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)

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

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New Hampshire winner Brad Keselowski wanted to take control of a race. Runner-up Denny Hamlin wanted to have a good run to prepare for key playoff races.

Sunday’s race provided both with such opportunities, but it is just a beginning.

With NASCAR’s schedule rearranged by COVID-19 postponements and realignments this season, Sunday started a key stretch for the field.

Nine of the last 17 races, including Sunday’s event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, will be with the 750-horsepower package. The package was introduced before this season to enhance racing at ovals 1 mile in length and shorter and also at road courses. The change was made after the low-horsepower and larger spoiler package last year led to complaints from fans about the racing at short tracks.

The 750 package, which makes throttle control pivotal — putting performance more in the control of drivers — will be run the rest of the year at the Daytona road course, both Dover races and playoff races scheduled at Richmond, Bristol, Charlotte Roval, Martinsville and Phoenix.

While some competitors left New Hampshire feeling good about their chances in the title race at Phoenix — since both are flat 1-mile tracks and Goodyear uses the same time at those facilities — there’s plenty of time for others to learn and close the gap.

“I think you just have to keep working, just have to take every race as a practice session and learn everything you can from what we did today, the decisions we made coming here,” said Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Keselowski.

Sunday’s race featured 22 lead changes, including 13 between Keselowski and Hamlin. The previous two New Hampshire races had 24 lead changes combined. 

Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano, also has been strong with this package on the flat short tracks. He won at Phoenix in March, finished fourth at Martinsville in June and was fourth Sunday at New Hampshire.

The 750 package is a lot of fun,” Logano said. “There’s a lot more that the crew chief and the driver can really add to everything. It’s not a chaos restart at the end and something crazy happens that is unexpected. You’re not going to get that at 750. 

“The good drivers and good race teams are going to win. That’s the bottom line. They’re challenging to drive. You’ve got to use both feet. You go to Kansas (with the 550-horsepower package) and all you’ve got to use is the right foot, so (the 750 package) gives a driver more tools to work with. You’ve got to think things through more. It’s not balls to the wall all day long, pushing as hard as you can on the repave and not paying a penalty. 

“You come to these short tracks and there’s a penalty for riding the brake. There’s a penalty for pushing too hard on a short run compared to a long run. You’ve got to think more.”

Although Hamlin didn’t win, he left New Hampshire feeling good after answering some questions he and his team had about their performance with the 750 package on a flat short track. He crashed early at Phoenix in March. When the Richmond spring race was moved to Charlotte, he lost a chance to learn about the car’s handling there. At Martinsville in June, Hamlin was never a factor.

“I’m encouraged by the run simply because this is the first short flat track we have some data that we can build setups for other tracks like Richmond and Phoenix, the championship race at Phoenix,” Hamlin said.

Keselowski was encouraged by how strong he was in Sunday’s event, leading a race-high 184 of 301 laps.

“Third win of the year, but first kind of win where we’ve been able to kind of take control of the race,” Keselowski said. “Gosh, that feels good.”

How some drivers have fared racing the 750 package this year

Brad Keselowski

Phoenix — 11th

Bristol — 1st

Martinsville — 3rd

New Hampshire — 1st

 

JOEY LOGANO

Phoenix — 1st

Bristol — 21st

Martinsville — 4th

New Hampshire — 4th

 

Kevin Harvick

Phoenix — 2nd

Bristol — 11th

Martinsville — 15th

New Hampshire — 5th

 

DENNY HAMLIN

Phoenix — 20th

Bristol — 17th

Martinsville — 24th

New Hampshire — 2nd

 

Kyle Busch

Phoenix — 3rd

Bristol — 4th

Martinsville — 19th

New Hampshire — 38th

 

Chase Elliott

Phoenix — 7th

Bristol — 22nd

Martinsville — 5th

New Hampshire — 9th

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.”

 

Brad Keselowski wins New Hampshire Cup race

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Brad Keselowski won Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to claim his third victory of the year.

Keselowski triumphed over Denny Hamlin on an afternoon that saw the two drivers combine to lead 276 of 301 laps.

Keselowski led eight times for 184 laps, Hamlin led 10 times 92 laps.

More: Race results, point standings

More: What drivers said after New Hampshire

While Keselowski won by 1.6 seconds, their back-and-forth battle led to Hamlin to say “this is awesome racing” over his team radio with about 70 laps to go.

“We’ve had a lot of great races this year with the 2 car, but we just hadn’t really gone out and kind of dominated a race,” Keselowski told NBCSN as an estimated 12,000 fans yelled from the grandstands. “I was talking to (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and that’s what 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. … It’s so great to be racing in front of fans again. It feels like forever, so welcome back, guys.”

It is Keselowski’s second win at track, following his win in 2014. This is Keselowski’s eighth season with at least three wins, including the last five.

For Hamlin, it is his eighth top-two finish through 20 races.

“We just kind of were second there to the 2 (Keselowski),” Hamlin said. “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.”

Keselowski agreed with Hamlin on the quality of racing the “Magic Mile” offered Sunday.

“It was a lot of fun,” Keselowski said. “(Hamlin) was pretty good on the restarts, real short runs. We were really good on the longer runs. The PJ1 kept coming and going. One lap it would be in, not in, the next lap it would be in, then it would wear off the racetrack. The low downforce on the cars was awesome because you could run behind somebody and not just be stupid slow. That was really cool.

“I thought we put on a great race. I was really proud of it. Proud of it for our sport and for our team. Proud for our sport because we got away from rules that didn’t make for good races and we went to rules that I think made for good driver battles. Denny and I had a heck of a driver battle.”

The top five was completed by Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: In a two-lap shootout, Brad Keselowski passed Hamlin on the last lap and narrowly beat him.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Martin Truex Jr. finished in the top five after he had an uncontrolled tire penalty on Lap 97 … Joey Logano has finished in the top five in two of the last three races after having only one in the prior 13 races … Kevin Harvick earned his seventh consecutive top five, which is his second longest streak … Aric Almirola placed seventh for his ninth consecutive top-10 finish, a career-best … Cole Custer placed seventh for his fourth top 10 in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Busch’s winless streak continued due to a hard crash into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 16 after his right-front tire went down. It’s his third DNF of the year and his first at New Hampshire in 29 Cup starts … Erik Jones placed 24th after he was assessed a one-lap penalty for pitting outside his box during the caution for Busch’s incident … Christopher Bell finished 28th after he caused two cautions for incidents resulting from cut tires… Matt Kenseth finished 37th after he caused three different cautions, with the last coming out on Lap 204 when he cut a tire and hit the Turn 3 wall … John Hunter Nemechek finished 36th after a hard hit into Turn 3 wall with 88 laps to go.

NOTABLE: Clint Bowyer’s crew chief faces a one-race suspension for there being two unsecured lug nuts on his car in post-race inspection.

WHAT’S NEXT: Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 8 on NBCSN.