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Aric Almirola
AP
Power Rankings

Power Ranking After: Texas 1

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: July 21, 2020, 12:10 pm ET

Earlier this week, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said on Sirius/XM that the series does not expect to return to schedules that allow for practice and qualification through the month of August. In order to have those sessions, teams need to bring more people to the track and with cases of COVID-19 still troublesome in many states, that is not practical.

In the past two weeks, the ripple effect of no practice has been seen.

The "cookie-cutter" courses are not typically prone to longshots. But the leveling of the playing field has created situations in which two dark horse drivers have won back-to-back races on 1.5-mile tracks.

And the strength of more moderately-funded teams is not only showing up with the leaders. Rookies are peppering the top 10 along with drivers like Matt DiBenedetto who has not yet won. Both drivers were below the playoff bubble entering the races they won. They were also longshots. Cole Custer was listed with +10000 odds (+100/1) at Kentucky; Austin Dillon was +12500 at Texas the day before the race.


There are 16 slots in the playoffs and eight regular season races remaining. The slots are filled first by winning drivers, but if more than 16 drivers have a victory in the first 26 races, points will break the tie among them. So far in NASCAR’s playoff style format, that has not been a factor – and in all reality, it probably won’t be this year either. But as drivers on or below the bubble win, it intensifies the battle.

Currently Aric Almirola sits eighth in the standings as the highest-ranked among winless drivers. Two weeks ago that may have seemed to be a comfortable place to be, but with each new unique winner his position becomes increasingly bothersome.

Almirola has a one-point advantage over Kurt Busch and is 14 above Kyle Busch. Both of those drivers are winless as well. This focus on points in addition to winning forces teams to gamble on stage positions and roll the dice for victories. It’s still anyone’s guess as to who will be in championship contention in a season that includes several more wild cards such as doubleheaders at Michigan and Dover plus a race on a brand new road course without the benefit of practice or qualification.

1. Kevin Harvick (last week: 1)
Weeks in the top 10: 16
Weeks as #1: 8
Power Average: 6.92

Harvick retains his most-favored status for another week. Even though he has been less formidable in recent races, he has raced his competition well and for the moment he does not need to worry about the dark horse contenders. Since Bristol, Harvick’s money line to win the championship has reflected his strength by dropping from +500 to a current +300. More telling still is that the Draft Kings sportsbook lists him as a shoe in for a championship top-three finish at -134.

2. Ryan Blaney (last week: 3) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 12
Weeks as #1: 2
FPR#: 7.22

The O'Reilly 500 was Blaney’s to lose until a rookie driver attempted to cut across three lanes of traffic and pit. The ensuing caution momentarily stranded him a lap off the pace and ruined his chances to get a second win on the season, but the driver of the No. 12 now has back-to-back top-10s for the first time in five weeks. More importantly, he was in contention for the last two victories, which is reminiscent of the run he experienced from Charlotte through Homestead earlier this season.

3. Brad Keselowski (last week: 2) -1
Weeks in the top 10: 16
Power Average: 9.33

Keselowski continues to do his tortoise impression. Slow and steady won’t necessarily win a lot of races, but it is making him a consistent top-10 finisher. In the 12 races since the return to action, he has finished worse than 10th only three times and outside the top 15 once. His pair of victories at Charlotte and Bristol gives this team some wiggle room. There should be a little concern surrounding him, however; many of his best finishes have come during days when he ran modestly before employing a pit gamble in the final stage.

4. Chase Elliott (last week: 4)
Weeks in the top 10: 17
Weeks as #1: 5
Power Average: 10.40

Among the leaders, Elliott is likely the worst on restarts. This season he has improved a little when he restarts on the front row, but if he is mired in traffic, more often than not he is going to lose several positions as more aggressive drivers swing around him in the high and low groove. Last week his average speed of 155.005 mph after restarts was only 19th-best in the field. He salvaged a 12th-place finish, but that was his fifth result outside the top 10 in the last six races.

5. Denny Hamlin (last week: 5)
Weeks in the top 10: 12
Weeks as #1: 1
Power Average: 10.55

Over the past 45 days, Hamlin has more strong runs than weak ones with five top-fives versus four results outside the top 10. Three of his most disappointing races have come in the last three contests, however, and he’s admitted that cutting a tire while leading the Brickyard 400 and slamming the wall has stuck in his craw. Hamlin has four wins on the year, however, and another couple of runner-up finishes, which still makes him the most powerful of the Joe Gibbs Racing crew.

6. Kurt Busch (last week: 9) +3
Weeks in the top 10: 13
Power Average: 11.16

Over the past 45 days, Busch’s average odds rank for an outright win has been 10.32. Since the outrights nearly always drag the other odds for a top-three or -10 position, this is making him a consistently good value. So far in 2020 he has earned 11 top-10s (61.1 percent of the time) and 14 top-15s (77.8%). The only drivers who have better records in those categories are Harvick and Keselowski. Currently Draft Kings has him listed at -106 to finish in the top 10, but watch closely in case those odds become more favorable as Thursday night’s race approaches.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (last week: 6) -1
Weeks in the top 10: 13
Power Average: 11.23

The past three weeks have been frustrating for Truex and the bettors who have wagered on him. He didn’t get a chance to get up to speed at Indy before a loose spark plug robbed him of power and put him at the back of the pack. He piled into the pit road accident in that race and could not affect repairs. He was sent to the back of the pack at Kentucky and had to drive his way slowly to the front, where he finished second. Last week, he had another strong car only to be eliminated in a multi-car crash. Perhaps more frustrating still, teammate Kyle Busch survived the contact and challenged for the win in the closing laps.

