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Kyle Busch Stays on Top of Brickyard Power Rankings; Truex, Harvick Jump In

IMS.com continues to take a weekly look at which Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are hot heading into the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line on Sunday, Sept. 8 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The top-five list each week is based on statistics, recent performances and the subjective, but all-important “eye test.” So without further delay, here’s the second edition of the Brickyard Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (change from last week: =). Kyle Busch was spun out twice last Sunday at Watkins Glen, early after contact with William Byron and later after a firm tap from Bubba Wallace, yet he still finished 11th and climbed to the lead of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. That’s when you know a guy has it going. Busch continues to lead or is tied for the lead in the Cup Series in so many performance categories – wins (four), top-fives (11), top-10s (18, four more than any other driver), laps led (1,015) and stage wins (eight). He also leads the most important stat of all, the points, by 13 over Joey Logano. Busch already is locked into the Playoffs and appears to be headed for a top-two seed, as third-place Kevin Harvick trails him by 74 points. It will be a shock and a pretty significant collapse if “Rowdy” isn’t among the Final Four racing for the championship Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2. Denny Hamlin (last week: =). Denny Hamlin just keeps on trucking, with a record of consistency over the last four races that’s tough to match. Hamlin has finished fifth at Kentucky, second at New Hampshire, first at Pocono and third at Watkins Glen. Impressive numbers, but that performance is even more stout when you consider each of those tracks is different – 1.5-mile tri-oval, 1-mile paper-clip oval, 2.5-mile triangle and road course – yet Hamlin continues to deliver. Hamlin is a steady fourth in the standings behind Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, but nobody has been more consistent in the last month.

3. Erik Jones (last week: =). A victory is the only thing separating Erik Jones from stardom this season in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The former holder of the best mullet in NASCAR still is seeking his first win this season, but man, has he been so close the last four weeks. Jones has finished third, third, second and fourth in the last four races – again, all on different kinds of tracks – and seemingly has graduated from a young star seen as a future champion to a guy who could hoist the cup this November at Homestead. He’s 13th in the standings but appears to be safe for the Playoffs, as he’s 54 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, tied for the 16th and final spot. A win immediately would launch Jones into elite contender status for the postseason if he continues to run this well.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (last week: not ranked). Martin Truex Jr. enters the Power Rankings for the first time to further validate the remarkable season produced so far by Joe Gibbs Racing. The top four drivers in this admittedly subjective ranking are from the Gibbs team, but the numbers also back up that status. Gibbs’ drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Truex have combined to win 11 of the 22 Cup Series races this season. Truex suffered an early July dip with finishes of 22nd in the aerodynamic lottery of Daytona and then 19th at Kentucky, but he has rallied to finish sixth, third and second in his last three starts. Truex is fifth in points but is projected to end up as the No. 2 seed for the Playoffs based on his win total of four. Count out 2017 Cup Series champion Truex at your peril in the postseason.

5. Kevin Harvick (last week: not ranked). It’s no secret that Stewart-Haas Racing isn’t enjoying the same bulldozer ride of last year, when it placed all four of its cars into the Playoffs. But 2003 Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard winner Kevin Harvick is carrying his weight with the team’s only victory this season and a consistent performance featuring 14 top-10 finishes in 22 starts in his Ford. “Happy” is starting to show championship form over the last three weeks, with a victory at New Hampshire, a sixth-place finish at Pocono and a seventh-place result at Watkins Glen. He’s safely in the Playoffs with the New Hampshire victory and is third in the NASCAR standings, 74 points behind leader Kyle Busch. Don’t be surprised if Harvick solidifies his spot in the points this Sunday at Michigan. He has won twice during his career at the 2-mile oval, tied for second among active drivers and only behind Busch, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano, who each have won three times in the Irish Hills of Michigan.

Dropping out from last week: Joey Logano (No. 4), Ryan Newman (No. 5)

Tickets for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, Indiana 250, Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink and FGL Fest are available at IMS.com.

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