The Post-Phoenix NASCAR Cup Series power ranking this week is ready as the series now heads into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday afternoon. With the fifth different Cup Series winner this past weekend at Phoenix Raceway, one has to wonder, ‘who will continue the streak of different winners this season?’ Or perhaps, your question is, ‘who will become the first repeat winner this season?’ Whatever your question, this week’s power ranking may help sort it all out.
1. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11)
Last Week: 1
Instacart 500 Result: 3rd
Even though Hamlin is winless through five races, the case can be made that Hamlin is the series’ best driver so far this season. At the very least, Hamlin’s consistency has been incredible. Every weekend, he is one of the best three or four cars on track, allowing him to build a rather large lead at the top of the point standings. The outlook is nothing but positive for Hamlin at this point.
2. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2)
Last Week: 3
Instacart 500 Result: 4th
Keselowski, like Hamlin, has been extremely consistent so far despite not finding victory lane. Phoenix brought another top-five finish for the team of the No. 2, as Keselowski continues to sit second in the standings, behind only Hamlin. With Atlanta being one of Keselowski’s best tracks, he will be one of the favorites to finally find himself a victory this year.
3. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4)
Last Week: 2
Instacart 500 Result: 6th
Following a disastrous day at Las Vegas, Harvick rebounded nicely at Phoenix with a top-ten run. Still, it felt as if something was missing from the No. 4 car during the race. At a track where Harvick is almost always contending for the win, he had difficulty even breaking into the top-five. He was never really a threat up front. It was a solid race, but Stewart-Haas Racing still appears to be a step or two behind the other top teams.
4. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 5)
Last Week: 4
Instacart 500 Result: 7th
Larson continued an impressive start to his 2021 campaign by driving through the entire field not once, not twice, but three times on Sunday. After having to start at the rear due to issues with pre-race inspection, Larson was nabbed for speeding twice over the course of the race, once under green flag conditions. Even so, he was still able to grab himself a top-ten finish a week following a dominating win at Las Vegas.
5. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19)
Last Week: 6
Instacart 500 Result: 1st
It was Truex time in Phoenix, as the Joe Gibbs driver took the lead in the final stage and never looked back, dominating the final portion of the race to grab his first win of the season. Truex’s win gave him 28 for his career, tying him with the previous driver of the No. 19, Carl Edwards. The victory gives Truex a solid base to build off for the rest of the season and makes him the fifth driver to lock his playoff spot.
6. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9)
Last Week: 5
Instacart 500 Result: 5th
Another good run for Elliott, especially considering that he had to start the race at the rear of the field. The defending series champion still hasn’t grabbed himself a victory this season, but Elliott has consistently been one of the best cars on track every week. There isn’t any worry for the No. 9 team at the moment, though they probably wish their execution had been better in a couple of instances so far.
7. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22)
Last Week: 7
Instacart 500 Result: 2nd
Logano led the most laps at Phoenix and had a dominant car for the majority of the day. Furthermore, he couldn’t run down Martin Truex at the end of the race and had to settle for a runner-up finish. Even so, Logano has been in the same boat as Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski this season. Always near the front, but unable to finish quite near the front. Atlanta is traditionally a great track for Logano, so his win could be coming this weekend.
8. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20)
Last Week: 10
Instacart 500 Result: 9th
Bell’s season continued its impressive start with another top-ten finish at Phoenix. The move from Leavine Family Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing seems to be more of a leisurely gallop than a difficult leap for Bell. He has quickly established himself as a consistent competitor every week. With a win under his belt, Bell now has his eye on the Bristol dirt race, coming up in just two weeks.
9. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24)
Last Week: 12
Instacart 500 Result: 8th
Following a bit of an up-and-down 2020 season, it’s been exciting to see Byron take a step forward toward being a weekly threat in 2021. Byron brought home another nice day of points at Phoenix, finishing in the top-ten yet again. This jump in the ranking is my official admission that Byron is a serious contender this season. That skepticism has been thrown out the window.
10. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12)
Last Week: 11
Instacart 500 Result: 10th
Blaney badly needed a good day on Sunday, and he got just that. He picked up a top-ten finish and a stage victory. Now 13th in points, Blaney has dug out of the hole after the first couple of difficult races. This allows him to focus forward and race his own race rather than frantically attempting to grab points. Even this early in the season, Blaney’s performance at Phoenix may have righted his ship.
11. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18)
Last Week: 8
Instacart 500 Result: 25th
To say that Kyle Busch had a rough day might be an understatement. After being involved in multiple incidents over the latter half of the race, Busch ended the race finishing off the lead lap and outside the top-20. With just two top-ten finishes in five races, this is not the start Busch was hoping for after a rough 2020. The good news is, there is still plenty of time to turn things around.
12. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34)
Last Week: 9
Instacart 500 Result: 23rd
Even with the luster starting to wear off of McDowell’s incredible start to the season, his No. 34 car is still running better than it ever has in years past. His 23rd place finish at Phoenix would have been considered a typical result for Front Row in previous years, but it currently stands as his worst finish of the season. McDowell still sits firmly inside the top-16 in points, and with a couple of wild card races coming up soon in Bristol Dirt and Talladega, he could grab some more shocking finishes.
13. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48)
Last Week: 13
Instacart 500 Result: 13th
After an early incident where Bowman ended up in the wall with some damage, he was able to recover for a top-15 finish. The criticism of Bowman over his career is his inconsistency and inability to string together multiple solid finishes. While he still resides outside of the top-16, and his 13th place finish at Phoenix isn’t anything to write home about, it shows his resilience to finish on the lead lap with a respectable result.
14. Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1)
Last Week: 14
Instacart 500 Result: 15th
It was a so-so Phoenix race for Busch, but still, he was able to finish on the lead lap and pick up a respectable amount of points to keep him inside the top-ten. Busch seems a bit off for the past couple of races after looking good through the first three races. The whole Chip Ganassi Racing crew is looking a bit slow the past couple of race weekends. Busch is looking to rebound coming into Atlanta.
15. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3)
Last Week: 15
Instacart 500 Result: 17th
Like Bowman, a couple of spots above him, Dillon recovered from some earlier damage to still bring home a top-20 finish and keep himself afloat in the standings. Dillon has been one of the more consistently fast cars so far this season, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep it clean and get himself back into the top-ten at Atlanta.
16. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10)
Last Week: 19
Instacart 500 Result: 11th
It can be argued that no one needed a good finish at Phoenix more than Aric Almirola. While his finish wasn’t a top-ten, Almirola did grab some stage points and kept his car clean, running near the front. Still, at 26th in the standings, Almirola needs to string together a few solid races to get back into contention. It’s hard to write off the No. 10 this early though, especially considering the hot streak he put together last summer.
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47)
Last Week: 20
Instacart 500 Result: 12th
Last season, it seemed as if Stenhouse couldn’t get his car to the finish line without enduring some sort of issue. That being said, the car seemed to have some surprising speed most of the time, which is extending into 2021. Stenhouse has been a consistent top-15 car for most of the season and brought home another nice finish from Phoenix. Don’t look now, but JTG Daugherty is having a heck of a start this year.
18. Chris Buescher (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 17)
Last Week: 16
Instacart 500 Result: 18th
Buescher has slipped back to earth the past couple of weeks after his stage win at Homestead, but he still put together a clean race with a finish inside the top-20. Especially with teammate Ryan Newman finishing well off the lead lap, it was nice to see Buescher grab a semi-solid result.
19. Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 8)
Last Week: 17
Instacart 500 Result: 29th
After running inside the top-five for most of the 2020 spring race, Reddick was considered a sleeper in this event. The car lacked speed, and then took damage in an incident. He eventually had a finish off the lead lap in 29th. It’s been a slow start, to say the least, for Reddick, who is currently 27th in the point standings. He now leads only Matt DiBenedetto, Corey LaJoie, and Anthony Alfredo among full-time drivers who are not driving for backmarker teams.
20. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing No. 23)
Last Week: 21
Instacart 500 Result: 16th
Wallace’s finish doesn’t quite explain the speed his car had at Phoenix. A failed pit strategy likely cost Wallace a top-ten finish in the race, but he was able to lead some laps while staying out and hoping for a caution. Though he is still without a top-ten on the year, Wallace is currently 19th in points, just 16 points out of the final playoff spot.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37) LW: 18
22. Erik Jones (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43) LW: 24
23. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41) LW: 23
24. Matt DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21) LW: 26
25. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing No. 99) LW: 25
26. Ross Chastain (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42) LW: 27
27. Ryan Newman (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 6) LW: 22
28. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14) LW: 26
29. Corey LaJoie (Spire Motorsports No. 7) LW: NR
30. Justin Haley (Spire Motorsports No. 77) LW: 30