8. Aric Almirola (last week: 12) +4
Weeks in the top 10: 4
Power Average: 11.94

It has taken a while for Almirola’s hard work to get him back inside the Power Rankings’ top-10. While he ran well in the opening events, he did not get a top-five until Homestead in Race 12. That kicked off a streak of five top-fives and seven top-10s. His consistent runs have him 107 points above the championship cutline at the moment, but with eight races remaining and only six spots open, that could change in the blink of an eye. The lack of practice has made the field more volatile than ever.

9. Joey Logano (last week: 8) -1
Weeks in the top 10: 17
Power Average: 11.96

Last week we said Logano needed to start competing at the front of the pack if he does not want to lose momentum for the playoffs. He stepped up with a solid third-place finish at Texas. More importantly, his third-place result came after he posted the third-best Average Running Position (7.38). In the closing laps, the No. 22 and 18 cars were the fastest among the favorites and if they could have settled their squabble, Logano might have been able to contend for another victory. It’s too soon to go all in on him, but he deserves a lot of attention at Kansas. If he runs well there and the odds are still favorable for New Hampshire, he could earn a sizeable bankroll.

10. Kyle Busch (last week: 10)
Weeks in the top 10: 11
Power Average: 12.17

Busch has been among the luckiest drivers in the past two weeks. After sustaining damage at both Kentucky and Texas, he caught cautions at the right time to salvage strong finishes. Ultimately it was the driver behind the wheel that made up the difference in the O'Reilly 500 and that is an important distinction. He has not fared well since the return to racing because of the lack of practice, but he is slowly getting better. The proof in that could be seen in the closing laps when he battled side-by-side with Logano.

Dropped from the top 10

12. Jimmie Johnson (last week: 7) -5
Weeks in the top 10: 10
Power Average: 14.08

Time is running out for Johnson. He is currently 15th in the points with a pack of drivers just below the bubble who want to replace him as a championship contender. With back-to-back wins by dark horses, he cannot rely on points to get him into the playoffs, but a win seems further away than ever on the heels of six consecutive sub-10th-place results.

Winners, Last 45 Days (Outright Odds to win)
O'Reilly 500, Texas: Austin Dillon (+12500)
Quaker State 400, Kentucky: Cole Custer (+10000)
Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400, Indy: Kevin Harvick (+400)
Pocono 350, Pocono: Denny Hamlin (+800)
Pocono Organics 325, Pocono: Kevin Harvick (+650)
Geico 500, Talladega: Ryan Blaney (+1200)
Dixie Vodka 400, Homestead: Denny Hamlin (+1000)
Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, Martinsville: Martin Truex Jr. (+550)
QuikTrip 500, Atlanta: Kevin Harvick (+500)

 

Power Average, Last 45 Days

This
Week

Driver

Power
Avg.

Avg.
Odds Rank

Last
Week

Difference

1.

Kevin Harvick

6.92

2.64

1

0

2.

Ryan Blaney

7.22

6.86

3

1

3.

Brad Keselowski

9.33

4.54

2

-1

4.

Chase Elliott

10.40

4.14

4

0

5.

Denny Hamlin

10.55

3.68

5

0

6.

Kurt Busch

11.16

10.32

9

3

7.

Martin Truex Jr.

11.23

4.43

6

-1

8.

Aric Almirola

11.94

13.68

12

4

9.

Joey Logano

11.96

5.29

8

-1

10.

Kyle Busch

12.17

2.36

10

0

 

11.

Matt DiBenedetto

12.65

16.27

11

0

12.

Jimmie Johnson

14.08

11.07

7

-5

13.

Alex Bowman

14.22

10.07

15

2

14.

Clint Bowyer

14.44

12.61

13

-1

15.

Tyler Reddick

15.29

16.30

21

6

16.

William Byron

15.76

12.74

14

-2

17.

Erik Jones

17.38

12.64

16

-1

18.

Bubba Wallace

17.81

22.86

18

0

19.

Chris Buescher

18.11

23.14

23

4

20.

Christopher Bell

18.56

20.18

19

-1

21.

Austin Dillon

18.63

19.21

20

-1

22.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

19.56

19.93

17

-5

23.

Cole Custer

19.66

23.50

28

5

24.

Matt Kenseth

19.85

16.96

22

-2

25.

Ross Chastain

20.13

27.50

24

-1

26.

Michael McDowell

20.78

27.63

25

-1

27.

Ryan Newman

21.39

19.82

27

0

28.

Brendan Gaughan

22.14

26.00

29

1

29.

JH Nemechek

24.28

25.46

26

-3

30.

Ty Dillon

24.99

26.72

31

1

31.

Ryan Preece

25.70

26.50

30

-1

32.

Corey LaJoie

26.28

29.86

32

0

33.

Daniel Suarez

28.29

28.46

33

0

34.

JJ Yeley

31.71

30.54

35

1

35.

Brennan Poole

31.99

30.89

37

2

36.

Gray Gaulding

32.80

31.38

34

-2

37.

BJ McLeod

33.08

30.48

38

1

38.

Quin Houff

33.09

30.54

39

1

39.

Josh Bilicki

33.64

30.20

40

1

40.

Timmy Hill

33.84

30.07

36

-4

41.

Garrett Smithley

34.33

30.00

41

0

42.

Joey Gase

35.53

30.39

42

0

43.

Reed Sorenson

35.85

29.57

43

0

 

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.