Darlington 1 NASCAR Cup Series Power Ranking

Darlington 1 NASCAR Cup Series Power Ranking

NASCAR Cup Series Power Ranking Post-Darlington 1

NASCAR is back. It may look different, with no fans in the stands, drivers wearing masks, and practicing social distancing throughout the facility. Still, for 293 laps around Darlington Raceway, life felt pretty normal again in the racing world. After over two months off, drivers came to one of the circuit’s most demanding tracks to race without practice or qualifying. That gives an advantage to the veterans, holding firm with Kevin Harvick picking up his 50th career win. With that being said, here is the first power ranking in over ten weeks. 

1. Kevin Harvick

LW: 2

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 1st

Coming out of the two-month-long layoff, Harvick is the only driver to finish in the top-ten in all four races. Recovering from early struggles, he finally put it all together in race number five, dominating the last stage to pick up his 50th career win. The win erases any minuscule chance that Harvick could miss the playoffs, and strengthens his lead in the points standings. 

2. Alex Bowman

LW: 8

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 2nd

I’ll be the first to admit that I was hesitant in terms of seeing Bowman as a legitimate championship contender early in the season. After his run at Darlington, I’m convinced. Bowman is going to be there at the end. Bowman is not a flashy driver, and probably won’t win a ton of races, but he seems to be sticking around week after week. 

3. Joey Logano

LW: 1

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 18th

Logano’s race at Darlington was a bit rocky as he ran about mid-pack for the majority of the 293 laps. Despite this, he is still comfortably inside the top-five in the point standings and remains the only driver with multiple wins. He’ll get another shot at the ‘Lady in Black’ on Wednesday as one of the favorites to win after the inverted start. 

4. Chase Elliott

LW: 4

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 4th

There was a lot less coverage of Elliott’s race than in the previous four races, but he gradually moved through the field and was able to pick up a top-five result, crossing the line fourth. Elliott’s 2020 season is off to a great start, as his quest to continue his rise toward being a perennial championship contender continues. 

5. Denny Hamlin

LW: 5

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 5th

The early theme of this season for Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing continued at Darlington. Hamlin gave another strong performance from the No. 11 team despite an overall disappointing performance from last year’s dominating squad. He brought home another top-five, which keeps him firmly inside the top half of the playoff-eligible drivers, aided by his Daytona 500 win. 

6. Brad Keselowski

LW: 6

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 13th

Keselowski’s final finish wasn’t flashy and probably didn’t live up to his expectations, but the No. 2 team grabbed a stage victory and a pole position (albeit by random draw). Brad is firmly in the championship conversation despite being winless thus far. I doubt he stays winless much longer.

7. Kyle Busch

LW: 3

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 26th

Darlington was far from ideal for the defending champion. It was a 293 lap microcosm of Busch’s entire season thus far. His promising starting spot was nullified by failing pre-race inspection, and then a gradual improvement throughout the race went out the window due to a loose wheel. It’s still Kyle Busch, and the season is just five races old, but another championship is looking a little less likely. 

8. Kurt Busch

LW: 12

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 3rd

Busch is usually strong at Darlington, and his third-place finish on Sunday continued that trend. After some terrible early-season luck, the No. 1 car looked like one of the fastest on the track for most of the race. At 13th in the point standings, he could benefit from a couple of more great races. With another race at Darlington on Wednesday, a golden opportunity for a win awaits.

9. Ryan Blaney 

LW: 7

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 16th

Among his two teammates, Blaney’s Darlington race followed more along the Joey Logano trajectory than the one of Brad Keselowski. While he wasn’t exactly battling to stay on the lead lap, his car just didn’t look all that fast, and the adjustments the team made weren’t working. Five races in, Blaney has been one of the more consistently front-running drivers. So, there’s little doubt he’ll find his way back. 

10. Martin Truex Jr.

LW: 11

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 6th

It looked like Truex drove two separate races at Darlington. For the first half, his No.19 car was mired near the back of the field, outside of the top-20, and in a battle of horrible handling. In the second half of the race, Truex drove his way into the top-ten, battling for a top-five spot down the stretch. This year hasn’t started how MTJ and Joe Gibbs Racing hoped it would, but this was a step in the right direction. 

