If you thought the second NBC Sports Power Rankings of the year would be a recounting of the top 10 drivers in the Daytona 500, you’d be wrong.
While 500 winner Denny Hamlin takes the top spot this week, followed by Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, there’s quite a bit of variety – and even a few surprises – in our top 10.
Our weekly NASCAR power rankings are an aggregate of the individual top 10s of NASCAR Talk writers Dustin Long, Nate Ryan, Jerry Bonkowski and Daniel McFadin.
Check it out:
1. Denny Hamlin: Yes, his Daytona 500 win was big – but how will he do in the other 35 races on the schedule? He’s coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. And don’t forget Sunday’s win broke a 47-race winless streak.
2. Joey Logano: In terms of pure driving, he was the best of Speedweeks – especially his last-lap pass from fourth to first in his qualifier win.
3. Kyle Busch: Still missing the Daytona 500 from his illustrious resume, but Sunday was the closest he’s come to getting it. He’ll be there soon.
4. Matt DiBenedetto: Could anyone have predicted Matt D. would have led a race-high 49 laps? And if he hadn’t been caught in the big wreck, a top-five finish was very much within reach. This kid is going places in 2019.
5. Ryan Preece: Made his first 500 start and turned heads with his incredible dodging of late-race wrecks. Finishing eighth should give him a boost going into the much more difficult schedule after Daytona.
6. Ross Chastain: Only driver to compete in all three Speedweeks points races, proved his worth by finishing in the top 13 in each of them, including a third-place finish in the Truck race and 10th in the 500.
7. Jimmie Johnson: Rallied back after penalty put him two laps down to finish ninth. He’s definitely a favorite at Atlanta (five wins, 14 top fives in 27 starts there).
8. Chase Elliott: Finishes weren’t stellar, but NASCAR’s most popular driver gets an A effort. No one tried harder to pass cars in Speedweeks.
9. Kevin Harvick: If his team is as strong with new package at Atlanta as before, look out.
10. William Byron: Another competitive driver taken out in a late wreck. After a rookie mistake by him caused a wreck at Daytona last year, Byron took his pole-winning car and led 44 laps in his first race with crew chief Chad Knaus.
That’s the impression left by more than one of the 12 NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff drivers when asked a simple question.
What are you willing to do to advance to the Round of 8?
Thanks to wins by non-playoff divers Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney, none of the 12 drivers have officially advanced to next round.
Here’s what each driver had to say before the start of the playoffs.
Justin Allgaier, JR Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet (+54 points above first driver outside transfer spot)
“You know having teammates involved in this, you know you look at where you stand. I mean I have a lot of respect for my teammates, and you know that makes it very challenging when you get down to that final spot. If you’re battling it out with a teammate, what’s the limit? How far do you go? And I think that’s the area of concern for everybody. You know, none of us want to be the villain in this. None of us want to be the guy that goes out and crashes everybody to try and make it. I know that we all get along. That’s the one thing that’s pretty cool. Everybody in the top 12 gets along really well at this point. We’d love to keep it that way when this playoffs is over.
“I think whatever you feel like is the right thing to do. We are going to do whatever it takes as far as our performance, as far as what we can do in our control and then when it comes to racing around guys I feel like we are doing our job if we are ahead of those guys already. So, if we are not, then there is something we are not doing that isn’t going right. So, we are going to approach it the same way we have and compete at a really high level and give 110 percent and if that means that we need to win we are going to go out there and win.”
Elliott Sadler, JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet (+41)
“You’ve got to be aggressive, you’ve got to try and get all the points that you can. Now with the stage racing, (that) gives you two more opportunities per race to get more points under your belt than maybe you really could in years past. So there’s things you’ve got to pay attention to, there’s a lot of things going on these days during these races that if you don’t understand what you’re doing, don’t ( look) ahead, some other teams could take advantage of them. I think that is what our team has done the best this year is getting those stage points. So that’s something that’ll be a main focus of ours as we try to head through these playoffs.
Cole Custer, Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet (+40)
“You don’t know until you are in that situation because every situation is different, but you definitely got to be pretty aggressive when it comes down to it. If you are going to have to advance to another round, there is not much that I don’t think a lot of us wouldn’t do.”
“How about whatever it takes. The whole season is on the line. These guys bust their tails for it day in and day out at the shop. My entire career has been built for that moment so we find ourselves on the cut line I will do whatever it takes to prevail not only for me but for success of myself moving forward, for my career, for my team.”
“I just kinda hang it out there, you know. Anytime I’m in a position to be able to get the lead or win a race you know you just put everything on the line, doesn’t really matter, you just do what it takes to get it done regardless, worry about it later.”
