The pre-Richmond power ranking for the NASCAR Cup Series is out just before the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on Sunday afternoon.
The streak of different winners has finally ended with the Cup Series at the second short track of the season at Martinsville. Martin Truex Jr. took advantage of a late pit-road penalty for Ryan Blaney to secure his second win of the year. Truex’s victory stopped a string of seven straight unique winners to start the 2021 season and is now the first Cup driver with multiple wins.
Truex’s second win brought about some debate for the top spot in these rankings. In the end, it wasn’t quite enough for me to bump him ahead of a certain Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.
The Cup Series now heads to Richmond for the final track of the east coast short track swing.
1. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 3rd
Though he is somehow still without a win, Hamlin just continues to pull away at the top of the points standings. Another top-five at Martinsville gives Hamlin an unprecedented seven in just eight races. He now has a 76 point edge over teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the top spot. This string of good runs also ensures that Hamlin will continue to start near the front of the field each week. Hamlin gets another chance at his home track in Richmond.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 1st
After seven straight races with different winners, Truex became the first driver to pick up a second win with an incredible drive in the final stage at Martinsville. Truex continues to avenge the short-track demons that plagued him early in his career. He has become a threat to win every time the series heads to Martinsville. The track may carry the Truex name for all his success there.
3. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 5)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 5th
At a track that is traditionally one of Larson’s worst, the Hendrick driver put together an impressive run to grab his fourth top-five finish of the season, the second-most in the series behind only Denny Hamlin. In a year where expectations for the No. 5 were a little bit up in the air, Larson sits fourth in points and has finished top-ten in all but two races so far. With another short track coming up next week, Richmond will provide another interesting test.
4. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 6th
Logano had one of the fastest cars on track for most of Sunday’s race but wasn’t quite able to squeak into the top-five. Aside from a poor run at Homestead, Logano is extremely consistent in the early stages of the season. He sits third in points behind only Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. The key for Logano is his ability to stay out of trouble. He’s completed all but two laps to this point in the season.
5. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 4th
After Martinsville Byron adds to his typically strong performances with another top-five run on Sunday. The No. 24 is one of the biggest surprises of the campaign after a somewhat underwhelming 2020 season. Byron already has his win to lock himself into the playoffs and sits sixth in points. Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle seem to be forming a tremendous connection, which may lead to a deep playoff run.
6. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 11th
An unfortunate pit road penalty during the final stage essentially ended any chance Blaney had to pick up his second victory of the season. The positives of the race still far outweighed the negatives. Blaney looks like a far more consistent driver this season, especially following a race in which he swept the two stages and led over 150 laps. The No. 12 is no longer an afterthought with Team Penske, and Blaney appears to be creeping into championship contender status.
7. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 2nd
Any time a defending champion goes an extended period of time into the season without a victory, the idea of a post-championship slump comes into mind. Though Elliott hasn’t taken a checkered flag in 2021, he has still run relatively well most weekends, including at Martinsville. Elliott made a late charge in the closing laps and may have passed eventual winner Martin Truex, if not for an extended battle with Denny Hamlin. The No. 9 should find victory lane soon, but likely not next week at Richmond, which is traditionally one of Elliott’s worst tracks.
8. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 9th
Harvick again makes the best out of a pretty poor situation at Martinsville, similar to most of his other races this season. The Stewart-Haas crew continues to struggle a little bit in the early weeks of the season, but Harvick is the only one who is running competitively out of the team’s four cars. Though it seems Harvick went a lap down early in the race on Sunday, he was able to battle back for a top-ten finish to at least grab some solid points.
9. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 33rd
In the first two stages, Keselowski was able to hang around in the back half of the top ten. By the end of the last stage, he was further back in the pack. This caused Keselowski to get stacked up in the massive accident with just over 100 laps to go, ending his day early. It is a disappointing result for a driver with two wins at the track. His performance early in the season is well enough that one poor race won’t hurt extensively.
10. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 10th
Busch’s race at Martinsville was eventful. He spun out about midway through the race but was able to pull a savvy move to stay on the lead lap. Later, Busch tangled with Chris Buescher to trigger a parking lot-style accident on the back straightaway. Despite the craziness that unfolded for the team of the No. 18, Busch was able to bring home a top-ten finish. It is a solid result, even if the process wasn’t all positive.
