Monday, March 19, 2018
The beginning of the 2018 has been marked by dominance. Toss out the wild card restrictor-plate, superspeedway Daytona 500 and each of the next four races have been controlled by a single driver. Kevin Harvick appeared to be unstoppable at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway until he stopped himself at Auto Club Speedway; Martin Truex Jr. picked up the mantle on the two-mile track in California.
Because those two changed to narrative of the opening races, the top-10 drivers each week have been overlooked—especially since no one has swept that mark in 2018. Truex has been perfect since leaving Daytona, but so has Kyle Busch. Almost as important, nine drivers have earned three or more top-10s in five races this year. Several others have landed in a narrow range that contributes to their predictability and those performances are highlighted in the Fantasy Power Rankings grid.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week, Martin Truex Jr. won the pole and the Auto Club 400 with a perfect Driver Rating of 150. He won both stages of the race and was the top-ranked driver in every statistical category. All those #1s improved his Fantasy Power Ranking average from 6.68 to 5.54, which is not the best we’ve seen this year, but it comes close to Harvick’s 4.96 from last week.
2. Kyle Busch
The Auto Club 400 was another disappointment for Kyle Busch, but his third-place finish was the third consecutive podium in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. If he can keep his head, Busch is one adjustment away from Victory Lane. Unfortunately, last week the team went the wrong way on that adjustment in the final pit stop and robbed him of any chance to remotely challenge Truex.
3. Kevin Harvick
He took responsibility for the accident that dropped Kevin Harvick from a challenge for a top-five to 35th, but that only makes his Power Ranking more meaningful. The No. 4 tried to side draft Kyle Larson at a time when there was very little strategic advantage in doing so and that lack of patience could bite Harvick again in the future.
4. Denny Hamlin
The battle for the top three this week is incredibly tight with Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Logano, and Keselowski within less than a quarter of a point. Any of these drivers who stumble next week will fall hard while another could surge if they dominate like Harvick or Truex in the first four weeks. Hamlin has four results of sixth or better in the first five races.
5. Joey Logano
Team Penske rebounded nicely last week with top-10 finishes for all three of their drivers. For Joey Logano, that meant a return to the top 10 after only one week outside that mark and his solid run at Daytona International Speedway in the season opener gives him a slight advantage over teammate Keselowski.
6. Brad Keselowski
Now that the wild card Daytona 500 is one of only five races in the mix, drivers with consistent records since then are moving up the grid. In the age of parity, it is difficult to string four or five good top-10 runs together and no one except Truex and Busch have done so. Keselowski has come close, however, with a sweep of the top 15 since leaving Florida.
7. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch is slipping down the grid because he is not contending for top-five finishes. He’s run stronger in several of the races than he finished and that gave him solid numbers despite a best finish of eighth. Last week’s showing in the Auto Club 400 was not terrible, but 14th is about where he ran the entire afternoon and that did hurt his average. Like his teammate Harvick, Busch drops two positions this week.
8. Ryan Blaney
In NASCAR it pays to be both lucky and good. Ryan Blaney slapped the wall in California but recovered to get a Free Pass around the track and ultimately finish on the lead lap in eighth. His worst result this year was an 18th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and that kind of consistency is paying dividends to his fantasy owners.
9. Kyle Larson
If not for a 19th in the Daytona 500 and 18th in the TicketGuardian 500, Kyle Larson would be higher on the chart. The similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks make up a sizeable portion of the schedule, so his second-place finish at Auto Club Speedway was significant, but with a short, flat track race at Martinsville Speedway coming up next week, Larson could fall out of the top 10 if he is not careful.
10. Clint Bowyer
There are only so many positions at the very head of the pack. Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske are regularly putting their drivers in the top-10, but with the dominance that has been shown by a handful of teams, top-fives are still difficult to come by. Clint Bowyer’s four races this year have mostly fallen into a narrow range of sixth through 18th with one solid third tossed in for good measure.
Big Mover Outside The Top 10
11. Erik Jones
Since crashing out of the Daytona 500, Erik Jones has been one of the most consistent drivers in the field, Equally important, he is improving. From 11th at Atlanta Motor Speedway to seventh last week at Auto Club, Jones is one of the top movers overall. It’s too soon to predict a rash of top-fives, but fantasy players can expect him to continue to battle for top-10s like he has done in the past three consecutive weeks.