Loose, But Fast Blog: Post Coke 600 Power Rankings

Post Coke 600 Power Rankings

Another race in the books, another victory by either Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch. Check out the Coke 600 Power Rankings here. Where does your favorite driver rank? Let us know what you think on Twitter @QuarterMasterNC and/or @QMS_Rongy.

20. Kasey Kahne – #95 Chevy

  • While not in “top-tier” equipment anymore, Kahne’s mentality has changed from trying to push his car to the brink to just bringing the thing home in one piece and take what you can get. It’s clear having Kahne in the car has opened up more sponsorship opportunities and LFR and the team gets a little bit better every week. At the Coke 600, the 3-time former winner of the race looked more competitive than he has all season. Kahne was even able to earn a few stage points by finishing 7th in Stage 3. Unfortunately, pit strategy in the final stage came back to bite the team and they wound up finishing 20th. 

19. Jamie McMurray – #1 Chevy

  • For the second time all season, McMurray actually looked competitive at the Coke 600. McMurray started 7th, but an early tire issue forced an unscheduled green-flag pitstop during Stage 1. However, the #1 McDonalds Chevy was able to gain the lap they lost back and work their way back up through the field. McMurray worked his way up as far a second but didn’t have enough to overcome the top dogs and brought home a 6th place finish. The top 10 moves McMurray up to 20th in the point standings. He sits only 65 points behind the playoff cutoff. 

18. Daniel Suarez – #19 Toyota

  • Speedy Danny Suarez is quickly becoming one of my favorites out of the young crop of drivers. Every week Suarez and his team get a little bit better. After finishing runner-up in the All-Star race, the #19 team found the 600 to be a bit of a struggle. During Stage 2, Suarez felt he had a tire coming apart and elected to pit, unscheduled. For the rest of the night, Suarez found out the key to the Coke 600, attrition. Though he battled an ill-handling racecar all evening, Suarez was able to take advantage of the wave-around twice to get back on the lead lap. Though he was eventually put back a lap down late by teammate Busch, Suarez still earned a 15th place finish. The momentum continues to swing upward for this team.

17. Paul Menard – #21 Ford

  • Paul Menard has been a pleasant surprise this season. He always seems to have his Wood Brothers Ford in top 15. Their only problem so far is putting together full races. Menard has already tied his total for the number of top 10s from each of the past two seasons (3), but he has also left a few on the table. Add the Coke 600 to the list. Though he still wound up 14th overall, the #21 was running 10th with 15 to go before his tires faded and he brushed the wall in turn 4 and lost a bit of ground. Keep an eye on Menard at Pocono. This same Wood Brothers team won this trip to Pocono last season with Ryan Blaney behind the wheel. Furthermore, Paul Menard’s one career Cup win came at Indianapolis, a track that requires a similar driving style as Pocono.

16. Alex Bowman – #88 Chevy

  • Despite Chevrolet’s lack of raw speed this season, Alex Bowman has managed to crack the top 10 four times this season, including this past weekend at Charlotte. The bow ties seemed to have more speed at the 600 than they have shown all season. If they continue to improve, Bowman should start contending for top 5s and find himself in the top 10 regularly. I look back to Bowman’s seasons with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing as the building blocks for his potential playoff run. At those stops, he learned how to bring the car home in one piece. Now that he’s in Hendrick equipment he’s turning that mentality into top 15s. Now he gets to go to work on learning how to improve on that. We’ve seen flashes. We’ll see if he can keep grinding. 

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – #17 Ford

  • With Matt Kenseth essentially finishing around the same position as Trevor Bayne was in the #6, it shows a little bit about Stenhouse’s talent. We all know Stenhouse is in play for the top 10 at restrictor plate tracks and short tracks, but have shown promise at the mile and a half tracks in recent weeks. At Texas, RSJ ran well and led a few laps before a suspension issue left him finishing 25th. Three weeks ago at Kansas, the #17 brought home 11th and at the Coke 600, they cracked the top 10. Currently, Stenhouse holds the final playoff position with a 33 point pad over 17th place Paul Menard.

14. Erik Jones – #20 Toyota

  • After finishing fourth in the 2017 Coke 600 and then dominating practice all weekend, Erik Jones has to be one of the more disappointed drivers leaving Charlotte. Jones had good speed and finished the first three stages 10th, 10th, and 2nd, respectively, despite having to overcome two issues on pit road. Then the monster that is the 600 came to bite Jones in Stage 4. During green flag pit stops, Jones team received an uncontrolled tire penalty dooming the #20’s top 5 chances. Jones spent the last 40 laps a lap down and finished 19th. I expect a big bounce back from this team at Pocono. Last year, Jones finished 3rd and 8th in the two trips to Pocono with the #77 Furniture Row Team. 

13. Chase Elliott – #9 Chevy

  • The pressure on Chase Elliott to win a race has to be frustrating to the 22-year old given Chevrolet’s struggles this year. Simply put, this season he hasn’t had the car to compete with any of the Fords or Toyotas this season. He’s taking a 10th place car and finishing right around there. Yet, he still has three top 3 finishes to show for and, as I mentioned with Alex Bowman, the Chevy’s looked more competitive at Charlotte than they have all season. Whereas Bowman is looking to go from borderline top 10 to a top 5 team, Chase Elliott is trying to break into Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick territory. Once he wins one race, I think he’s going to start reeling them off. Right now, he’s tied with Stenhouse Jr. for the last two playoff spots, expect him to move up soon.

