there once again, especially since he already has a short track win this season a few weeks ago at Martinsville. Though he was strong during the first stage Sunday, he ultimately wound up eighth and was never really a threat for the win when the race resumed on Monday.

Now the series heads to Richmond, a track that could be called the Jekyll and Hyde for Bowyer. Over his career at Richmond, he’s tallied two victories and a handful of top-five and top-10 finishes.

Richmond was also the site of the infamous spin gate scandal that could be described as the beginning of the end of Michael Waltrip Racing. Last September, Bowyer had a super fast car but an ambulance put a damper on that and ultimately put the final nail in the coffin of the No. 14’s playoff hopes for 2017.

5. Ryan Blaney

It was another one of those weekends that was shaping up in Blaney’s favor. He led the first 100 laps before he was collected in a crash that was completely out of his control.

While racing to stay on the lead lap, Chris Buescher got into the quarter panel of Trevor Bayne which sent him up the track and back down, clipping Harrison Rhodes. Blaney had nowhere to go and ended up nailing the No. 51 at the top of the track, destroying both cars. Rightfully so, Blaney was very unhappy, but as he normally does, he shrugged it off and looked at the positives that came out of the weekend.

6. Kyle Larson (NR)

The Larson we remember from last season showed up this weekend to show the No. 42 team still has what it takes to dominate a race. It was a real roller coaster of a day and, in the end, he wound up with his second runner-up result this year.

Larson pulled off his first short track victory last season at Richmond. At this time in 2017, the driver of the No. 42 already had one win. This weekend at Richmond, Larson will need to duplicate his performance in order to put a lock on his first victory of the season.

7. Jimmie Johnson (NR)

I don’t know what was better to see this weekend: that the No. 48 Chevrolet had the speed to compete inside the top 10 or the smile return to the face of Johnson. The No. 48 team showed up to Bristol as the defending race winner of the Food City 500, and despite not securing the victory, Johnson still finally got that monkey off of his back which resulted in the team’s first top-five finish of the season.

More importantly, the result should give the organization a facelift since two of its cars finished in the top 10. Momentum is certainly starting to swing in Johnson’s direction as he slowly returns to the form we’re all accustomed to from the seven-time champion. Given the improvement, this weekend could be the weekend that the No. 48 team shuts up the doubters once and for all.

8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR)

Had that last yellow not flown, there’s a very real chance Stenhouse could have scored his third career victory Monday. Chasing down leader Larson, the speed the No. 17 Ford showed, especially late in the race, indicated Stenhouse just might have had what he needed to catch and even pass Larson.

Still, he came home with his first top-five finish of 2018. Talladega is looming and there’s a chance that he could defend that victory and punch his ticket to the playoffs for the second straight season.

9. Darrell Wallace Jr. (+1)

It was a roller coaster of a weekend for Wallace. He experienced everything from getting locked in his motorcoach to leading his first Cup Series laps behind the wheel of the iconic No. 43 Chevrolet. His time out front was short-lived, though, when the speed dropped off and Wallace struggled to a 16th-place finish. The result was hardly indicative of the race Wallace ran on Monday where he made multiple aggressive moves to cut his way to the front of the field.

As the races tick off on the schedule, Wallace is quickly approaching the set of tracks he raced while subbing for an injured Aric Almirola last season, so that prior experience at those facilities in a Cup car should play in his favor.

10. Brad Keselowski (NR)

It’s the story of Keselowski’s season: a strong run, coupled with a disappointing finish. One of the only drivers able to challenge Larson and Kyle Busch, who combined to lead more than half of the Bristol race, Keselowski won the first two stages but suffered tire problems shortly after taking the lead during the third stage. The tire ended up blowing, bringing out the caution that tightened up the field and gave Busch the chance to pass Larson for the win.

If the No. 2 team can get the bad luck monkey off its back and start putting together complete races, the rest of the field better watch out.

Honorable Mention: Tyler Mitchell, Tire Carrier for Paul Menard

Talk about athleticism and skill. Mitchell caught a flying tire during a pit stop and didn’t skip a beat as he completed the change. You almost have to see it to believe it. Here’s to you, sir.

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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