Matt Tifft, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota (+14)
“I am willing to wreck my grandma in a (cutoff) race. I mean you got to do what you got to do. But at the same time obviously, (the) second round cut race is going to be maybe a bigger move than a first round cut race would be. … But if it’s something where you’re kind of close, you don’t want to go and make somebody mad that’s going to come back to haunt you (in the second round), but you know, you got to, sometimes you got to take a chance, if that’s what we have to do we’ll do it.”
“Really anything, you know if it’s two (laps) to go and the guy in front of you is the difference between advancing and not advancing, you’ll move him, you’ll wreck him. I think you saw Ryan Newman move Kyle Larson (Phoenix, 2014), that was a really good example of … Ryan Newman doesn’t do that, he doesn’t make that pass, he doesn’t do that move if it wasn’t for the playoffs and for that situation and that holds truth. I think almost every single driver, they will do whatever it takes to get to the next round.
Brendan Gaughan, Richard Childress Racing’s No. 62 Chevrolet (-2 from final transfer spot)
“Everyone … wants to hear us say we would wreck our mother for a win and a guy goes out and wrecks his mother for a win and people turn on him. Who was it in the (Camping World Truck Series) race? Austin Cindric did that. Everyone loves us to say those words and that when we do they are like, ‘oh that is a bad guy.’ Here’s deal, I will race you hard. If it means I have to win to get in and I can get to your rear bumper, I am not going to wreck you but I am definitely going to take a shot at you to move you. That is just what you have to do. If you are in that position and it is a must-win, you will do what you need to do to get that must-win.”
“You don’t want to wreck a teammate but if you’ve got to move them, I think any one of them would sit here and say the same thing; they’re going to do it because you’ve got to drive that car down pit road and meet your guys and if they think you left anything out there, then I don’t think I’ll be able to look them in the eye. So that’s the mentality you know that I don’t think you’ll see necessarily come out, you know unless you’re racing for a win throughout the year. But when you get to the playoffs if it means moving on to the next round or not, you know that one spot, it’s going to feel like a win at least that day.”
Blake Koch, Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet (-12)
“It is a tough question to really have a solid answer for, but I’m going to do everything that I possibly can to pass the guy in front of me, and whether that’s a cutoff spot or not, I feel like every point matters so much in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who it is, whether they have a red spoiler (for playoff drivers) or not, you need to get around that car because that one point could be the point that gets you to the next round of the playoffs.”
“I’m willin’ to do anything it takes. If we gotta move a guy to get that spot and they say we need that extra spot, that extra point, I’m gonna have to do it. I mean this is – we don’t know how many times we’ll get this opportunity (to be in the playoffs). So we’re gonna do all it takes to make it to the next round and … and if I gotta move my Mom outta the way I’ll do it.”
Only one race remains in the opening round of the Xfinity Series playoffs and JR Motorsports is in control of the playoff field ahead of Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Cole Custer of Stewart-Haas Racing is the highest non-JRM driver in fourth, 14 points back. The driver of the No. 00 Ford has finishes of fifth (Kentucky) and eighth (Dover) to open the playoffs. In his second series start at Charlotte in May, he placed seventh.
Custer’s Kentucky result came after he won the first two stages at the 1.5-mile track.
Prior to the start of the playoffs, Sadler singled out Custer as a threat for the title in the midst of JRM’s dominance.
“The biggest underdog that I think fans haven’t paid attention to as much as we have is Cole Custer,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “Those guys have done a really good job of creating a lot of speed in the last couple of months. So that to me, Cole Custer is going to surprise a lot of fans in this playoffs.”
Earlier this year, Justin Allgaier said there was a good chance all four cars for JR Motorsports could make it all the way to the Xfinity Series championship race.
“I felt like, as an organization, we could get four cars in the playoffs at Homestead when the season was over,” Allgaier told NBC Sports last week. “A lot of people laughed at me, I won’t lie to you. There were a lot of people that felt like that was a very bold statement.
“But when you look at the way that we’ve run and the performance of all four of our cars, I just feel really good about our organization, our people, and I feel like this race team has the opportunity to go into these playoffs and be as successful as anyone.”
After one race in the playoffs, that prediction is going to need some help over the next two weeks to stay a live.
Brad Keselowski – Keselowski will pilot the “Midnight” paint scheme Rusty Wallace made famous in the mid-90s during his time in Team Penske’s No. 2 car. This isn’t the first time Keselowski has driven this look. It was on his No. 2 Ford in August 2015 at Michigan.
