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Power Rankings

Power Ranking After: Daytona 1

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: February 20, 2021, 5:23 pm ET

The 2021 season began as they all do: on an aero-restricted superspeedway where anyone can win and nearly everyone has an equal opportunity to run well. The level playing field means that this race can go to just about anyone. A coin must be flipped to determine which dark horse one wants to ride.

Last week, our coin flip driver was Chris Buescher who has +4000 odds at PointsBet Sportsbook. He was involved in a Lap 14 accident and failed to complete the show. Michael McDowell (+6600 at Daytona) has been on our radar many times in the past on the aero-restricted superspeedways, but with so many changes happening at Front Row Motorsports, we overlooked him – and that was a mistake. McDowell stayed out of trouble and was running with the leaders when Brad Keselowski ran into the back of Joey Logano and triggered a 'Big One' crash.

The accident was big enough that NASCAR chose to throw the yellow flag before the cars could make a run at the checkers and McDowell was leading at the time of caution. Although he was among the leaders in those final laps, his Average Running Position was 15th-best (13.8) and his Driver Rating was 11th (94.2 of a possible 150), so he does not quite make the list this week and lands 15th on the grid below.

The good news for McDowell's (+9000 on the Daytona road course) fans is that he is a strong road course driver – although his recent results don’t show as much – and with the hybrid course next up on the schedule, he has an opportunity to climb.

Top 10

1. Chase Elliott (last week: 1)
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Weeks as #1: 2
Power Average: 5.44
Elliott still has not yet won the Daytona 500, but we handicapped him second last week in the Best Bets column on the strength of a runner-up result to William Byron in last year’s Coke Zero 400. That is precisely where he finished after also scoring a second on the road course in the Busch Clash and a fifth in his qualification race. He has won the last four road course races and is prepped for another strong run in this week’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253. The oddsmakers have him listed as a favorite with odds of +195 at PointsBet and we agree that he should be handicapped as the leader. 

2. Kyle Busch (last week: 6) +4
Weeks in the top 10: 2                           
Power Average: 6.00
Busch had a season he’d like to forget last year. He struggled throughout the regular season without a win and did not progress very far in the playoffs. His single victory at Texas Motor Speedway came after he was eliminated from championship contention. The best way to erase that memory is to run well, however, and he’s done that so far in 2021. A Busch Clash win will not qualify him for this year’s playoffs, but it helped restore his confidence in the car.

3. Austin Dillon (last week: 18) +15
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 6.30
Dillon has been here before. In fact, he spent five weeks among the top 10 last year. With so little data, it’s difficult to know if this team is capable of running that well again in 2021, but the best guess is that he will continue to have sporadic top-10s interspersed with results outside the top 20. Of his nine top-10s of 2020, only four were paired with another.

4. Joey Logano (last week: 2) -2
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 6.50
Whether Logano or Keselowski was responsible for last week’s last-lap 'Big One' crash will likely depend on how one feels about the individual drivers or their opinion on blocking. One this is certain, however, and that is that Logano was in contention for the win on the very last lap. Had Kez decided to help push him instead of running into his back bumper, Team Penske would very likely have finished 1-2. Logano’s aggression is why he logs so many laps inside the top 10 at Daytona, but it can also be a fatal flaw. 

5. Kevin Harvick (last week: 8) -3
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 6.56
Harvick ended 2020 with a Power Average of 11.75. The lower the number, (which is based on several strength-base categories), the better the driver. His 6.56 this week puts him in striking position of the No. 1 spot early in the season, but to climb the ladder he is going to have to run much better on the road course than he did in last week’s Busch Clash. Be prepared to start him in a few weeks when the series heads to Phoenix Raceway and do not fade him when the unrestricted, intermediate speedways roll around.

6. Ryan Preece (last week: 23) +17
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 7.13
Don’t get overly excited about seeing Preece in the top 10 on the strength of a sixth-place finish in the Great American Race. In his rookie season of 2019 he had a similarly strong start in the Daytona 500 with an eighth – but he went on to finish 23rd or worse in his next four events. This week will be a challenge because he has not yet shown much strength on road courses. In five attempts there, he has only one top-15 and an average of 24.6. The good news is that his best result of 14th came in his most recent attempt on the Charlotte Roval.

7. Alex Bowman (last week: 9) +2
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 7.20
Hamlin had the raw power and skill to win last week at Daytona, but he got shuffled out of the draft at the wrong time and could not fully capitalize on the last-lap chaos like he did in 2020. That inaugural win last year kicked off a strong but erratic season where it seemed he was equally capable of running in the top five and he was of finishing outside the top 10. This week at PointsBet he is ranked as the third-highest driver with a +1000, but that is a far cry from Elliott’s +195 or Martin Truex Jr.’s +420.

