Post-Kentucky Power Ranking after the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart on Sunday, July 12th at Kentucky Speedway.
Note: This power ranking covers the two previous NASCAR Cup Series races at Indianapolis and Kentucky.
The past couple of races were incredible, as well as unpredictable. First, in Indianapolis, Denny Hamlin blew a tire from the lead with just a few laps to go, right as it looked like he was going to take his fifth win of the season. The incident gifted the win to Kevin Harvick, who tied Hamlin at the top with four victories.
Then, in Kentucky, the unthinkable happened, as rookie Cole Custer used a well-timed caution and some aggressive late-race strategy to put himself near the front. Custer went four-wide with Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Blaney on the final lap, and came away with the win after starting the day 25th in points. Predictably, Custer is the big riser in this week’s power
1. Kevin Harvick
Quaker State 400 Result: 4th
It was another great pair of races for the current points leader, as Harvick took the win in Indianapolis and was able to pick up a top-five in Kentucky after struggling for much of the day. Harvick continues to expand on his lead atop the standings, as he now has an 88 point edge over second-place Brad Keselowski, and is tied with Denny Hamlin for most wins, with four. Harvick’s ability to always put himself in a position to win the race is what is keeping him on top week after week.
2. Denny Hamlin
Quaker State 400 Result: 12th
Hamlin was only a few laps away from cruising to his fifth win of the season at the Brickyard, but a flat tire ended his chances and cost him a lot of points. Sitting sixth in the standings, Hamlin is in a tight battle that encompasses the drivers between second and seventh. Those twenty or so points could have been crucial in terms of that, as well as staying on top of the wins chart. He didn’t have a great race at Kentucky but was able to at least stay in the top-15 for a decent points day.
3. Brad Keselowski
Quaker State 400 Result: 9th
Two very solid races for Keselowski, who finished in the top-ten at Indianapolis and Kentucky, and led some laps along the way. He’s made up three spots in the standings since the Pocono doubleheader, hopping from fifth to third, and while there is a long way to go to catch Kevin Harvick, Keselowski’s average finish of 9.4 is the only one that even comes close to rivaling Harvick’s series-best 6.7.
4. Joey Logano
Quaker State 400 Result: 15th
While Logano’s last two races aren’t glamorous, they are certainly a nice rebound from a pair of terrible results at Pocono. Logano’s performance has allowed him to get back into the top-five after a brief slide in the standings. With no top-five results and just one top-ten since Martinsville, it’s now 13 races since Logano’s last victory. The coronavirus break has not been kind to Joey Logano.
5. Chase Elliott
Quaker State 400 Result: 23rd
Elliott has hit a bit of a rough patch over the past five races, with just one top-ten finish and three finishes outside of the top-20. Those are poor results, to say the least, for a car that seemed to be in contention to win every single week for about a month and a half. To put it in perspective, Elliott led at least one lap in eight consecutive races from Darlington to Talladega. He’s led in just one of the past four races. Although, he did win the non-points paying All-Star event at Bristol.
6. Aric Almirola
Quaker State 400 Result: 8th
Arguably the hottest driver in the sport right now, Almirola picked up his fifth and sixth consecutive top-ten finishes at Indianapolis and Kentucky, as well as a stage win. Since Martinsville, Almirola has risen from 14th to eighth in the standings and has essentially locked himself into the playoffs even without a win. Even so, it seems increasingly likely he’ll get one by season’s end.
7. Martin Truex Jr.
Quaker State 400 Result: 2nd
Indianapolis was terrible for Truex, but luckily he responded with a runner-up finish at Kentucky. As much as I’m sure Truex wanted to hang on for the victory, it was a big point day and a crucial bounce back after his day ended early at the Brickyard. A shocking stat is that Truex’s Kentucky result was just his third top-five finish of the season. For reference, he had seven through the same number of races last season.
8. Ryan Blaney
Quaker State 400 Result: 6th
Like Truex one spot above him, Blaney had a bad weekend at Indy, but rebounded with a solid finish at Kentucky, as he came home sixth. Blaney had a chance to win until the final lap when he made contact with Kevin Harvick, and the eventual winner Cole Custer made it four-wide on the last lap. The contact slowed Blaney down and kept him out of the top-five, but still allowed him to make up a spot in the standings.
9. Kurt Busch
Quaker State 400 Result: 5th
Busch wasn’t quite able to replicate what he did at Kentucky in 2019 on Sunday, but he did still escape with a nice top-five finish that moved him back to tenth in the standings, ahead of his brother. Busch’s season hasn’t been all that flashy, as he has yet to win and has just four top-fives. Busch is one of only four drivers with double-digit top-ten finishes, as he recorded his tenth on Sunday.
