Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski remain 1-2

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Brad Keselowski is getting closer to reaching the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, but he remains behind Kevin Harvick, who holds the top spot for a fifth consecutive week.

Keselowski is coming off a victory last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a contract extension, which was announced the day after the race.

Since the season resumed in May, Harvick and Keselowski have had similar stats. Harvick has four wins since May; Keselowski has three. Harvick has six finishes of third or better; Keselowski has five such finishes. Harvick has 13 top 10s in 16 races; Keselowski has the same total.

Cup heads to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for a doubleheader. Saturday’s race is at 4 p.m. ET. Sunday’s race is at 4:30 p.m. ET. Both races will be on NBCSN.

Here is this week’s power rankings:

  1. Kevin Harvick (Last week: No. 1): Has seven consecutive top-five finishes and might have challenged for his fifth win of the season had a pit call not taken him out of sequence and forced him to pit under green. Good chance his streak continues this weekend at Michigan. Since the track was repaved in 2012, Harvick has 10 top-five finishes in 16 starts.
  2. Brad Keselowski (Last week: No. 2): Scores at least three wins for the fifth consecutive year. The Michigan driver has never won a Cup race at Michigan. He has three top 10s there in his last four starts. 
  3. Denny Hamlin ( Last week: No. 3): Was in contention for his sixth win of the season before losing a duel with Brad Keselowski at New Hampshire. Thirteen of the 22 lead changes were between Hamlin and Keselowski. They combined to lead 186 of the last 198 laps. He has four wins, seven finishes of third or better and 10 top 10s since the season resumed in May.
  4. Aric Almirola (Last week: No. 4): Has a career-high nine consecutive top-10 finishes. Can he make it a perfect 10 Saturday at Michigan? He has only one top 10 at the track in his last five starts. 
  5. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: No. 7): Has three finishes of third or better in the last four races. Scored third at New Hampshire despite penalty for an uncontrolled tire. His eight top-five finishes at Michigan are second only to the nine he has had at Kansas for most among active tracks.
  6. Cole Custer (Last week: No. 5): Has four top 10s in the last five races, including his Kentucky win. 
  7. Tyler Reddick (Last week: No. 9): Has four top 10s in the last five races. He won the Michigan Xfinity race in June 2019.
  8. Joey Logano (Last week: Unranked): Has two top-five finishes in the last three races. He won at Michigan in June 2019.
  9. Chase Elliott (Last week: Unranked): Has four finishes between ninth and 12th in the last five races. 
  10. Matt DiBenedetto (Last week: Unranked): Has two finishes of sixth of better in the the last four races. 

Fell out of rankings: Kyle Busch (No. 5 last week), Austin Cindric (No. 7) and Austin Hill (No. 10)

Cup playoff grid after New Hampshire

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William Byron holds a 15-point lead on rookie Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot in the Cup playoff grid after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Six races remain in the regular season.

Byron finished 11th at New Hampshire, one spot behind Reddick, but Byron extended his advantage on Reddick by five points. Byron scored six stage points, while Reddick scored none.

MORE: Could New Hampshire be a sign of things to come in Cup?

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire 

Jimmie Johnson fell to 25 points behind Byron for the final spot in the Cup playoff grid. Johnson overcame a spin after contact with Clint Bowyer to run in the top 10 but lost four spots in the final 20 laps to finish 12th.

“Good fight today guys,” Johnson told his team on the radio after the race. “Overcome a lot of (stuff) again.”

The series heads this weekend to Michigan International Speedway for two races. The Cup Series races there at 4 p.m. ET Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. Both races will be on NBCSN.

Ten of the 16 playoff spots have been secured by drivers who have won at least one race this year: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and rookie Cole Custer.

Here is a look at the Cup playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Drivers shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Cup playoff grid.

Cup playoff grid New Hampshire

Winners and losers from New Hampshire

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Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Brad Keselowski His victory Sunday was his third of the year, marking the fifth consecutive season he’s won at least three races.

Denny HamlinHis runner-up finish marked the eighth time in 20 races he’s placed first or second. That’s 40% of the time.

Martin Truex Jr.His third-place finish was his third top-three result in the last four races.

Kevin Harvick His fifth-place finish was his seventh consecutive top-five performance. He has 13 top-five finishes in 20 starts this season. He’s scoring a top five in 65% of his starts this season.

