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Power Rankings

Power Ranking After: Darlington 3

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: September 10, 2020, 1:59 pm ET

Traditionally Darlington Raceway has been one of the easiest tracks to handicap. It is not kind to dark horses or rookies, leaving a much smaller number of potential winners at the top. Drivers typically develop long strings of top-fives or 10s.

But, when you put the race in the playoffs for the first time since NASCAR instituted the 10-race format since 2004, all bets were off. The drivers who were expected to run well did so, but pushing too hard and employing risky strategies shuffled the order among drivers third through 16th in the standings as many of those gambles left cars in shambles and track position wasted.

With back-to-back short track races on Saturday nights, that trend could very well continue until the Round of 12, so bettors will want to employ a conservative strategy for the Richmond and Bristol races. The winners of those events, however, will almost certainly come from the list below.

Top 10

1. Denny Hamlin (last week: 1)
Weeks in the top 10: 19
Weeks as #1: 3
Power Average: 5.18
Hamlin should be watched closely over the next few weeks. With the second-most playoff bonus points he is in no real jeopardy of failing to make the Championship Round and that could affect his short-term performance. In his last two unrestricted oval races, he finished 19th at Dover and 13th at Darlington which is a little concerning.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (last week: 3) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 20
Power Average: 5.67
For the past two seasons Truex has been firmly among the ‘Big 3.’ This year there are only two clear-cut favorites and he is not among them, which has led him to dig deeper and push a little too hard. He had the best car and swept both stages at Darlington. If he had not misjudged his late-race pass on Elliott, he probably would have won the race as well. Every driver in the field except Hamlin and Harvick need bonus points and that only adds to the drama.

3. Joey Logano (last week: 4) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 24
Power Average: 7.87
Logano needed a strong run to kick off the playoffs. He entered Darlington with three top-10s in the last four races. He was running with the leaders at Daytona when he was involved in an accident that might have robbed him of momentum. The Round of 16 is a good time to begin building momentum and last week’s third-place finish was definitely a boon. The trick will be to maintain that over the next nine weeks, which is something Logano has struggled with this year.

4. Kevin Harvick (last week: 2) -2
Weeks in the top 10: 23
Weeks as #1: 13
Power Average: 7.97
Harvick was in the right place last week when the leaders Truex and Elliott wrecked battling for the top spot. He did not have the best car, but after adding five bonus points for the win, he solidified his position in the Championship 4 with even more certainty. Harvick’s victory was the ninth Darlington top-five in his last 10 races there, which is going to make him very attractive in two weeks at Bristol – another rough-surfaced course.

5. Jimmie Johnson (last week: 11) +6
Weeks in the top 10: 11
Power Average: 9.28
Johnson’s meteoric rise in the rankings this week has as much to do with the fact that Texas and Kansas both aged out of the 45-day Power Rankings formula as it does solid runs at Daytona and Darlington. The results were disappointingly outside the top 15 in the two most recent races, but his similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track efforts were much worse and outside the top 25. Johnson is not going to be a good value in regard to an outright win anytime soon, but if you can find a solid top-10 Prop Bet, you should take it.  

6. Brad Keselowski (last week: 5) -1
Weeks in the top 10: 23
Power Average: 10.58
Keselowski finished 11th last week at Darlington. That was his fifth consecutive top-15 – but unfortunately, his best effort in that span of races was an eighth. It’s fine to have those types of results in the Round of 16, but he is going to have to pick up the pace and challenge for top-fives in the next two rounds if he wants to race for the win at Phoenix. This week’s venue could go either way. Keselowski has a streak of nine straight top-11 finishes, but fewer than half have been in the top five.

7. Chase Elliott (last week: 7)
Weeks in the top 10: 24
Weeks as #1: 5
Power Average: 10.84
Elliott has to wonder if the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas are just a little bit longer than the rest of the field or if their spatial relations are off kilter. For the second consecutive race at Darlington, Elliott was denied a shot at victory because of a Gibbs’ guy mistake. He can ill afford for that to happen again because he remembers just how catastrophic last year’s Round of 8 was when he finished outside the top 30 in three straight races. He desperately needed the five bonus points a Southern 500 victory would have added to his total. The good news is that he ran better last week than we’ve seen in a while.

8. William Byron (last week: 12) +4
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 11.19
It’s taken 27 races, but Byron has finally made his way into the Power Rankings top 10. One wants to time their peak performance and three consecutive top-fives that includes a career-first win certainly counts as doing so. It will be hard for him to maintain that momentum, however, and his odds of winning the championship are among the longest at +5000. That doesn’t keep him from being a good bet in regard to Prop Bets for top-five and -10 finishes and since he is just now popping up at the top of the list, he could be a great sleeper.

9. Clint Bowyer (last week: 10) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 4
FPR#: 12.16
It’s going to take a lot of patience for Bowyer to have a legitimate shot at the championship. More than that, it will take victories in the Rounds of 8 and probably 12. For now he has to concentrate on solid runs because he left Darlington tied in points with Aric Almirola on the cutline. When his teammate Harvick won last week, that improved his odds because the victory did not go to a wild card racer, but if the drivers down near the bottom of the grid begin to win, things are going to get complicated.

10. Kyle Busch (last week: 6) +4
Weeks in the top 10: 16
Power Average: 12.88
What seemed farfetched midway through the season has seemingly more potential with each passing week. Busch may not advance out of the Round of 16 unless this team can improve their performance and start to challenge for wins. He is currently 10th in the standings with a seven-point advantage to the cutline. That can disappear in the blink of an eye. But Busch ran well last week and with a different strategy could have contended for the win. The good news is that he swept Richmond’s Victory Lane in 2018 and finished second in the most recent event at that track.

