This season’s debut of NBC Sports’ NASCAR Power Rankings was similar to the Daytona 500: a wild affair.
Our NASCAR writers chose 16 different drivers after the opening weekend of racing across all three of NASCAR’s top series. There were several surprises, for sure.
Not surprisingly, though, was Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin as the unanimous choice for the top spot in the rankings.
Here’s how we called ‘em:
1. Denny Hamlin (40 points): While the prevailing thought is that luck plays a key role in how a driver finishes in the Daytona 500, consider what Hamlin has done — three wins in the last five races and six top-five finishes in the last seven 500s. That ain’t luck.
2. Ryan Newman (30): Was only seconds away from his second Daytona 500 win before his horrific crash. Finished third in his qualifying race and was fifth in the Busch Clash. He and Kyle Larson were the only drivers to score a top 10 in all three events during Speedweeks.
3. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Was in position to win the Daytona 500. Would have given him back-to-back wins at speedway tracks after his victory at Talladega in last year’s playoffs.
4. Kyle Larson (24): Came close to winning his first career Daytona 500. Joined Ryan Newman as the only driver to score top 10s in the Clash, their qualifying race and the Daytona 500.
5. Chris Buescher (22): Had a strong showing and career-best Daytona finish in his return to Roush Fenway Racing. His third-place finish marked his second top five in the 500 in the last three years.
(tie) 6. David Ragan (15): What a way to go into retirement from the Cup Series. In his last Cup start, Ragan finished fourth, his best showing in the 500 (he won the 2011 summer Daytona race). Happy trails to the Georgia native in retirement.
(tie) 6. Kevin Harvick (15): If there had been another lap or two left and had it not been for Ryan Newman’s frightening wreck, the man known as “the closer” may very well have stolen the win away from Hamlin.
8. Clint Bowyer (13): Placed third in the Clash and sixth in the 500, not a bad way to start the season.
9. Chase Elliott (10): Even though he finished 17th, Elliott had some strong segments during the race, including leading 23 laps. Trailed off in the closing laps; otherwise he may have wound up with a top 10.
10: Brad Keselowski (7): Led 30 laps and had one of the fastest cars in the field but was collected in the big wreck on Lap 183. Still, a strong start for Keselowski and his new crew chief, Jeremy Bullins.