Aric Almirola His seventh-place run was his ninth consecutive top-10 finish, the longest active streak in the series.

Cole Custer The rookie’s eighth-place finish is his fourth top 10 in the last five races.

Ryan Preece A 16th-place finish might not seem impressive, but it stands out for a team that had failed to finish the last four races, which included three last-place finishes.

LOSERS

Matt KensethFormer champion finished 37th after causing three cautions.

Erik JonesFell 19 points further from the playoff cutline after 24th-place finish that included a one-lap penalty for pitting outside the box.

Kyle Busch Reigning champion finished last after a tire went down and he hit the wall early in the race. It marked his third Cup finish of 30th or worse in the last eight races. He remains winless this season in Cup.

What drivers said after New Hampshire

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Brad Keselowski – winner: “We’ve had a lot of great races this year with the 2 car, but we just haven’t really went out and kind of dominated a race. Talking to (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and like, ‘Man, what do we need to get to that next level?  We’re right there.  We need to go out and just dominate a race,’ and that’s what today was for us with the Western Star/Alliance Parts Ford Mustang.  I’m really proud of my team and the effort that they gave today.  A great race car and to all of Team Penske, thank you.  Its so great to be racing back in front of fans again.  It feels like forever, so welcome back, guys.”

(WHAT KIND OF STATEMENT WAS THIS TODAY?):  “This is the same tire and similar track to Phoenix and we know that’s what you’ve got to do to win this championship. You have to go win Phoenix and we put on a great showing today.  I’m pumped, I really am. The playoffs are a long ways away and they’re gonna be tough, but this is certainly a good sign.”

More: Keselowski wins third race of year

Denny Hamlin – finished second: “We just kind of were second there to the 2 (Brad Keselowski). We could really do well on restarts and we were going back-and-forth. Wow, that was some really, really good short track racing there. Hopefully the fans liked what they saw there with me and the 2 for most of the day. Some great side-by-side racing. We treated each other fair and it’s good that we got one-two out of it.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished third: “We ran second in the first stage and had a tire get away on pit road, had to come from the back. That definitely made things a lot more challenging. Had a decent Sport Clips Toyota, just wasn’t quite driving like we needed it to and then it kind of burned the tires off after 25 or 30 laps. We could hang with them and we would fall consistently off the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 11 (Denny Hamlin). Third-best car and we finished third so all in all, a good day. Just have to find a little bit more. Just missed the balance a little bit today. Love coming up here to Loudon and this was a fun day.”

Joey Logano – finished fourth: “It was an okay day. (Crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) put together a great car for me, something that was pretty competitive. I thought maybe it was something we could win with if we had the track position right.  We scored a few stage points. It was a somewhat uneventful day. Our pit stall was very challenging. It’s just kind of how this works right now. If you have a bad race the race before, you get stuck with a really bad stall and stuck in between a couple cars and that cost us a little bit. And then there on one of those cautions there towards the end I heard Paul say, ‘Pit,’ and the part that I missed is where he said, ‘if they split, pit.’  So all I got was the pit part, so we pitted when there really wasn’t many cars or any cars that pitted. And then we kind of got lucky and got a caution five or six laps after that. We did fuel only, which just made us really loose the last run.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished sixth: We had some troubles and had a fast car from the start, we just had to tighten it up some. I was a little frustrated at times just because of how fast of a car we had and we were sort of stuck back in a little mess, had some big trouble on one pit stop and really set us back, so we were battling to try to get up where we belonged and then once we did we were pretty competitive. I thought we had a car that could have ran in the top two or three until that very last run we just got a little too tight on the last set of tires. We were tight and lost a little speed, so we ended up still having a solid day finishing sixth, which I’m happy about in the sense of our last two weeks were very rough as far as luck. We’ve had fast race cars, but the takeaway I take from it is we’ve really been in a good groove for the last many weeks I can remember. For the last sevenish weeks we’ve had cars that can run up in the top five and top 10 no problem, so I’m real encouraged about that moving forward. I think we’ll stay in a good rhythm. Other than that, not too crazy of a day. I’m glad we came out with a solid run that the team deserves when we’re obviously fighting for points.”

Aric Almirola – finished seventh: “Well the streak continues. Nine top 10s in a row. So proud of this Smithfield Hometown Heroes Ford Mustang team. We ran up front a little bit in the beginning and were just off a bit on balance of our car. It was a solid day. We continue to build a points gap back to the cutoff line to the guys in the playoffs and we just continue the consistency. One of these days we’re going to get us a win.”

