5 best NASCAR teams at midseason have one thing Hendrick, Gannasi lack

There are 11 races left in the regular season, meaning driver and team focuses are rapidly shifting toward the playoffs. With six drivers owning the 15 victories thus far, everyone else has 11 more tries to lock themselves into the playoffs.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that the focus has shifted. Potential was nice two months ago, but now? Now it's all about winning.

So in this updated version of our NASCAR Cup Series team power rankings, that's exactly what you'll see — a heavy emphasis on wins. That means prominent winless teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing don't make the cut, although that could change quickly. Without further ado:

5. Richard Childress Racing: Do I really expect you to believe that the duo of Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman is the fifth-best team in the Cup Series so far in 2018? Well, sort of. That's because despite their low positions in the points standings — Dillon is 18th, Newman 22nd — Dillon still has one thing only five other drivers this year can lay claim to: a victory.

It doesn't matter that his lone victory came in the Daytona 500 back in February, or that he only won by crashing Aric Almirola on the last lap, or that his next-best finish was 10th at Fontana. A win's a win, and he's locked into the playoffs. As for Newman, his best finish this year also came in that Daytona 500, where he placed eighth. Since then, it's been a precipitous drop down the leaderboard. This team isn't nearly as consistent or threatening as Hendrick or Ganassi, but it does have the win that has eluded both other contenders.

4. Team Penske: A significant drop in our rankings from two months ago, Penske has also only been able to come away with a victory once this season (Joey Logano at Talladega). Now, there's still a substantial step up from RCR to Penske, given that all three Penske drivers are in the Top 10 in the points standings — Logano is third, Brad Keselowski is fourth, and Ryan Blaney is ninth — but the single win holds them back. Logano has been a near-lock for the Top 10 all year, and finally broke through at one of the sport's more unpredictable tracks.

But of all the teams on this list, Penske is poised to improve the most by season's end. Both Keselowski and Blaney have multiple Top-5 finishes this season, with Keselowski finishing second in the second race of the season, at Atlanta. They've both also led over 250 laps, so their finishes aren't fluky or one-off experiences. It would be more of a surprise if Keselowski and Blaney went winless the rest of the season than if they each took a victory or two.

3. Furniture Row Racing: Ah, the one-man team of Martin Truex Jr. Truex's two wins by himself are better than all but the two teams ahead of him in our rankings, which is still a remarkable feat for a small team out of Denver. Add in his two other runner-up finishes, plus a handful of other Top 5s, and Truex has easily been one of the best drivers this season.

The only thing negative you could say about Truex so far is that he hasn't been as dominant as he was in 2017, when he won his first Cup Series championship. Spliced in with his regular appearances at the front of the pack have been three finishes outside the top 25, all of them coming in the span of four races. But since then, he and the No. 78 team have been back to their usual winning ways. He may not match his eight victories from a year ago, but four or five wouldn't be an unrealistic expectation.

2. Joe Gibbs Racing: Now we're into the two Cup heavyweights. Slightly lower on the list is JGR, led by Kyle Busch. Busch's four victories this season are second-most on the circuit, trailing only Kevin Harvick's five. Even if Busch doesn't win again this season (which, by the way, would be a massive upset given his current pace), he'd still make the playoffs and finish tied for the third-most wins in any season of his career.

The reason JGR is second on this list, though, is the depth behind Busch. Denny Hamlin (eighth in the points standings) is solid and always good for a few wins a season — he has never gone winless in a full-time Cup season — but Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez aren't quite on the same level yet. Jones is 14th in the standings and dropping, and Suarez is nearly out of the playoff picture in 21st. Neither has a Cup win yet in their careers, and until they get one, JGR will primarily remain a two-car threat.

1. Stewart-Haas Racing: Who else would this be? SHR has been by far and away the best team this Cup season, and it's also the only team with multiple winning drivers. That starts with Kevin Harvick, whose five victories and overall dominance have not only paced his team, but the entire NASCAR circuit. Harvick has already tied for the most victories in a season in his career, and there's still more than halfway to go. He's a shoo-in to set career marks this season, and he's made himself the early championship favorite.

But the difference between SHR and every other team in the sport right now is that Stewart-Haas is truly a team. Clint Bowyer (fifth in the standings) has two victories of his own in what is quickly becoming a career year of his. Then there's Kurt Busch (seventh in the standings), who has two second-place finishes, and Aric Almirola (11th), who led on the last lap of the Daytona 500 before Austin Dillon crashed him. All four should make the playoffs without breaking a sweat, and to see all four win a race by season's end wouldn't be ridiculous. The depth and consistency here is what makes Stewart-Haas Racing the undisputed best team midway through 2018.


This week's NASCAR race at Sonoma: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Distance: 110 laps, or 218.9 miles.

Where: Sonoma Raceway, a 2.52-mile road course in Sonoma, California.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

TV: FS1.

Last year's winner: Kevin Harvick.

Worth mentioning: Stewart-Haas Racing has won this race the last two seasons, with Tony Stewart winning in 2016 and Harvick in 2017.


Who's Hot/Who's Not


Clint Bowyer: It's been a week since his second win of the season, but Bowyer is well-positioned (at fifth in the points standings) to attack to the rest of the regular season.

Kevin Harvick: He won at Sonoma last year, and he's already been the best driver this season. Need anyone say more about his chances this week?


Matt Kenseth: Kenseth's comeback to Roush Fenway Racing was met with substantial fanfare and talks of playoff contention. Instead, Kenseth's best finish this year has been 13th, and the whole RFR team has continued to struggle.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: He currently sits just inside the playoff bubble, but he needs a few good weekends (looking at you, Daytona) to give himself some cushion.

About the Author