11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 15th
With a 15th place finish at Martinsville, Stenhouse continues what is an incredible run of consistent finishes through eight races. Stenhouse hasn’t finished worse than 18th in any race this season and is continuing to climb the points standings, all the way up to 13th. In addition to Stenhouse’s encouraging performances, JTG Daugherty as a whole appears to perform well very quickly this season. It’s starting to look like a real possibility that the No. 47 will be in the playoffs, even without a win.
12. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 7th
Martinsville didn’t bring anything flashy for Bell, but he was able to run pretty well and stay inside the top-ten for the majority of the race while leading nine laps. Bell seems to be stabilizing right around the tenth-12th range in the season standings, a comfortable place to be with the playoffs in mind. Another win or two could very much be in the cards for the JGR driver.
13. Chris Buescher (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 17)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 13th
Even while being one of the main perpetrators in the wreck that took out several drivers at Martinsville, Buescher was able to continue through the damage and bring home another solid finish. Buescher is one of 2021’s most impressive drivers to this point, with the Daytona 500 as his only finish outside of the top-20. He’ll have another chance at a short track at Richmond this Sunday to continue his hot streak.
14. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 14th
Dillon was able to finish inside the top-15 at Martinsville essentially just by staying out of trouble, picking up another 23 points, and keeping pace in the standings. Through eight races, Dillon sits 11th in the standings, as he continues to build on the momentum he generated late in the 2020 season. Dillon ran very well at Richmond in last fall’s playoff, so the upcoming race will be a nice measuring stick for where he stacks up.
15. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 34th
Like a couple of other drivers in the series, Bowman probably wishes he had a golden horseshoe on him. In four out of the eight races thus far (Daytona, Las Vegas, Bristol Dirt, and Martinsville), Bowman has dealt with issues that have taken him out of contention. It is a rough start to the season for the No. 48 team, as Bowman hasn’t been able to take advantage of a consistently fast car.
16. Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 21st
After two consecutive top-ten finishes at the Daytona Road Course and Homestead, it appeared as if Busch was going to build some serious momentum in the opening weeks. Since then, however, Busch hasn’t finished better than the 15th spot. That rough patch continued at Martinsville, with Busch being caught up in a couple of incidents and finishing two laps down. Currently sitting 15th in points, the next few weeks could be crucial in determining the team’s outlook for the rest of the season.
17. Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 8)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 8th
Through eight races, Reddick is having a very all-or-nothing season. Reddick has recorded three top-ten finishes, including in each of the past two races, but his other five finishes have all been 22nd or worse. If he can iron out some of the inconsistencies that have plagued him so far, Reddick could find himself back into the playoff picture soon.
18. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing No. 99)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 32nd
After his incredible run at the Bristol Dirt track, Suarez was involved in the late wreck at Martinsville, claiming his car and ending his day a little early. Even with a poor finishing result, Suarez’s speed over the past few weeks seems to gradually improve. Trackhouse Racing has put together an impressive program in the team’s debut season, and if not for the wreck, Suarez looks to be in line for another top-20 finish.
19. Matt DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 12th
Following an extremely rough first three races, it has been an uphill climb for DiBenedetto and his Wood Brothers Racing team. While DiBenedetto hasn’t finished in the top ten quite yet, he has been able to put together five consecutive finishes of 16th or better, including a 12th place run on Sunday. That run allows DiBenedetto to gain twelve spots in the standings, and his momentum is continuing to trend upwards.
20. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing No. 23)
Blue Emu 500 Result: 16th
There’s something about Wallace and finishing 16th. The No. 23 has finished with the same result in three of the past four races, with a 27th place finish at Bristol Dirt being the only exception. That being said, Wallace is keeping the car out of trouble and putting together some solid runs for his new 23XI racing team, which is an encouraging sign for the weeks ahead.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Ryan Newman (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 6)
22. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34)
23. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10)
24. Erik Jones (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43)
25. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41)
26. Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37)
27. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14)
28. Ross Chastain (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42)
29. Justin Haley (Spire Motorsports No. 77)
30. Quin Houff (StarCom Racing No. 00)