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Hot Harvick Jumps to Peak of Brickyard Power Rankings; Truex Continues To Climb

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 third edition of the Brickyard Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (change from last week: +4). Kevin Harvick’s victory in July at New Hampshire ended a season-long winless streak for Stewart-Haas Racing and reminded fans and media that the 2014 Cup Series champion and 2003 Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard winner still is one of the top drivers in the sport at age 43. But that was just the start of a summer rocket ride that has vaulted “Happy” from being unranked in Week 1, ranked No. 5 in Week 2 and now numero uno in Week 3. Harvick’s win last Sunday at Michigan confirmed that the No. 4 Stewart-Haas team has its act together after a sluggish start of the season. Harvick has two victories and sixth- and seventh-place finishes in his last four starts. He’s up to third in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. He’s gone from a guy who some thought might go winless but still scramble into the Playoffs on points to arguably the hottest driver in the sport entering the night race this weekend at Bristol. And don’t be surprised if Harvick continues to pile on the competition on the half-mile concrete coliseum in Thunder Valley this weekend. He has two career victories at the track and the third-best Bristol night race driver rating in the field among active drivers at this event. Plus any driver who puts his son in the passenger side of his race car for post-victory donuts deserves a hike in the rankings.

2. Denny Hamlin (change last week: =). Denny Hamlin continues to be Mr. Consistency this summer in the NASCAR Cup Series. He finished second last Sunday at Michigan to Kevin Harvick, his fifth consecutive top-five finish since placing fifth in July at Kentucky. Hamlin is fourth in the standings and already is safely in the Playoffs with his three victories, but his Joe Gibbs Racing team doesn’t appear to be lifting from the throttle in any attempt to “peak” during the postseason. Hamlin is getting it done on tracks of all shapes and sizes, so his status as a prime pick to make the Final 4 on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway appears to be as solid as at any other time this summer. No one can doubt Hamlin’s hunger, as he is the only driver among the top six in the current standings without a Cup Series championship. This team will be tough to top all the way to Homestead.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (change from last week: +1). Much like Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, 2017 Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. just quietly continues to pile up strong finishes and points this summer. Truex finished fourth last Sunday at Michigan, his fourth consecutive top-six finish since placing sixth last month at New Hampshire. He’s fifth in the series standings but projected to be No. 2 in the Playoffs seedings behind Busch by virtue of his four victories. Truex and his JGR team are a threat to win at every track from here to Homestead, and he’ll probably pile up points with strong finishes by staying out of trouble, even if he can’t find Victory Lane.

4. Kyle Busch (change from last week: -3). It’s not time to sound an alarm yet for Kyle Busch, even though he slipped three spots from the top of our Power Rankings for each of the first two weeks. “Rowdy” still leads the Cup Series standings by 20 points over Joey Logano. He still is tied for the most wins (four) and has more top-10 finishes (19), has led more laps (1,018) and has won more stages (nine) than any other driver this season. But Busch had four victories in his first 14 starts this season and is winless in his last nine. Busch still has produced six top-10 finishes during that span, a “drought” that most Cup Series would accept in a second. But for a guy who lives his racing life by the maxim “second place is first loser,” that’s not good enough, especially when eventual Playoffs rivals like Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. all have recorded victories on the slick, hot tracks of summer while Busch has come up empty in his quest to re-enter Victory Lane. That dry spell could end this Saturday night at Bristol, though: Busch has the best Bristol night race driver rating (101.9) of any Cup driver this weekend. He also has led a staggering 2,304 laps during his Cup career in the Bristol night race, nearly three times more than his closest competitor, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Busch also has won eight times during his Cup career in either race at Bristol, again tops among active drivers. So Rowdy’s time away from the top spot could be brief.

5. Kyle Larson (change from last week: unranked). It took more than half of a season, but it looks like Kyle Larson is finally on track in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Former USAC star Larson mustered only five top-10 finishes in his first 17 starts this year but has rebounded for five top-10s in his last seven races. That hot streak included a season-best result of second at Chicagoland, and he has finished fifth, eighth and third in his last three starts. That has helped Larson to climb to 13th in the Cup standings, 65 points ahead of Clint Bowyer for the final spot in the postseason. Speed never has been a problem for Larson during his Cup career, but consistency has. If Larson and the CGR team can find a good rhythm, don’t be surprised if he wins in one or more of the next three weekends to eliminate the need for points-watching to seal a Playoffs’ berth. That win could come this Saturday night under the lights at Bristol, as Larson has the second-best driver rating among active Cup drivers at concrete bullring.

Dropping out from last week: Erik Jones (No. 3)

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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