12. Ryan Blaney – #12 Ford

  • Bubba Wallace’s best friend has had a rough go of it as of late. A late tangle with Kyle Larson at Kansas and a failed engine at Charlotte has seen Ryan Blaney take home finishes of 37th and 38th of the past two points-paying events. The silver lining? Young Ryan Blaney ran up front and had a top 5 car in both races. Even better for Blaney? This weekend he returns to the scene of his first career win, this race last season at Pocono. YRB is solidly in the playoffs on points, but there’s no better way to get over a string of bad luck with a win. He should be a threat this week, for sure. 

11. Jimmie Johnson – #48 Chevy

  • See comments about Chase Elliott in reference to Chevy’s speed this season. Jimmie “7-time” Johnson still hasn’t led a lap this season, but his run in The 600 was very encouraging. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have never gone this deep into the season without a win. Johnson said it best after finishing 5th in The Coke 600, “It feels good, but damn I want to win.” At the moment, the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Team sits 12th in points 31 ahead of the playoff cut off. By no stretch of the imagination do I think they will miss the playoffs, especially given their pedigree, but stranger things have happened. 

10. Aric Almirola – #10 Ford

  • Another solid 13th place finish for Aric Almirola at The Coke 600. After the race, he felt he and the team had left a little bit on the table, citing pit strategy and old tires. Still, not a terrible effort for a team that has been consistently in the top 15 week-in and week out. In fact, the #10 Stewart-Hass team has been so consistent that they are firmly rooted in the playoffs at this point. Currently, Almirola holds an 80 point advantage over Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. With such a cushion, I won’t be surprised if Almirola and the team start taking more chances at stealing a win in the coming races.   

9. Clint Bowyer – #14 Ford

  • Bowyer and the boys had a frustrating night at Charlotte. Though they finished 12th, lost track position on old tires cost the #14 team a shot at a higher finish. Unlike teammate Aric Almirola, Bowyer already has a race win and is locked into the playoffs. Now it’s all about collecting as many playoff points as possible for Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz.

8. Kurt Busch – #41 Ford

  • Contrary to his teammates, Bowyer and Almirola who felt they could’ve done better, Kurt Busch seemed pleased with his 8th place finish in The Coke 600. “We kind of just did everything as a top 10 team would do and I’m glad we put the Haas Automation Ford in eighth,” said Busch after the race. He ran a clean race and did what he had to do. He knew he wasn’t beating little brother, but he knew he was in top 10 equipment. He survived and that’s really all you have to do in The 600.

7. Kyle Larson – #42 Chevy

  • Young $$$ Larson had one of the fastest cars not driven by Kyle Busch Sunday night. I don’t think he was quite in the same area code as KB, but due to a spin late in Stage 3, Larson lost track position and never even got a shot. Since Bristol, Larson has been knocking on the door. Over that span, Larson only has one finish worse than 10th (Talladega, crash). If the speed the Chevy’s had at Charlotte carries on into the rest of the season, expect Larson to find victory lane sooner than later.  Keep an eye on Michigan in two weeks where three of Larson’s five career victories have come.

6. Brad Keselowski – #2 Ford

  • After Kyle Busch took himself out in the Xfinity race on Saturday, Brad K. pounced on the opportunity and held off Cole Custer for the win. Sunday night started off rocky for the former Cup champ. After electing to stay out on old tires after missing his pit stall late in stage 1. It was the wrong decision, as he was passed like a sitting duck on the restart. From that point, Keselowski struggled with track position and handling during the late-afternoon hours. However, once the sun went down and the lights came on, so did the #2 Penske Ford. During the back half of the race, Keselowski made his way back up to the front and finished 4th. 

5. Joey Logano – #22 Ford

  • Joey Logano and the #22 Penske guys didn’t have The 600 they were expecting. After sitting on the outside pole and leading the first five laps, Logano battled an ill-handling racecar all evening long. In Stage 2, Logano was caught up in the Jimmie Johnson spin and received some rear quarter panel damage. During damage repair, Logano lost a lap and never really recovered. His car never got dialed in and they crawled home 22nd.

4. Denny Hamlin – #11 Toyota

  • The Coke 600 saw the #11 of Denny Hamlin take home another top 5 run. Hamlin’s car wasn’t that far off from his teammate Busch, but couldn’t hang with the #18 everytime he got close on a restart. Hamlin has been close this season but still hasn’t been as good as the top 3. If there was ever a chance for Hamlin to breakthrough it’s at Pocono where Hamlin and the #11 have four career wins at the “Tricky Triangle.”

3. Martin Truex Jr. – #78 Toyota

  • With the last stage going green the whole way, we never got the chance to see what Truex Jr. had for KB on Sunday night. Truex was without a doubt the 2nd best car at Charlotte at the end of the race. The #78 Furniture Row team has been right behind Harvick and Busch all season long and this list is no different.

2. Kyle Busch – #18 Toyota

  • Absolute dominance. Kyle Busch destroyed the field at the Coke 600 thoroughly. He now has won a Cup race at every race track he’s competed out, the only driver in history to ever accomplish the feat. He also now has 188 victories across NASCAR’s three top touring series.

1. Kevin Harvick – #4 Ford

  • It was a tough call keeping Harvick in the top spot. Though he has 5 wins this season, he’s kind of adopted the “if you ain’t, first you’re last” mentality. Both winning streaks Harvick has owned this year have ended in finishes of 35th or worse. However, remember two things. Before Harvick cut a tire on lap 87, he had already moved from his starting spot of 39th into the top 5. He had a fast car. Furthermore, had he not failed pre-qualifying inspection he never would’ve had to come from the back in the first place. For now, Harvick stays at the top.


Listen to last week’s Pre-Coca Cola 600 power rankings here:

Loose, But Fast – Episode 1: Coca-Cola 600 Power Rankings

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