Cole Custer – finished eighth: “Today was definitely the run we needed. If we can keep being this consistent, we’ll have something for the playoffs.”

Chase Elliott – finished ninth: “We were hoping to have a better finish today. I felt like we were making some ground up there late in Stage 2 and at the start of the final stage. Then those guys got ahead of us when we stayed out and they pitted. That got us back in traffic and our drive off wasn’t good enough to drive back through the field like some of those other guys. Definitely not where we want to be, so we’ll keep working and trying to get it better.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 10th: “New Hampshire Motor Speedway is one of the most challenging tracks on the circuit for me, so to come out of here with a top-10 finish feels great. We had a great starting spot with our No. 8 Feeding America Chevrolet but didn’t have the handling to keep the track position in the preferred line. Our car was very tight for most of the day, which made it really hard to roll the center of the corners like I wanted to, so we had our hands full for the start of the race. We had some great speed though, we just had to adjust on our Chevrolet a little bit to get the handling to match it. Towards the start of Stage 3, the handling loosened up enough for me to really start rolling through the turns on the bottom and pick up some positions. With the final caution coming out when it did, we had to focus on saving fuel for a long time in the final stage, but we managed it well enough to not only make it to the end, but also fight our way into a top-10 finish.”

William Byron – finished 11th: “That was a hard fought one for us today. We worked hard throughout the race to get the handling right and in the middle stage of the race we were pretty good. We were able to drive up to third and I was happy with that. After that though the car just stopped turning and the handling went away towards the end. It was a typical New Hampshire race in the things you fight here handling-wise, which is good and bad, but we’ll take the solid finish and head to the Michigan doubleheader and have two really good races there.

Jimmie Johnson – finished 12th:

Austin Dillon – finished 13th: “The only thing we were missing was track position. We had to start at the rear of the field but did a good job of working our way into the top 15 or so in Stage 1. In Stage 2 we took right-side tires during a pit stop, which positioned us in the lead for a restart with just a few laps remaining in the Stage. I just couldn’t get going on two tires and ended up losing the lead, but we were still able to maintain enough track position to earn some Stage points. We pitted for fuel-only during a caution in Stage 3 that put us in a great position at the end of the race to go for it while a lot of other teams were in fuel conservation mode. It was amazing how fast the Freightliner Chevrolet was during that long green flag run at the end. We just needed about 20 more laps at the end to be in contention. Overall, it was a solid day for this Freightliner team.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 14th: “That was a really up and down race for us at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today. We knew we had speed in our Kroger Chevrolet but struggled with the handling for the beginning half of the race. Brian Pattie did a great job staying on top of the calls to keep us on the lead lap, and make adjustments that gave us a top-15 finish. We struggled in July, but that’s a solid start to our August to get back on the right momentum.”

Alex Bowman – finished 15th: “We had an up and down day today. We started off chattering the tires, which made the car difficult to drive. (Crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys made some big changes on the stops and got our Chevrolet a little better. A big thanks to my team and everyone back at the shop for their hard work every week. We will move on to Michigan for the doubleheader next week.”

Ryan Preece – finished 16th: “New Hampshire Motor Speedway is always a place I have marked on the schedule, but we really needed a strong run today. I’ve felt like the last few weeks, we’ve had the right adjustments and the right balance in our cars, just couldn’t get luck on our side to get the result we deserved. We ran out of fuel on the final lap that cost us a few positions; but being able to be competitive and get stage points today and still come away with a top-20 finish in our Louisiana Hot Sauce Chevrolet is really positive. I’m proud of all of the hard work everyone has put in at JTG Daugherty Racing and to Trent Owens for making great adjustments all day and I’m looking forward to turning this season around.”

Kurt Busch – finished 17th: “There wasn’t much magic to be found for the Monster Energy team today at the “Magic Mile.” We really struggled with the car being loose on entry all day. The guys made some adjustments to help out, but we just couldn’t find the handling for the long runs. We are working hard to get better on the short tracks like this”.

Clint Bowyer – finished 18th: “We got some bonus points in the first two stages today and we’re still in the top 12. We’ll go to Michigan this week and I know our Fords like that place a lot.”