Dropped from the Top 10

12. Ryan Blaney (last week: 8) -4
Weeks in the top 10: 18
Weeks as #1: 2
FPR#: 14.44
One simply cannot afford to make a mistake in the playoffs. Blaney lost 10 points last week at Darlington before the team ever got onto the track. Starting from the back of the pack, he was also at a huge deficit in regard to potentially getting any Stage Points. The reason: apparently a crewmember left a bag of ballast in the car, for which NASCAR penalized them and ejected their crew chief. Blaney is now 16th in the standings and needs to pass four drivers and make up 18 points to get back into contention to advance.

14. Aric Almirola (last week: 9) -5
Weeks in the top 10: 10
Power Average: 14.89
It’s hard to know if Almirola’s fall down the order is directly related to the unsuccessful experiment they tried at Michigan 2 that snapped a long string of top-10s, but since then he has not been able to back up one with another in seven starts. He has a chance to change that at Richmond this weekend after finishing ninth in the Southern 500, but since we have not yet been to that track in 2020 it’s going to be difficult to know what kind of car he will have under him.

Big Movers outside the Top 10

11. Austin Dillon (last week: 16) +5
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 14.04
Dillon almost became the best Cinderella Story in the Round of 16. Chasing Harvick – a driver who has disparaged him in the past as being born with a silver spoon in his mouth – he came up just a little short of winning one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races. The good news is that he advanced his team to eighth in the standings and can maintain his transfer position with solid runs at Richmond and Bristol.

17. Erik Jones (last week: 13) -4
Weeks in the top 10: 4
Power Average: 15.86
Jones is experiencing the opposite effect as Johnson. He actually ran fairly well last week, but the 45-day average dropped out back-to-back top-10s at Texas and Kansas, leaving him with a streak of seven results outside the top 10. If he can back up his fourth-place finish in the Southern 500 with an equally impressive Richmond run, he will start to climb back up the ladder. He has bigger things on his mind, however: namely securing a competitive ride in 2021.

Winners, Last 45 Days (Outright Odds to win)
Cook Out Southern 500, Darlington: Kevin Harvick (+260)
Coke Zero Sugar 400, Daytona: William Byron (+2500)
Drydene 311 (Sunday), Dover: Kevin Harvick (+450)
Drydene 311 (Saturday), Dover: Denny Hamlin (+600)
Go Bowling 235, Daytona Road Course: Chase Elliott (+375)
Consumers Energy 312, Michigan: Kevin Harvick (+250)
FireKeepers Casino 312, Michigan: Kevin Harvick (+400)
Foxwoods Casino 301, New Hampshire: Brad Keselowski (+900)

 

Power Average, Last 45 Days

This
Week

Driver

Power
Avg.

Avg. Odds
Rank

Last
Week

Difference

1

Denny Hamlin

5.18

2.50

1

0

2

Martin Truex Jr.

5.67

7.11

3

1

3

Joey Logano

7.87

5.75

4

1

4

Kevin Harvick

7.97

1.63

2

-2

5

Jimmie Johnson

9.28

12.63

11

6

6

Brad Keselowski

10.58

4.38

5

-1

7

Chase Elliott

10.84

4.75

7

0

8

William Byron

11.19

14.25

12

4

9

Clint Bowyer

12.16

13.00

10

1

10

Kyle Busch

12.88

5.25

6

-4

11

Austin Dillon

14.04

19.50

16

5

12

Ryan Blaney

14.44

6.38

8

-4

13

Kurt Busch

14.67

9.88

14

1

14

Aric Almirola

14.89

10.38

9

-5

15

Alex Bowman

15.27

11.00

18

3

16

Matt DiBenedetto

15.35

14.13

15

-1

17

Erik Jones

15.86

11.00

13

-4

18

Cole Custer

16.53

18.75

20

2

19

Christopher Bell

18.45

18.25

21

2

20

Tyler Reddick

18.91

17.38

17

-3

21

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

18.93

21.50

25

4

22

Chris Buescher

21.48

23.43

22

0

23

Ryan Preece

21.89

28.00

29

6

24

Matt Kenseth

22.02

18.75

23

-1

25

Ryan Newman

22.15

21.13

26

1

26

Michael McDowell

22.96

27.00

24

-2

27

Bubba Wallace

23.30

24.50

27

0

28

Ty Dillon

23.92

27.25

28

0

29

JH Nemechek

26.13

26.25

30

1

30

Daniel Suarez

27.74

28.57

33

3

31

BJ McLeod

28.00

 

39

8

32

Ross Chastain

28.47

 

32

0

33

Corey LaJoie

28.81

31.50

31

-2

34

Brendan Gaughan

29.23

 

36

2

35

Brennan Poole

30.57

32.13

35

0

36

JJ Yeley

32.00

32.13

34

-2

37

Josh Bilicki

32.52

34.00

38

1

38

Quin Houff

33.36

34.50

42

4

39

Reed Sorenson

33.75

33.40

41

2

40

Timmy Hill

33.91

34.00

44

4

41

James Davison

34.03

32.14

40

-1

42

Garrett Smithley

34.64

33.00

43

1

43

Joey Gase

36.88

34.00

45

2

44

Stanton Barrett

38.67

 

46

2

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.