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Power Rankings

Power Ranking After: Daytona Road Course

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: February 24, 2021, 4:49 pm ET

It can be extremely difficult to handicap early races of a NASCAR season. Typically once we wait out the unpredictable Daytona 500, the real meat-and-potatoes of the year begins and a clearer pattern evolves. Due to the cancelation of Auto Club Speedway because of California COVID-19 restrictions, an additional road course race was added to the schedule and it landed smack-dab in Week 2.

Road course races march to their own drum. There are some drivers who are strong and others who would prefer to run on ovals, so the O’Reilly 253 should have given us some insight that could be applied this May when the next twisty track race hits the schedule.

We didn’t even get that last Sunday. Mother Nature and NASCAR had another thing in mind.

Sprinkles on the track triggered a decision and an untimely – and unnecessary – caution. The road racing elite had cleared what might have been the final pit stop of the day – unless an incident for cause popped up. Chase Elliott was well on his way to a fifth consecutive road course win, but a provision in the rule book to force a caution so teams could chose to put on wet tires – and the slightest bit of moisture – altered the finish of the race.

The track was mostly dry and no one wanted rain tires, but the caution waved nonetheless and shuffled the standings. Bettors now wait for Homestead-Miami Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway to be run before a clear pattern of strength develops among the top drivers.

Top 10

1. Joey Logano (last week: 4) +3
Weeks in the top 10: 3
Weeks as #1: 1
Power Average: 5.06
Logano has not yet won, but he easily has had one of the best cars in the first two races. He was leading on the white flag on the superspeedway before crashing in sight of the checkers. He was not quite a match for Christopher Bell in the closing laps of the road course. But Logano has shown versatility. And he has strength on 1.5-milers with a win last year at Vegas early in the season and Kansas during the playoffs. What he did not have on this track type last year was consistency, however, so it’s anyone’s guess as to where he will be on next week’s Power Ranking grid.

2. Denny Hamlin (last week: 7) +5
Weeks in the top 10: 3
Power Average: 5.17
Hamlin has been strong but erratic on road courses in the last couple of seasons. He swept the top 15, but failed to be in the top-five in 2018. In 2019 he had two top-fives and a 19th in three starts. Last year he had a runner-up finish on the Daytona road course followed by a 15th on the Charlotte Roval. His third-place finish last Sunday was not surprising, but not exactly predictable. Hamlin also has fuzzy stats at Homestead. He won this race last year, but one has to scroll back to 2013 to find another top-five. That was another win that also had a championship attached to it.

3. Chase Elliott (last week: 1) -2
Weeks in the top 10: 3
Weeks as #1: 2
Power Average: 5.88
Races like last week are part of what makes a handicapper’s job so difficult. Elliott was a heavy favorite to win and was living up that potential for the entire race until a late caution put him in an untenable situation regarding strategy. Ultimately it was a mistake behind the wheel that cost him a top-five, however. He tried to dive under Brad Keselowski without first clearing the nose of Hamlin’s car.

4. Christopher Bell (last week: 4) +5
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 7.00
With a pair of 20-something finishes in 2020 on this track type, Bell was certainly not a favorite last week on the road course. His PointsBet Sportsbook odds were +6000 (60/1). But someone neglected to tell the driver he was not supposed to contend for the victory. Before the final caution he pressured Elliott enough to cause the favorite to lock up his tires on multiple occasions. He too was caught off by the strategy, but after getting four new slicks he was able to drive through the pack and win convincingly. With a win under his belt, Bell is going to continue performing well throughout the regular season.

5. Kevin Harvick (last week: 5)
Weeks in the top 10: 3
Power Average: 8.88
Now that the wild card superspeedway and road course races are in the books, oddsmakers are back to making Harvick one of the favorites. It is difficult to bet against him on unrestricted ovals, but gamblers want to remember that he was not a sure thing in the final races of 2020. He was not part of the Championship 4 at Phoenix in the finale in part because he struggled at Texas Motor Speedway and finished outside the top 15. Homestead is shaped differently, but it still belongs to the 1.5-mile track type. Harvick is the third-ranked driver at PointsBet with a +625.

6. Kyle Busch (last week: 2) -4
Weeks in the top 10: 3                           
Power Average: 10.31
Busch should have been stronger than he was in last week’s road course race. Granted, there were twice as many cars on the track than when he won the Busch Clash, but he had momentum on his side with a solid Daytona 500 run adding points to his confidence. He was in position to challenge for the win in the 500 before he was collateral damage in the Team Penske intramural squabble. He couldn't find his rhythm on the road course. And for much of last year the same thing was true on the 1.5-milers.

7. Kyle Larson (last week: 8) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 11.12
So far so good. Larson looked solid on both the aero-restricted superspeedway and the road course. He’s been at the top of his game on 1.5-milers in the past and while racing for Chip Ganassi, Homestead was one of his best tracks. He could very well become the third different winner in the first three races.