Austin Dillon – This year marks the 30th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 win in the Southern 500. Richard Childress Racing is honoring that achievement by putting Earnhardt’s Wrangler paint scheme from that year on Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet and Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet.
Kasey Kahne–Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet will pay tribute to Geoffrey Bodine, the first driver to win for Hendrick Motorsports in the Cup Series. The paint scheme is the same one Bodine had on the No. 5 in 1985 when it was sponsored by Levi Garrett.
Trevor Bayne – The No. 6 Ford will resemble the car Mark Martin drove when the No. 6 was sponsored by Stroh Light from 1988-89. Darrell Wallace Jr. drove the paint scheme in the 2016 Xfinity race at Darlington.
Danica Patrick – The No. 10 Ford will have the paint scheme that Dale Jarrett used in his 1999 Cup Series championship year when he drove for Robert Yates Racing. Patrick also will be sponsored by Ford Credit, which was a sponsor on Jarrett’s No. 88 Ford that season.
Denny Hamlin – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will pay tribute to famed modified driver Ray Hendrick (no relation to Rick Hendrick). “Mr. Modified” was named one of the 50 greatest NASCAR drivers in 1998.
Ty Dillon – Germain Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet looks similar to the way it did in last season’s Southern 500. The car will yet again have a paint scheme that Smokey Yunick once used on the No. 13 car he owned in the 1960s.
Clint Bowyer – Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford will have the sponsor and paint scheme that NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin drove in the Xfinity Series from 1988-1991. All three of the Southern 500 Throwback Weekends have featured Martin paint schemes.
Reed Sorenson – His car honors car owner Bud Moore, who was inducted with the 2011 class into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Brett Bodine originally raced this paint scheme in 1989.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The Roush Fenway Racing driver will once again pay tribute to former No. 17 driver Darrell Waltrip. Stenhouse’s paint scheme is modeled after the one Waltrip drove in the 1997 season.
Joey Logano – The No. 22 Ford will bear the paint scheme used by Jimmy Vasser in IndyCar in 2002, the year Shell and Pennzoil merged.
Corey LaJoie – The No. 23 Toyota will pay tribute to Davey Allison. LaJoie’s paint scheme will be the one used by Allison in 1984 when he drove a No. 23 Miller High Life Pontiac in the Busch Series (now Xfinity Series).
Chase Elliott – The Hendrick Motorsports’ driver will drive the light blue paint scheme his father Bill Elliott had in his first Cup start on Feb. 29, 1976 at Rockingham Speedway.
Ryan Newman – Like Austin Dillon, Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet will evoke Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 Wrangler paint scheme.
Matt DiBenedetto – The Go Fas Racing driver will have the scheme used by Bobby Allison in 1988 when he won the Daytona 500 for his 84th and final NASCAR Cup Series victory.
Jeffrey Earnhardt – The grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr. will drive a Lowes Food paint scheme “The Intimidator” used in the Xfinity Series in 1989.
Landon Cassill – The Front Row Motorsports Ford will have the same paint scheme it used last year. It’s based on the look of Love’s Travel Stops’ first store, opened in Amarillo, Texas, in 1981.
Chris Buescher–The No. 37 Chevrolet will resemble the No. 37 driven by Patty Moise in the Xfinity Series in 1988.
David Ragan – The No. 38 Ford will have a paint scheme based on the 1960s look of sponsor Good Sam.
Kyle Larson – The Chip Ganassi Racing driver will pay tribute to team co-owner Felix Sabates and NBCSN analyst Kyle Petty with a paint scheme based on their 1995 Coors Light car. Petty drove for Sabates’ Team SABCO.
Aric Almirola – Four months after Almirola was born in March 1984, Richard Petty won his 200th and final Cup race in the July 4 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Almirola will sport the same paint scheme “The King” took to victory lane that day.
AJ Allmendinger – The JTG Daugherty Racing driver will have the paint scheme Terry Labonte drove in 1986 when his No. 44 car was sponsored by Piedmont Airlines.
Cody Ware – He and Rick Ware Racing will use this weekend’s car to offer prayers to those in Texas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The car also resembles the Mello Yello paint scheme Kyle Petty once drove.
Derrike Cope – The 1990 Daytona 500 winner will have his own throwback for the Southern 500. Cope will have his paint scheme and sponsor from the 1994 Cup season when he drove the Mane ‘n Tail No. 12 car for Bobby Allison Motorsports.
Cole Whitt – The TriStar Motorsports driver will have a paint scheme that his grandfather, Jim Whitt, nicknamed “Gentleman Jim Whitt,” had when he won the Cajon Speedway Track Championship in a No. 60 car known as the “Lime Green Machine.”
