2022 NASCAR Cup Series power ranking comes before the first points-paying race of the year, the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
The 2022 NASCAR season is just a few days away, which means the excitement and anticipation are building. With the Next-Gen car making its debut, drivers like Harrison Burton, Austin Cindric, and Justin Haley moving up to Cup full-time, and teams such as 23XI Racing, Trackhouse Racing, and Kaulig Racing expanding their operations, there is plenty to look forward to heading into 2022. While there have been some shake-ups in terms of expectations coming into the season, some parts of NASCAR remain the same from last year, and the first edition of this season’s power rankings showcase that.
1. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 5)
Though Larson’s talent behind the wheel was always evident, he wasn’t truly able to showcase it until 2021. In his first season piloting the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, Larson was utterly dominant, winning ten races and securing his first Cup Series championship. Though that season will be extremely difficult to match, Larson will be lauded as the series favorite once again, and it will be tough to deny him a second championship.
2. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9)
Following his 2020 championship run, some thought that Elliott would be able to repeat in 2021. That didn’t happen, as Elliott won just two races and largely fell short of expectations, but there were still plenty of bright spots throughout the season. Elliott made a second straight appearance in the Championship 4 and was consistently near the front of the pack throughout the season. With the success that Hendrick Motorsports saw as a whole last year, Elliott should expect to see plenty of checkered flags this year.
3. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11)
In a way, 2021 may have been the best season of Hamlin’s career. The series veteran finished with 25 top tens and was neck-and-neck with Larson for the regular-season championship. Unfortunately, like in so many other seasons prior, Hamlin fell short in the championship race and missed out on that elusive title. He’ll have another chance to claim the trophy in 2022, but the competition will continue to be stiff.
4. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4)
After winning nine races (and missing out on the championship race) in 2020, Harvick struggled throughout the regular season in 2021. Granted, Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole dealt with slow and inconsistent cars throughout the season, but it was still a shock to see Harvick go through the entire season without a win. That Harvick was still able to finish fifth in points at the season’s end is a testament to his skill and experience, and he’ll be a contender again as long as SHR sees a bounce-back.
5. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18)
Busch went through some well-documented struggles during an uncharacteristically inconsistent 2020 season but saw somewhat of a bounce-back last year. Busch picked up a pair of wins, and though he failed to return to the Championship 4, he did advance to the Round of 8 and was a weekly contender to win races down the stretch. The No. 18 should be a fixture near the front of the field this season, and a third championship isn’t out of the question.
6. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19)
Though nobody could truly keep up with the blistering pace of Larson and Hamlin during the regular season, Truex did put up a legitimate fight. The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran took four victories and made the championship race yet again, eventually wrapping up the season as the runner-up. Truex has never been a flashy driver, but his ability to get upfront and stay up front, particularly on intermediate tracks, will continue to serve him well this season.
7. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22)
With the majority of the Ford cars struggling during the 2021 season, it wasn’t a surprise that Logano missed the championship race. However, it was a bit shocking to see the No. 22 driver only visit victory lane once. Though his victory was a thrilling one in the Bristol Dirt race, the season was largely a disappointment. He’ll look to bounce back in 2022, and as long as the Ford Next-Gen camp is strong, Logano will be a dark horse championship contender yet again.
8. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12)
Following a streak of three consecutive seasons with exactly one win, Blaney had himself a bit of a breakout season in 2021. The Team Penske driver took a trio of victories, winning races at Atlanta, Michigan, and Daytona, and nearly pushed his way into the Championship 4. Expectations are high this season for Blaney, especially with former teammate Brad Keselowski leaving Team Penske for his driver-owner venture with Roush-Fenway Keselowski Racing. If his career trend continues, Blaney could be in line to make his first appearance in the championship race.
9. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24)
Though Byron yet again failed to advance past the Round of 12 in 2021, the season had to be seen as a raging success for the up-and-coming Hendrick Motorsports driver. Byron picked up a win early in the season at Homestead, a victory that started a string of 11 consecutive top-ten finishes. Byron is still definitively behind Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott within the HMS stable, but his 2021 campaign brings about some significant optimism for the future. Byron’s main goal for the season should be winning multiple races for the first time in his Cup Series career.
10. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48)
Perhaps nobody had a more up-and-down season in 2021 than Bowman. Despite spending the majority of the season well behind his three teammates in the standings due to a lack of consistency, Bowman trailed only champion, Kyle Larson, with his four race wins. With a deeper look into those wins, each of them involved some sort of lucky break, but that doesn’t take anything away from the accomplishment. What it will do, however, is to increase expectations for the driver of the No. 48 in 2022. If Bowman is unable to keep up with his teammates this year, it’s fair to wonder how much longer he may stick around.
11. Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 8)
Reddick had a generally successful 2021 season, sneaking into the playoffs after narrowly missing out on the postseason as a rookie in 2020. With his aggressive driving style, Reddick takes more than his fair share of DNFs and poor finishes, but he also gets the most out of his Richard Childress Racing machines each week. With RCR being a step behind many of the top teams equipment-wise, Reddick’s style may be necessary for him to return to the playoffs, and his first career win could be on the horizon.
12. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20)
Though Bell may not have quite kept up with his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in 2021, he did have a somewhat impressive campaign in his inaugural season with the team. Bell picked up a win in the second race of the season at the Daytona Road Course and advanced into the Round of 12 before being eliminated. This season, Bell will have the opportunity to entrench himself into JGR’s long-term plans as the driver of the No. 20, but with the ever-growing talent group in NASCAR’s lower series’, Bell will need to improve his consistency.
13. Kurt Busch (23XI Racing No. 45)
Once Chip Ganassi Racing announced the termination of their NASCAR operations, Busch’s offseason decision became one of the biggest impending stories in the sport. Many speculated that the veteran would retire, but 23XI Racing expanded to two cars and scooped up the former champion. The move made sense, as pairing a seasoned driver with a still somewhat new race team is a match made in heaven. Though expectations for Busch’s equipment will be higher this year than in the team’s debut 2021 season, a playoff berth would still be a pretty significant accomplishment this season.
14. Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing No. 6)
Like Busch one spot above, Keselowski’s 2022 plans were the subject of plenty of speculation. Unlike Busch, however, Keselowski announced his plans to become an owner-driver, taking a partial stake in Roush-Fenway Racing. The rebranded team will feature Keselowski, the 2012 champion, as their top driver, as he replaces Ryan Newman in the No. 6 car. Keselowski may have a bit of an uphill climb in 2022, as Roush equipment simply hasn’t been playoff-caliber since 2019, but if anyone can outdrive the equipment, it’s Keselowski. After all, he made a name for himself driving for Phoenix Racing over a decade ago.
15. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10)
To put it lightly, 2021 was an unusual season for Almirola. He made the playoffs for the fourth time in four seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, but it wasn’t in his typical consistent form. Almirola was outside the top 25 in series points before a shocking win at New Hampshire propelled him into the postseason. It was a down year for the team as a whole, and Almirola showed some encouraging speed down the stretch to bring some optimism into 2022. With Almirola announcing this as his final Cup Series season, he’ll look to return to the playoffs and victory lane yet again.
16. Ross Chastain (Trackhouse Racing No. 1)
It was a tale of two seasons in 2021 for Chastain in his first season driving a competitive Cup Series car full-time. In the first half, he struggled to string together strong finishes and endured significant struggles, but he came around and ran some very strong races in the second half of the season. With Chip Ganassi Racing shutting down, Chastain had to switch rides yet again but seems to have found a home with Trackhouse Racing. Though it may be a slight downgrade in equipment, Chastain has always been able to get speed out of the car going back to his days with JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. A playoff berth wouldn’t be shocking.
17. Austin Cindric (Team Penske No. 2)
Cindric moving up to the Cup Series wasn’t shocking; after all, he was the 2020 Xfinity champion and nearly repeated that feat in 2021. What was shocking is his immediate promotion to the No. 2 car, as he was rumored to be the top candidate to take over the Wood Brothers No. 21 machine. With Cindric firmly inside the Team Penske stable, he should be able to contend for victories right from the start, especially on road courses where he thrives. Like with any other rookie, it would be wise to expect some bumps in the road, but Cindric is an extremely talented wheelman who has shown proficiency on numerous types of tracks and always could win.
18. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing No. 23)
Though Wallace didn’t make the playoffs in his first season with 23XI Racing, he seemed to get into a groove toward the end of the season, and even picked up a rain-shortened victory at Talladega to play spoiler in the playoffs. It may still be an uphill climb for Wallace to make the playoffs in 2022, but with a year of chemistry between him and 23XI brass under his belt, his chances should certainly improve. If the team shows more consistent speed this season, Wallace could be a sleeper to make a deep run.
19. Chris Buescher (RFK Racing No. 17)
For about the first third of the 2021 season, Buescher appeared to be a playoff lock in his Roush-Fenway No. 17 car. He won a stage at Homestead and was running pretty consistently in the top ten-15 in most races. As the year went on, however, Buescher’s performance gradually deteriorated, and he wound up missing out on the playoffs yet again. There is reason to be optimistic for the future though. With Brad Keselowski coming into the organization as a driver-owner, RFK Racing (and Buescher) appears to have a light at the end of the tunnel.
20. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3)
Perhaps no driver was hurt more by the unpredictability of the 2021 season than Dillon He made the Round of 12 in 2020 before heartbreakingly missing the postseason last year. Despite that, Dillon’s performance still was somewhat encouraging. He was one of the most consistent drivers throughout the summer stretch, running in the top ten on a seemingly weekly basis. If last year is any indication though, that may not be enough. Dillon may need to pick up his fourth career win this season if he has playoff aspirations.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing No. 99)
22. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14)
23. Ricky Stenhoue Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47)
24. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41)
25. Erik Jones (Petty GMS Motorsports No. 43)
26. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34)
27. Justin Haley (Kaulig Racing No. 31)
28. Harrison Burton (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21)
29. Ty Dillon (Petty GMS Motorsports No. 42)
30. Corey LaJoie (Spire Motorsports No. 7)