NASCAR Power Rankings: Michael McDowell makes first appearance of season

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The race Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course didn’t treat those who were on this list last week all that kindly. None finished in the first six spots and only three were in the top-10.

So welcome to the top-10 of the power rankings, Michael McDowell and Chase Elliott. Hope there’s not a repeat of those stats as the NASCAR Cup Series goes to back-to-back road courses with Watkins Glen this weekend.

Here are the rankings for this week:

1. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: 1): Truex finished the best of any driver from the rankings last week as he placed seventh at Indianapolis. The biggest thing for Truex is that he extended his lead over William Byron for the regular-season title. With a 60-point cushion and two races left in the regular season, Truex could clinch it this weekend at Watkins Glen.

2. Kyle Larson (LW: 3): Larson was eighth at Watkins Glen, capping a thrilling week for him. He won the most prestigious sprint-car race by capturing the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals on Saturday night. He then had his Indy 500 ride for next year unveiled Sunday. It’d be understandable if he was thinking about May and the Indianapolis 500 all weekend.

3. Denny Hamlin (LW: 2): Hamlin and Brad Keselowski had a one-stop strategy at Indy and it didn’t work great as he finished 19th and Keselowski 20th. Maybe it would have worked better if a caution had come out and they could have stayed out and tried to hold on with old tires. 

4. Christopher Bell (LW: 4): Bell was ninth, a little disappointing considering how fast he appeared the day before in practice. But he’s still fourth in the Cup standings despite being the only driver in the top five of the standings with just one win.

NASCAR Cup Series: Verizon 200 at the Brickyard highlights

NASCAR Cup Series: Verizon 200 at the Brickyard highlights

5. William Byron (LW: 6): Byron has a series-leading four wins, but he had a frustrating Indianapolis weekend, having to start at the rear and a pass-through penalty for the car failing pre-race tech three times. With only one caution during the race, he managed to get up to 14th. He needs a good Watkins Glen showing to get some momentum for the playoffs.

6. Chris Buescher (LW: 7): Buescher had a string of eight consecutive road-course top-10s snapped at Indianapolis. He finished 11th. He’s still riding a little bit of a wave from his back-to-back wins prior to Indy.

7. Kyle Busch (LW: 5): Busch is frustrated after his car dropped a valve spring during the race and he finished 36th. He started fifth so he knew he had speed. But back-to-back finishes of 36th or worse — and four finishes of worse than 20th in the last five races — has to have Busch wondering what happens next.

8. Brad Keselowski (LW: 10): Keselowski was on that same strategy as Hamlin, so why does he move up? Because he took a risk and it didn’t pan out. That should mean he will be good at Watkins Glen.

Michael McDowell reflects on his playoff-clinching win

Michael McDowell reflects on his playoff-clinching win

9. Michael McDowell (LW: NR): His domination at Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was a statement in the making all year as his team has shown the ability to have top-10 speed. How long he spends on this list is to be determined, but that race Sunday was enough to put him here. He entered Indy with four finishes outside the top-10 after a stretch of four top-10s in five races.

10. Chase Elliott (LW: NR): Elliott finished second to McDowell at Watkins Glen and appears to have a little bit of his swagger back. If he has it, he could be dangerous this weekend at Watkins Glen.

On the verge: Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Ty Gibbs,  Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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Martin Truex Jr

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