8. Austin Dillon (last week: 3) -5
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 11.41
Dillon finished third in the Daytona 500 and that momentum gave him enough strength-based points to keep him in the top 10 despite a 34th-place finish in the O’Reilly 253. Depending on what happens to the other drivers on the cusp of 10th, he could survive among the elite for another week. Dillon has been one of the most consistent drivers at Homestead in the past six races with results in a narrow range of seventh to 14th. Better still, he has shown consistent improvement in those events.

9. Michael McDowell (last week: 15) +6
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 12.79
McDowell has long been thought of as a solid road course racer, but he failed to live up to his potential in recent years. One suspected that the momentum he brought to the O’Reilly 253 from his Daytona 500 win would help reverse that trend – and it did. McDowell got behind early after locking up and blowing a right front tire, but he kept his wits and charged back into the top 10 by the conclusion of the race. With Bell’s victory last week, the playoff picture is looking distinctly different that we’ve seen at this stage in the past several seasons.

10. Ryan Preece (last week: 6) -4
Weeks in the top 10: 2
Power Average: 13.00
Preece did not get a lot of attention last week on the road course, but he was at the front of the pack when the checkers waved. Now has back-to-back top-10s to start the season. This is the first time in his 79-race career that Preece has backed up one single-digit run with another. It’s unlikely he will three-peat at Homestead.

Dropped from the Top 10

18. Bubba Wallace (last week: 10) -8
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 17.60
Wallace’s impressive debut with 23XI racing came to an abrupt end on the last lap of the Daytona 500 when he was swept into the 'Big One' crash. No one can be faulted for tearing up equipment on the superspeedway. Last week, he had a better opportunity to control his own fate, but there was still some sheet metal that needed to be straightened. It’s too soon to tell if this is a trend, but Wallace needs an incident-free event at Homestead for handicappers to determine his strength.

Big Movers Outside the top 10

15. Martin Truex Jr. (last week: 31) +16
Weeks in the top 10: 1
Power Average: 16.38
The good news is that Truex can see the top 10 from where he sits on the chart this week. The bad news is that he probably should have improved even more after last week’s road course race. He is generally considered as one of the two favorites on the twisty tracks, but made too many mistakes in the O’Reilly 253. This week he heads to Homestead where he has three top-two finishes in his last four starts. The bad news is that he failed to crack the top 10 last season.

20. Ross Chastain (last week: 13) -7
Weeks in the top 10: 0
Power Average: 20.00
We don’t really know what to expect out of Chastain after his seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 and his 39th in the O’Reilly 253. That not an uncommon feeling for a rookie, however, so bettors will simply want to evaluate him in the coming weeks.

Winners, Last 45 Days (Outright Odds to win)
O’Reilly 253, Daytona road course: Christopher Bell (+6000)
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.

Joey Logano

5.06

4

3

2.

Denny Hamlin

5.17

7

5

3.

Chase Elliott

5.88

1

-2

4.

Christopher Bell

7.00

9

5

5.

Kevin Harvick

8.88

5

0

6.

Kyle Busch

10.31

2

-4

7.

Kyle Larson

11.12

8

1

8.

Austin Dillon

11.41

3

-5

9.

Michael McDowell

12.79

15

6

10.

Ryan Preece

13.00

6

-4

 

11.

Brad Keselowski

13.13

12

1

12.

AJ Allmendinger

13.38

 

NA

13.

Cole Custer

13.81

17

4

14.

Austin Cindric

14.11

11

-3

15.

Martin Truex Jr./span>

16.38

31

16

16.

Kurt Busch

16.44

22

6

17.

Jamie McMurray

17.13

16

-1

18.

Bubba Wallace

17.60

10

-8

19.

Chris Buescher

19.73

29

10

20.

Ross Chastain

20.00

13

-7

21.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr./span>

20.64

18

-3

22.

Alex Bowman

20.64

30

8

23.

Corey LaJoie

20.77

14

-9

24.

Aric Almirola

21.00

23

-1

25.

Ryan Blaney

22.71

21

-4

26.

William Byron

22.87

27

1

27.

Daniel Suarez

23.62

37

10

28.

Erik Jones

23.86

35

7

29.

David Ragan

24.14

38

9

30.

Kaz Grala

24.43

26

-4

31.

Ty Dillon

25.25

 

NA

32.

Ryan Newman

25.36

34

2

33.

Chase Briscoe

25.54

20

-13

34.

BJ McLeod

25.57

28

-6

35.

Joey Gase

25.88

19

-16

36.

Tyler Reddick

27.07

24

-12

37.

Matt DiBenedetto

27.21

25

-12

38.

Cody Ware

29.77

32

-6

39.

James Davison

30.17

 

NA

40.

Anthony Alfredo

30.23

36

-4

41.

Josh Bilicki

32.58

33

-8

42.

Garrett Smithley

32.67

 

NA

43.

Justin Haley

33.83

 

NA

44.

Quin Houff

34.31

39

-5

45.

Timmy Hill

35.00

 

NA

46.

Derrike Cope

36.29

40

-6

47.

Scott Heckert

37.17

 

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.