NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1, Kyle Busch drops to 10th

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Even though Martin Truex Jr. passed Kevin Harvick to win the NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas, Harvick remains No. 1 in this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Harvick was the top pick of NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers for the second straight week. Meanwhile, Truex and Brad Keselowski made the biggest jumps in this week’s rankings, both going from unranked last week to tied for No. 2 this week.

The biggest drop in the rankings came from Kyle Busch, who fell from third to 10th this week and Clint Bowyer, who dropped out after being fourth last week. Busch has fallen from first to 10th in the last three polls.

Here is how this week’s rankings look:

1. Kevin Harvick (39 points): Although he fell one point short of unanimous selection, “Happy” is certainly in a very happy place heading to Richmond. Last week: First.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (33 points): Never question this team’s playoff readiness. The way he won at Las Vegas could be an indicator of even greater success in the remaining nine playoff races, potentially culminating with a second Cup championship in three years. Last week: Unranked.

2. Brad Keselowski (33 points): Rebounded from poor start to, in his words, nearly “steal” a win. Third-place finish is his fourth top five in the last five races. Last week: Unranked.

4. Kyle Larson (28 points): Overlooked rebound for eighth-place finish with a top-three car after pit penalty. Is peaking at the right time: Vegas marked his sixth top 10 in the last seven races. Last week: Seventh.

5. Chase Elliott (26 points): Scores back-to-back fourth-place finishes. Since his Watkins Glen win, he has only one finish outside the top 10. Last week: Eighth.

6. Joey Logano (13 points): Decent top 10 but made some moves he probably wants back. Still, ninth-place finish marks back-to-back top 10s for the first time since July. Last week: Fifth.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Earned his first top five in five races, but his sixth top 10 in last eight races. Last week: Sixth.

8. Denny Hamlin (11 points): Car woes late at Las Vegas left him wondering what went wrong after 15th-place finish. No panic yet but a strong hometown Richmond run would help. Last week: Second.

9. William Byron (8 points): The playoff rookie was cool under fire at Las Vegas. Nice recovery from spin to finish seventh in first Cup playoff race. Last week: Unranked.

10. Kyle Busch (7 points): Hit wall, lost two laps, got back on the lead lap, ran into the back of a slower car, complained about drivers not on the lead lap. Yes, think that’s about how his playoff opener went. Oh well, he does have all those playoff points as the regular-season champ to fall back on. Last week: Third.

Others receiving votes: Ryan Newman (5 points), Chris Buescher (3 points), Alex Bowman (2 points).

Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Gray Gaulding out Friday after suspected allergic reaction

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Stewart-Haas Racing plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis on Friday after Gray Gaulding had a suspected allergic reaction.

SS Green Light Racing confirmed Gaulding had an issue en route to Kansas City. A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson confirmed that its plane made the unscheduled stop, and that emergency personnel came on board after the plane landed. Gaulding remained in St. Louis while the plane continued to Kansas City.

SS Green Light Racing stated that after arriving at the track, Gaulding went to the infield care center and was not cleared to drive Friday. Gaulding will be re-evaluated Saturday. J.J. Yeley drove the car for Gaulding in practice Friday.