11. Tyler Reddick

LW: 19

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 7th

Darlington was a huge breakthrough for Tyler Reddick, as the rookie picked up his first career top-ten finish with a tremendous performance. The youngster drove through the field not once, but twice, beating some cars in top-tier equipment along the way. While he may not be a lock for the playoffs, his chances look a lot better following his first complete performance of the season. 

12. Aric Almirola

LW: 10

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 12th

A common theme of Almirola’s races in 2019 was his car being very fast early, and so-so late. That was the exact pattern his race followed on Sunday. Throughout the first stage, Almirola battled for a top-five spot and picked up decent stage points. He then fell out of the top-ten and momentarily out of the top-20 before battling back to finish 12th. It was a typical Almirola race, as he kept the car clean and came home with a decent finish. 

13. Matt DiBenedetto

LW: 13

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 14th

DiBenedetto’s car didn’t appear to have the speed necessary to stay near the front of the pack, but he did well on Sunday to finish in the top-15. There’s no doubt he can contend for a win when the car is great, but these kinds of races are the ones that will be key to making a playoff run. 

14. Matt Kenseth

LW: NR

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 10th

There aren’t many guys who could come back after 18 months out of a Cup car, come into a race with no practice or qualifying (at one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks), and still finish in the top-ten. While the Kyle Larson situation is obviously a black eye for Chip Ganassi Racing, Kenseth is the ideal replacement. He has a lot of ground to make up in the standings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up a win or two. 

15. Jimmie Johnson

LW: 14

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 38th

Johnson quickly made his way to the front of the field and was in a great position to win his first stage of the year. Until he didn’t. His wreck on the final lap of Stage 1 cost him not only the ten points for winning the stage, but also the crucial playoff point he would have earned. On the bright side, the car was very fast. Wednesday may be better. 

16. Clint Bowyer

LW: 15

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 17th

Like his teammates Aric Almirola and Cole Custer, Bowyer was strong early and fell off throughout the second half of the race. Mid-pack finishes have become the norm for the No. 14 team, though he has done enough in the early portion of the season to stay inside the top-ten in points. Hopefully, SHR can make some long-run adjustments prior to Wednesday’s race. 

17. Erik Jones

LW: 20

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 8th

Jones put together a strong run on Sunday, grabbing another nice Darlington finish after winning at the track in the fall 2019 race. He’s probably one of the sport’s happiest with the current schedule, as he’ll get to race the track twice more this year. Through five races, Jones is tied for the final playoff spot (excluding Kyle Larson), and this race was a nice finish for a team that has struggled. 

18. Ryan Newman

LW: NR

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 15th

The two-month break in action aided Ryan Newman, as he was able to complete his recovery following his terrible accident in the Daytona 500. He then drove his No. 6 car to a top-15 finish showing, as usual, that he is competing for the remainder of the year. Time will tell if the three races he missed will keep him out of playoff contention. 

19. William Byron

LW: 16

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 35th

On the bright side, Byron was able to win Stage 1 following Jimmie Johnson’s last-lap wreck. On the other side, he quickly followed Johnson to the garage by wrecking early in Stage 2. Byron did finish the race, but he was several laps down and picked up only one more point aside from his stage win. He’s currently on the outside looking in standings-wise, which is shocking considering Hendrick’s performance so far. 

20. Chris Buescher

LW: 17

Real Heroes 400 Finish: 32nd

Buescher had a pretty rough Sunday. He nearly went a lap down at the end of Stage 1 but stayed alive after Johnson wrecked himself off of Buescher’s bumper. The No. 17 was slow all day and wrecked toward the end of the race, picking up damage and finishing off the lead lap. I’ll give a free pass due to the hiatus, but it wasn’t an encouraging performance. 

BEST OF THE REST

21. John Hunter Nemechek (LW: 29)

22. Cole Custer (LW: 18)

23. Ty Dillon (LW: 22)

24. Austin Dillon (LW: 23)

25. Ryan Preece (LW: 28)

26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: 21)

27. Bubba Wallace (LW: 24)

28. Michael McDowell (LW: 26)

29. Christopher Bell (LW: 30)

30. Daniel Suarez (LW: NR)

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