Erik Jones – The Furniture Row Racing rookie will have a special paint scheme that pays tribute to the Cup Rookie of the Year award winners from 1984-89.
Martin Truex Jr. – The Furniture Row Racing car will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bass Pro Shops’ TRACKER Boat line.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – In his final Southern 500 start, Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet will bear the paint scheme Earnhardt used during his two championship seasons in the Xfinity Series in 1998-99. Earnhardt drove the No. 3 AC Delco car for Dale Earnhardt Inc., winning 13 races over the course of the two seasons.
Michael McDowell – The No. 95 Chevrolet, owned by Leavine Family Racing, will bear the paint scheme 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki drove in his Rookie of the Year season in 1986. LFR operates out of the same shop Kulwicki did until his death in a 1993 plane crash.
Other Throwback Weekend paint schemes:
Elliott Sadler (Xfinity Series) – Sadler will drive a tribute to Cale Yarborough and his Hardee’s paint scheme.
Michael Annett – The JR Motorsports driver will have a paint scheme used by Brad Doty in the World of Outlaws sprint car series in the 1980s.
Justin Allgaier – The JR Motorsports veteran will have a paint scheme based on the Mom ‘n’ Pops scheme that Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Kerry Earnhardt used when they competed in late models.
William Byron – The JR Motorsports rookie will pay tribute to the late Ricky Hendrick, the son of Rick Hendrick, with a paint scheme inspired by the one he drove to his only Truck Series win in 2001.
Blake Koch – The Kaulig Racing driver will again drive an old Darrell Waltrip paint scheme. Koch’s No. 11 Chevrolet is inspired by Waltrip’s 1985 Budweiser scheme that he won that season’s Cup title in.
J.J. Yeley – The No. 14 car will be based on an old A.J. Foyt car that the four-time Indy 500 winner raced in NASCAR.
Ryan Reed – The Roush Fenway Racing driver will have the Zerex paint scheme Alan Kulwicki drove in 1989.
Daniel Hemric – The Richard Childress Racing driver will have the paint scheme that Jeff Green drove in 2002 when he competed for RCR.
Dakoda Armstrong– The JGL Racing driver has a more faithful tribute to Cale Yarborough’s Hardee’s paint scheme.
Ryan Sieg – The RSS racing drive will pay tribute to his brother, Shane Sieg, who died two weeks ago at the age of 34. The paint scheme was used by Shane Sieg in late model racing.
Kevin Harvick – Harvick will drive the original Hunt Brothers Pizza paint scheme that was first used in 2008 by Ken Schrader.
Matt Tifft – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will honor Dale Earnhardt Sr., driving the paint scheme Earnhardt used in one race in 1977 when he drove the No. 19 car at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Erik Jones – Jones will pay tribute to Davey Allison with his 1988 rookie paint scheme.
Jeremy Clements – The No. 51 car will pay tribute to A.J. Foyt and his 1964 win in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Clements’ grandfather, Crawford, served as Foyt’s crew chief for the race.
Dylan Lupton – The JGL Racing driver will pilot the “Rainbow Warrior” paint scheme of his childhood idol, Jeff Gordon.
Cole Custer – The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will pay tribute to two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard.
Brendan Gaughan – An eight-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series, Gaughan will be sponsored by NAPA and feature the paint scheme he had for his first two Truck wins at Texas Motor Speedway in 2002.
Brandon Brown – The No. 90 Chevrolet will pay tribute to the late Dick Trickle, who made 303 Cup starts from 1970-2002. The scheme is based on Trickle’s Heilig-Meyer’s car.
Brad Keselowski Racing (Camping World Truck Series) – The two trucks owned by BKR, the No. 19 driven by Austin Cindric and the No. 29 of Chase Briscoe, will have paint schemes dedicated to the Keselowski family’s racing history for the Sept. 3 race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Austin Cindric – The purple and white paint scheme was used on cars driven by Keselowski’s uncle, Ron Keselowski, in both USAC and the NASCAR Cup Series. From 1970-74, he earned 11 top-10 finishes in 68 starts as a driver, including a pair of fifth-place finishes in back-to-back seasons at Michigan International Speedway.
Chase Briscoe – The No. 29 truck will bear the paint scheme driven by Brad Keselowski’s father, Bob, to victory lane in 1997 at Richmond. It was his only win in 86 Truck series starts.
John Hunter Nemechek – The son of Joe Nemechek will have the BellSouth paint scheme “Front Row Joe” had in the Cup series in 1999 when he won his first of four Cup races.