Power Ranking After: Las Vegas 1

The last two weeks highlighted chaotic finishes with accidents on the last laps of both. The aero-restricted superspeedway of Daytona International Speedway is always unpredictable and subject to the whim of the draft and the ‘Big One’ crash. As a result, no one really expects the running order of that race to predict success for the rest of the season.

As chance would have it, the Pennzoil 400 by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway befell a similar fate. Ross Chastain spun out with only a handful of laps remaining to draw a caution and cause the crew chiefs to scramble for the right strategy. Seven cars stayed out on old tires, gambling that chaos would erupt.

It did and four of the top six finishers had Average Running Positions outside the top 10. Late race restarts are a recipe for disaster. The two drivers set to battle at the end of the race ended in the double digits instead with Ryan Blaney finishing 11th after scoring the second best Average Running and Alex Bowman 13th (with the seventh-best running position).

Finishes like the one we saw in Vegas is why we track strength-based stats instead of simply looking at finishing results.

1. Ryan Blaney (last week: 2)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 6.06

It was Blaney’s race to win last week. He passed Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano in the closing laps and built a solid gap on Alex Bowman before the late-race caution waved to change the complexion of the Pennzoil 400. Blaney’s performance was top-notch across the board with points scored in each segment and top-fives in Driver Rating, Average Running Position, and Laps in the Top 15. He also took the Cup points lead last week.

2. Joey Logano (last week: 6)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 7.41

It is fitting that Logano won at Las Vegas because of a miscommunication. Told to pit if the leaders did, the transmission was garbled and he stayed out – drawing another six drivers with him. Las Vegas favors the bold. And luck plays a huge role in who is successful in this town. As it turned out, Logano was both lucky and good in route to his second consecutive win in the spring Vegas race.

3. Chase Elliott (last week: 5)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 8.00

No one knows what might have happened at the end of the Pennzoil 400 if Elliott had remained in contention. He might have suffered the same fate as Blaney or stayed on track like Logano. One thing is certain, however; he had the best car through the first two segments and was poised to challenge for the win until he broke a valve stem. It is too early to know if Chevrolet solved their problems from last year, but even with the aero challenges, Elliott was among the top 10 for 23 of the 36 weeks in 2019.

4. Kevin Harvick (last week: 14)
Weeks in the top 10: 1
FPR#: 9.40

Harvick leapt into the top 10 this week with an improvement of 10 positions. He was trying to play it cool at Daytona International Speedway before getting into an accident. And yet, despite the damage on the superspeedway, he still held on to finish in the top 10 at the end of that race. He was much more commanding in Vegas with the best Driver Rating (125.8) and Average Running Position (3.44). He had a solid short run car, but two laps at the end of last week’s show was not long enough to allow him to get back to the lead.

5. Austin Dillon (last week: 7)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 10.38

Dillon was one of our Drivers to Watch last week, but we really didn’t expect him to finish in the top 10. Given his salary cap, he would have been a good value with a solid top-15, but he made the most of the opportunity that presented itself in the closing laps to finish fourth. On the heels of a 12th at Daytona, he has momentum heading to a track where he finished 10th or 11th in his last three starts.

6. Chris Buescher (last week: 3)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 10.93

Buescher did enough to remain in the top 10 this week. He finished 14th in the race and was in the top 20 in the other statistical categories tracked for the Power Rankings. There are some heavy hitters outside the top 10 at the moment who should be expected to climb after Auto Club, so Buescher is going to have to step up his game if he wants to continue to be considered one of the elite drivers.

7. Jimmie Johnson (last week: 10)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 11.12

Johnson has looked strong in each of the first two weeks. He was swept into one of the accidents at Daytona, but Vegas is a track where one can control their fate to a much greater degree. Johnson was pushing hard. In fact, he slapped the wall at one point, but had the experience to know that the damage was not enough to send him to the pits. A cool mind prevailed and contributed to his top-five finish. He was among the top 10 at the end of both stages as well.

8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (last week: 8)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 11.14

Stenhouse gambled three times last week in Vegas. One of them ended in a push when he tried to stretch his pit stop in Stage 1. He did not get the caution he wanted and ended at the tail of the lead lap. He stretched again in the final segment and caught a caution that stranded much of the field a lap down. Of course, in NASCAR’s ‘No-driver-left-behind’ era they all got a Wave Around, but it put Stenhouse in a position to capitalize on the final gamble. He stayed out on old tires and finished third. 

9. Denny Hamlin (last week: 1)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
FPR#: 11.50

Hamlin was the big loser last week. He left Daytona with momentum and a Fantasy Power Rankings average of 5.56. He was one of three Toyota drivers who were penalized for coloring outside the lines and had to start from the rear of the field; he left Vegas with a raw number of 11.50. Neither Hamlin, Kyle Busch, nor Christopher Bell would be a factor in the race and Hamlin’s 17th-place finish came with 23rd-place rankings in Driver Rating and Average Running Position. Good thing he had Daytona in his pocket.

10. Kyle Larson
Weeks in the top 10: 1
FPR#: 11.67

Larson looked very good for most of the Pennzoil 400 and salvaged a decent finish. Along with Harvick, he is the only driver with a pair of top-10s in the first two weeks of the 2020 season, but he needs to have a breakout performance early while his 2021 contract negotiations are underway. Luckily for him, the series heads to a 2-mile track this week where he has the majority of his wins.

Dropped from the top 10

11. Brad Keselowski (last week: 11)
Weeks in the top 10: 1
FPR#: 11.85
Keselowski recorded a top-10 last week at Vegas, but given the strength of Team Penske on that track he should have contended for the win. His car was not very good on long runs and there were enough of those to hurt his Average Running Position and Driver Rating while Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson leapfrogged him with more consistent runs.

Notable Drivers outside the Top 10

15. Martin Truex Jr. (last week: 15)
Weeks in the top 10: 0
FPR#: 14.69
Mistakes are a part of NASCAR. Truex had a solid run going until he was called back into the pits to tighten up a lugnut on the left side. He was leading at the time. The extra stop put him in heavy traffic. Truex was forced to drive hard to maintain his position and scraped the wall while running 13th on Lap 173. Three laps later, he crashed.

16. Kyle Busch (last week: 17)
Weeks in the top 10: 0
FPR#: 15.40

Penalized for monkeying with the nose of his Toyota, Busch had to start from the back of the pack last week and was never a factor in Las Vegas. He climbed to the top 10 to earn a single segment points in Stage 2, but with an Average Running Position of 13.79 and finishing result of 15th, he didn’t move much in the Fantasy Power Rankings. The good news is that NASCAR heads to Auto Cub this week, where he is the defending winner.