8. Kyle Larson (last week: Not Ranked)
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 8.78
We knew Larson would run well last week, but on the aero-restricted superspeedway we frankly had no idea of where he would finish. Still, we handicapped him seventh and he rewarded us with a 10th-place finish. This week could also be a toss-up because Larson has only two starts on road course/oval hybrids and his best finish there was a 13th on the Charlotte Roval in 2019. He should do better in his Hendrick Motorsports ride.

9. Christopher Bell (last week: 15) +6
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 10.43
Bell finally has the equipment he needs to showcase his talent after a ho-hum rookie season with Bob Leavine. In that satellite car to Joe Gibbs Racing he scored a handful of top-10s last year and was even capable of the occasional top-five. A strong run in his qualification race gave him the fifth-place starting position for the Daytona 500 and he ran with the leaders long enough in that race to make the top-10 cut after Week 1 of the season.

10. Bubba Wallace (last week: 26) +16
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 10.44
Wallace did quite well in the highly-anticipated debut for 23XI Racing in what is essentially the Leavine Family team from last year. One suspects that car owners Hamlin and Michael Jordan are able to pump more resources into this team than Gibbs chose to give last year – and they expect to win in 2021. One win would be a lofty goal, but before the Daytona 500 Jordan suggested he expects Wallace to win multiple times and that may be too much pressure to put on a driver who is still finding his identity on the track.

Notable Others

12. Brad Keselowski (last week: 5) -7
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 11.38
When a driver expects to crash, as Keselowski said before the Daytona 500, that is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Layer on top of that a vocal disdain for blocking and an expressed attitude that he would not lift if someone tried to cut him off and the last lap crash in the Daytona 500 certainly seemed inevitable.

21. Ryan Blaney (last week: 3) -18
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 19.33
Blaney plummeted down the grid this week after getting eliminated from the Daytona 500 in the first 'Big One' crash. When that happens, the strength-based categories such as the Average Running Position, Laps in the Top 15, and Driver Rating all suffer. Blaney will run well this week on the Daytona road course after coming up one corner shy of winning the Busch Clash.

31. Martin Truex Jr. (last week: 7) -24
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 22.20
Truex was involved in the same crash as Blaney last week, but without a solid run in the Busch Clash and a disappointing qualification race that saw him line up 26th for the big show, he dropped even further down the list. Truex managed to keep his car running until the end of the Daytona 500, but he was seven laps off the pace and just marking time when the checkers waved.

Winners, Last 45 Days (Outright Odds to win)
Daytona 500, Daytona oval: Michael McDowell (+6600)

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Power Average, Last 45 Days

This Week

Driver

Power Avg.

Last Week

Difference

1.

Chase Elliott

5.44

1

0

2.

Kyle Busch

6.00

6

4

3.

Austin Dillon

6.30

18

15

4.

Joey Logano

6.50

2

-2

5.

Kevin Harvick

6.56

8

3

6.

Ryan Preece

7.13

23

17

7.

Denny Hamlin

7.20

9

2

8.

Kyle Larson

8.78

 

NA

9.

Christopher Bell

10.43

15

6

10.

Bubba Wallace

10.44

26

16

 

11.

Austin Cindric

11.29

 

NA

12.

Brad Keselowski

11.38

5

-7

13.

Ross Chastain

11.57

 

NA

14.

Corey LaJoie

11.71

31

17

15.

Michael McDowell

12.50

29

14

16.

Jamie McMurray

13.00

 

NA

17.

Cole Custer

13.71

16

-1

18.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

15.00

27

9

19.

Joey Gase

18.75

43

24

20.

Chase Briscoe

18.75

 

NA

21.

Ryan Blaney

19.33

3

-18

22.

Kurt Busch

19.60

10

-12

23.

Aric Almirola

19.67

17

-6

24.

Tyler Reddick

19.80

20

-4

25.

Matt DiBenedetto

20.83

13

-12

26.

Kaz Grala

21.00

 

NA

27.

William Byron

21.20

14

-13

28.

BJ McLeod

21.25

 

NA

29.

Chris Buescher

21.67

21

-8

30.

Alex Bowman

22.17

4

-26

31.

Martin Truex Jr.

22.20

7

-24

32.

Cody Ware

22.50

32

0

33.

Josh Bilicki

23.25

39

6

34.

Ryan Newman

23.33

24

-10

35.

Erik Jones

24.17

12

-23

36.

Anthony Alfredo

24.20

 

NA

37.

Daniel Suarez

24.40

33

-4

38.

David Ragan

25.00

 

NA

39.

Quin Houff

26.25

40

1

40.

Derrike Cope

34.25

 

NA

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.