Michael McDowell – finished 19th: “It was certainly a tough day for our No. 34 team today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. We didn’t fire off exactly how we had hoped, but we consistently made good improvements to the car and ended up with a Top-20 finish after running around the 25th position for a majority of the race.”

Ty Dillon – finished 22nd: “Today was a long one for our GEICO team. My guys worked hard all day, but our Camaro ZL1 1LE was tight for the majority of the race. We would make a little gain and then the balance would get tight again. During the second stage, our left rear fender was flared out after contact and we lost track position on pit road to make repairs. We hoped some guys would run out of fuel there at the end, because we were one or two laps to the good, but the cards didn’t fall that way. On to the double in Michigan.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 23rd: “Not much to hit on today. Our Cash App Chevy was just okay. Nothing to be proud about. But we gave it our best effort. We were just way too tight. We’ve got to restart from baseline when we come back to this place. We’ve always kind of fought that and never really had decent results. All in all, a minor setback to start the race, so we’ve got some clawing to do. We’ve got six races left to get a shot at the playoffs, so we’ve got to get our mojo back. It seems like we’ve been searching for it for the last couple of weeks and we’ll keep after it. So, on to Michigan.”

Daniel Suarez  – finished 26th: “We gave it everything we had today with our It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota. We were pretty good on restarts most of the day but then it was surprising how quickly it went away within about 15 laps the early part of the race. We worked to make it better on the long run, and it felt like it was coming to me during the long run at the end. But that was pretty much all we had today. We just need to keep working hard. Next week, we’ll have two chances to keep making things better.”

Corey LaJoie – finished 35th:

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 36th: “That was definitely a hard hit, but I’m okay. An unfortunate end to our day in the No. 38 CITGARD Ford Mustang. We had a fast car and were pretty good on the short run. We struggled a little on the long run, but overall we had a fast race car. I can’t thank my guys enough for how we unloaded. We unloaded with speed and felt good about our situation. We had a top-15 car today, but we pitted for tires towards the end and must have run something over and had a left-front tire go down, which ended our day.”

Kyle Busch – finished 38th: “I blew a right-front tire for some reason. I have no idea why. Way too early in the going for anything to be wrong or even to build enough brake temp or brake heat. I don’t know. Just hate it for our Pedigree team and the fight that we’ve been having this year seems to be continuing. Last time I was here in a Pedigree car, we blew a right-front tire for no reason as well too. Just seems to be our luck with the Pedigree scheme for some reason here at New Hampshire. It’s still 2020, but sooner or later we have to turn this stuff around.”

 

Aric Almirola draws the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Aric Almirola will start first for the third time this season in the NASCAR Cup Series after drawing the pole position in the starting lineup for Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Almirola, who finished third at New Hampshire two years ago, also started first June 27 at Pocono Raceway and July 19 at Texas Motor Speedway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s No. 10 Ford has drawn a top-five starting spot in the last five Cup races set by random draws.

Denny Hamlin, who finished second at New Hampshire last year, will start second in his No. 11 Toyota.

STARTING LINEUP: Where everyone will start in the Cup race at New Hampshire

Here are the next five rows in order: Chase Elliott (the highest-starting Chevrolet in third), Brad Keselowski (fourth), Kyle Busch (fifth), Clint Bowyer (sixth after moving this week into the top 12 starting order draw), defending race winner Kevin Harvick (seventh), Alex Bowman (eighth), Joey Logano (ninth), Kurt Busch (10th), Martin Truex  Jr. (11th) and Ryan Blaney (12th)

Other notables in the New Hampshire starting lineup:

Tyler Reddick (13th); Cole Custer (14th) Bubba Wallace (15th); William Byron (16th); Erik Jones (17th); Matt DiBenedetto (19th); Jimmie Johnson (20th); Matt Kenseth (21st); Austin Dillon (23rd).

The New Hampshire Cup starting lineup was ordered Thursday afternoon through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the New Hampshire Cup starting lineup for Sunday’s race.

NASCAR Cup Series at New Hampshire 

Race Time: 3 p.m. ET, Sunday

Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway; Loudon, New Hampshire (1.058-mile speedway)

Length: 301 laps (318.46 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 75. Stage 2 ends Lap 185

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

New Hampshire Cup starting lineup: Click here for the starting order Sunday

Next Xfinity race: Aug. 8 at Road America (45 laps, 182.16 miles) noon ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Aug. 7 at Michigan (100 laps, 200 miles) 6 p.m. ET on FS1