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Power Rankings: New No. 1 emerges after Daytona 500

Michael McDowell provides his perspective of the last lap of the Daytona 500, describes the emotions of his first Cup Series win in his 358th career start, and details the hard work to stay in NASCAR's premier series.

Michael McDowell’s dramatic Daytona 500 victory led to a shuffling of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings from last week’s preseason edition.

Three new drivers, including McDowell, are in this week’s top 10. Only one driver is in the same position as their preseason ranking.

Here is this week’s rankings:

NASCAR Power Rankings After Daytona 500

1.Michael McDowell (Preseason ranking: Unranked): Win the Daytona 500 and you get to be No. 1. Denny Hamlin is right. This wasn’t a fluke. McDowell’s victory was his third top-10 in the last four Daytona 500s. Chase Elliott can’t say that. Brad Keselowski can’t say that. Kevin Harvick can’t say that. It will be interesting to see how McDowell does in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course. Front Row Motorsports has put more emphasis on its road course program with the additional races to the schedule this season.

2. Denny Hamlin (Preseason ranking: No. 1): Led 98 of 200 laps and won both stages. He wasn’t a player for the win because of pit road and the lack of Toyotas in the field. Said Hamlin: “It was just like the (Duel race). We came out in front of everybody, and didn’t have any help to get up to speed. They all blew by us because they were single file.”

3. Austin Dillon (Preseason ranking: Unranked): He leaves Daytona with the most points. His 24 points scored in the Daytona 500 stages and last week’s qualifying race, which he won, were the most of any driver. On top of that, he finished third in the Daytona 500.

4. Kevin Harvick (Preseason ranking: No. 6): Fourth-place finish proved to be fortunate considering he was on an island while running second in the final laps. Surrounded by Team Penske cars, Harvick knew he wasn’t going to get any help when it was time to make a move. He led 17 laps and was second in the second stage. He avoided trouble and moves on to the rest of the season.

5. Chase Elliott (Preseason ranking: No. 2): Runner-up finish was his best in the Daytona 500 in six attempts. Scored fewer stage and Duel points (17-13) than Harvick, led fewer laps in the 500 (17-3) than Harvick and had a worse average running position (8.1) than Harvick (6.0). Thus, he’s ranked behind Harvick despite the better finish.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 14: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Getty Images

6. Kyle Busch (Preseason ranking: No. 8): Finished 14th after he slammed into Brad Keselowski in the last-lap accident of the 500. Even though he didn’t appear to have the best car, hehad the best average running position of the race at 5.1.

7. Joey Logano (Preseason ranking: No. 4): Was about a mile from his second Daytona 500 win when contact with his teammate Brad Keselowski sent both wrecking. Logano, who led 26 laps, finished 12th. He had more green-flag passes for position than any other driver with 158. Next was Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace at 132.

8. Ryan Preece (Preseason ranking: Unranked): Was not guaranteed a starting spot because his JTG Daugherty Racing team does not have a charter. No problem. He easily earned a spot. He had one of the most dramatic moments of the 500 when he narrowly avoided being collected in the early crash. Preece ran in the top 15 for 97.5% of the laps behind only Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick. Preece went on to finish sixth in the 500.

9. Kyle Larson (Preseason ranking: No. 9): Finished 10th in his Hendrick Motorsports debut. He had an average running position of 9.3, tying him with Ryan Preece for seventh in that category.

10. Brad Keselowski (Preseason ranking: No. 3): Was going for the win on the last lap when contact with Joey Logano wrecked them and others. Keselowski finished 13th.

Fell out: Ryan Blaney (Preseason No. 1), Martin Truex Jr. (Preseason No. 7), Alex Bowman (Preseason No. 10).