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Larson Leaps to No. 1 in Brickyard Power Rankings with Consistent Finishes

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 fifth edition of the Brickyard Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Larson (change from last week: +3): No one ever has questioned Kyle Larson’s speed or talent behind the wheel of a race car. But consistency has been a problem, both this year and during his career. No longer. Larson is the hottest driver in the Cup Series entering the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line. He has finished in the top 10 in eight of his last 10 starts in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, including two runner-up finishes. One of those second-place results came early Monday morning in the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington, where he clinched his spot in the NASCAR Playoffs on points since he is winless this season. It seems hard to believe Larson hasn’t entered Victory Lane in the Cup Series so far in 2019, but that could change this Sunday at Indy. He has three top-10 finishes in five Cup starts at the Brickyard, and he started his week in Central Indiana by winning the thrilling Stoops Pursuit in a USAC Midget on Wednesday night at The Dirt Track at IMS.

2. Kyle Busch (change from last week: =): Kyle Busch clinched his second consecutive Cup Series regular-season championship early Monday morning at Darlington after placing third in the Bojangles Southern 500. Busch may think he’s still in a bit of a slump because he’s winless in his last 11 Cup starts this season but make no mistake: He’s still a heavy favorite to make the final four at the season finale Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch is returning to peak form at just the right time, as the Brickyard is the final race of the regular season. He has finished sixth, fourth and third in his last three starts after an uncharacteristic 11th-place finish in August at Watkins Glen. Plus he’s a two-time winner at IMS, capturing the Brickyard in 2015 and 2016. Don’t be the slightest bit surprised if Rowdy enters the Playoffs after parking his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in Victory Circle on Sunday afternoon at IMS.

3. Denny Hamlin (change from last week: -2): Denny Hamlin’s stay at No. 1 lasted just one week because he finished 29th at Darlington, his second-worst result of the season in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. But that result deceives, as Hamlin finished fifth and third, respectively, in the first two stages at the track too tough to tame before he was caught in a multi-car wreck late in the race. Hamlin’s tough break at Darlington ended a streak in which he finished fifth or better in six consecutive races, including two wins. One accident doesn’t erase that kind of power play. Hamlin will be a contender for his first Brickyard victory this Sunday at IMS, and only a daring NASCAR observer would bet against him not making the final four at Homestead.

4. Kevin Harvick (change from last week: -1): Kevin Harvick is back on track after his fourth-place finish at Darlington, which came on the heels of a 39th place at Bristol, his worst finish of the season. That is the only blemish on an otherwise powerful run of form for “Happy.” Before mechanical trouble struck at Bristol, Harvick ripped off a run of two wins in four starts in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. He will be a contender to earn his second Brickyard victory this Sunday, adding to his win in 2003. Harvick has the third-best driver rating at IMS among competitors in this year’s race, so he could enter The Playoffs riding high after kissing the bricks.

5. Erik Jones (change from last week: unranked): Erik Jones joined Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. as a Cup Series race winner this season by winning Monday morning at Darlington, and he also clinched his spot in the NASCAR Playoffs. Jones didn’t need to win the seal his spot in the postseason, already in on points. But his victory validated a recent resurgence that has included seven top-10 finishes in his last 10 starts in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The inconsistency that dogged Jones and the No. 20 early in the season, when he had just six top-10s in his first 15 starts, is fading from his rear-view mirror. Jones could be the sleeper among the powerhouse Gibbs team in the Playoffs if his mix of speed and consistency stays potent.

Dropping out from last week: Chase Elliott (No. 5)

Tickets for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, Indiana 250 and FGL Fest are available at IMS.com.

 
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