10. Kyle Busch
Quaker State 400 Result: 21st
His racing life just continues to not work out for Kyle Busch in 2020. He drew the pole position for the first time in the ‘random draw’ era of qualifying on Sunday, but quickly lost the lead to Aric Almirola, and took damage late in the race that caused him to lose track position. Busch’s sixth-place finish at Indianapolis allowed him to stay afloat in the standings over the past couple of weeks, but 17 races in, Busch still has zero playoff points to his name.
11. Clint Bowyer
Quaker State 400 Result: 14th
Bowyer has put together a solid last few weeks, with four consecutive finishes of 16th or better. He has struggled to contend for wins and get his car toward the front, but if he could make up just one spot in the standings, that might change. Bowyer currently sits 13th, just outside of the cut line for drivers eligible to start on pole via the random draw, and track position can be tough to come by. Bowyer held his ground in the standings and the power ranking over the past couple of races.
12. Matt DiBenedetto
Quaker State 400 Result: 3rd
DiBenedetto’s third-place finish at Kentucky may have been more a matter of circumstance, but it was still nice to see him pick up his first top-five since Las Vegas, the second race of the season. The biggest reward from the past couple of races was seeing DiBenedetto rise from 14th to 12th, which, as mentioned above, is big for the random qualifying draw.
13. Tyler Reddick
Quaker State 400 Result: 10th
Indianapolis and Kentucky resulted in two more top-ten finishes for Reddick, who has been the series’ most impressive rookie overall through this point in the season. However, Cole Custer’s shocking Kentucky win hurts Reddick more than almost anyone else, as Custer is outside of the top-16, meaning his win takes away one of those playoff spots. Reddick’s path to the postseason just got a little bit harder.
14. Alex Bowman
Quaker State 400 Result: 19th
Bowman may be the series’ coldest driver since the coronavirus hiatus. After winning at Auto Club and looking like one of the best cars on the track early in the season, Bowman has struggled recently to the tune of three top-tens and no top-fives in his last 12 races. His five top-tens on the year are less than Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones and equal to Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell.
15. William Byron
Quaker State 400 Result: 11th
After picking up a stage win at Indianapolis, Byron wrecked almost immediately, taking enough damage to remove him from the lead lap. Sound familiar? Well, almost the same situation happened at Darlington earlier in the season. Byron was one of the biggest winners from Jimmie Johnson missing the Indianapolis race, as he was able to hop Johnson to move to 14th in the standings. A decent race at Kentucky added to the relative success of the past couple of weeks.
16. Cole Custer
Quaker State 400 Result: 1st
Well then. Cole Custer has crashed the party, folks. Custer entered Kentucky ranked 25th in the standings, essentially needing a win to have any chance at making the playoffs. Nobody could have imagined he’d pass Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Blaney with a four-wide move on the final lap, much less that he’d take the checkered flag. A well-deserved jump in the power ranking for a driver who has been coming on strong as of late.
17. Christopher Bell
Quaker State 400 Result: 7th
Don’t look now, but another rookie is slowly coming into the picture. Bell finished in the top-ten again at Kentucky, his third in the past six races, and has picked up six spots in the standings since Charlotte. Bell’s No. 95 car looks to be improving as the season is progressing, and he’s going to be one of the guys to watch out for as an upset hopeful at the Daytona regular-season finale.
18. Jimmie Johnson
Quaker State 400 Result: 18th
After missing the race at Indianapolis following a positive coronavirus test, Johnson rebounded with a nice effort at Kentucky. The result ended up being mediocre after he came together with Brad Keselowski on a late restart, but Johnson’s car showed speed and the ability to pass on a track where passing is traditionally difficult. The biggest negative for Johnson was Custer’s win, as it takes away the cushion he previously had at the back end of the playoff picture.
19. Austin Dillon
Quaker State 400 Result: 13th
Dillon has been running pretty consistently toward the middle of the field, with four straight finishes between 13th and 19th dating back to Pocono. Those finishes are keeping him hanging around the playoff cut line, but now with Cole Custer’s win, Dillon will need to do better to sneak into the playoffs. He currently sits 24 points behind Jimmie Johnson, who holds the last playoff position.
20. John Hunter Nemechek
Quaker State 400 Result: 36th
Nemechek’s impressive rookie season took a bit of a hit with his wreck and an early end to his day at Kentucky, but it wasn’t quite enough to knock him out of the top-20 after another top-15 finish at Indianapolis. Six top-15 finishes in a Front Row Motorsports car is nothing to scoff at, especially for a rookie.
BEST OF THE REST (Post-Pocono, Post-Indianapolis)
21. Matt Kenseth (26, 18)
22. Bubba Wallace (22, 21)
23. Erik Jones (17, 22)
24. Ty Dillon (30, 27)
25. Ryan Newman (25, 28)
26. Michael McDowell (24, 23)
27. Chris Buescher (23, 26)
28. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (19, 24)
29. Daniel Suarez (NR, 29)
30. Corey LaJoie (29, NR)