Power Ranking the NASCAR Cup Series after Daytona International Speedway as the teams prepare for Auto Club Speedway this weekend.
The Next Gen car has officially passed its first test. The 2022 edition of the Daytona 500 was an exciting one, complete with a rollover accident at the end of the first stage, a couple of ‘big ones,’ and a nail-biting finish that ended with rookie Austin Cindric taking the Harley J. Earl trophy for his first career win. Wrecks took out many of the top contenders for the race, including defending champion Kyle Larson, three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, and 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, among others. Ahead of this week’s race at Auto Club Speedway, we have some shake-ups in the power rankings, though the top largely stays the same for fear of an overreaction.
Power Ranking the NASCAR Cup Series after Daytona
1. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 5)
Last Week: 1
Daytona 500 Result: 32nd
Though Daytona didn’t bring an ideal start to Larson’s championship defense, it seems premature to even think about moving him down from the top spot in these rankings. Superspeedways have never been a strength for Larson, and he was actually running near the front of the pack before getting caught up in a wreck and sustaining race-ending damage. Larson’s spot is still more than safe for now, provided he doesn’t continue to struggle.
2. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9)
Last Week: 2
Daytona 500 Result: 10th
Elliott didn’t run near the front all that much on Sunday, but he survived a spin into the infield and was able to bring home a top ten finish. That marks Elliott’s fourth consecutive top ten at Daytona, which is even more impressive considering he had none in his first nine starts at the track. He has three top tens in five career starts at Auto Club, and he’ll hope to continue that success heading into the second race of the season.
3. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18)
Last Week: 5
Daytona 500 Result: 6th
Busch is still searching for that elusive Daytona 500 win after a sixth-place finish in Sunday’s race, but considering the fact that his right front bumper was about 50% duct tape, the result left little to be desired. Busch and pseudo-teammate Bubba Wallace worked extremely well together towards the end of the race, with Busch’s three Joe Gibbs Racing companions all either damaged or in the garage and done for the day. Auto Club is a track where Busch has seen significant success in the past, and he’ll be one of the favorites to bring home the checkered next weekend.
4. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing #19)
Last Week: 6
Daytona 500 Result: 13th
Truex’s 13th place finish doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of his day at Daytona. That could certainly be said for other drivers in the field as well, but Truex was able to sweep the two race stages before obtaining damage that drastically reduced his car performance toward the end of the race. As with many Daytona races, just finishing on the lead lap was enough for Truex to bring home a top-15, and he had a huge points day with his two green-checkered flags.
5. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11)
Last Week: 3
Daytona 500 Result: 37th
Coming into Sunday’s race, Hamlin had won three of the past six Daytona 500s. Naturally, he was the odds-on favorite to win his fourth 500, but those hopes were dashed early when he was caught in a massive wreck in the closing laps of the first stage. It was a disappointing result for the driver of the No. 11, who now sees himself in a bit of a hole in the standings. Obviously, it’s still early in the season and it’s not wise to overreact, but Hamlin will need a solid finish at Auto Club.
6. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4)
Last Week: 4
Daytona 500 Result: 30th
Following a shocking winless 2021 season, Harvick likely would have preferred to not end his day in the infield garage at Daytona. Unfortunately, the 2014 champion was damaged in a wreck with Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher, ending his day before he could get to the checkered flag. The day wasn’t a total loss though; multiple Stewart-Haas Racing cars finished in the top five, and while superspeedways aren’t the best indicator of a team’s true speed, it has to be encouraging for Harvick to see his teammates running well after SHR’s poor 2021 effort.
7. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12)
Last Week: 8
Daytona 500 Result: 4th
With his recent success on superspeedway tracks, it was no surprise to see Blaney’s No. 12 right behind the leader coming back to the checkered flag. In fact, Blaney may have very well won the race if he wasn’t squeezed into the wall by his teammate. Despite this, Blaney starting the season with a fourth-place finish is encouraging and shows that he will continue to be a consistent threat at plate tracks in 2022. He’ll have a chance to run well at Auto Club as well; Blaney won at the other two-mile track on the circuit, Michigan, last season.
8. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22)
Last Week: 7
Daytona 500 Result: 21st
Like his two Team Penske teammates, Logano had plenty of speed in the Daytona 500, as per usual. Unfortunately for Logano, his speed didn’t translate to a top-five finish as it did for his teammates. After the damage that led to a flat tire that caused his car to be stuck on the track, Logano wound up multiple laps down and was unable to make those laps up, finishing outside of the top 20. It was an unfortunate finish to an otherwise solid day for the No. 22 team, and they’ll be one of the favorites to win at Auto Club.
9. Austin Cindric (Team Penske No. 2)
Last Week: 17
Daytona 500 Result: 1st
I’m not sure that anybody could have imagined a better start to Cindric’s full-time tenure at Team Penske. After wrecking out on the final lap in last year’s Daytona 500 in the part-time No. 33 car, Cindric held off Bubba Wallace to secure his first career Cup Series victory to open the 2022 season. He came into the season largely viewed as a playoff bubble driver, and this win immediately changes the outlook for his upcoming season.
10. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24)
Last Week: 9
Daytona 500 Result: 38th
Though there are plenty of drivers who could say they’ve had a rough track record in the 500, I’m not sure that it’s truer for anyone than Byron. Byron has yet to finish inside the top 20 in the Great American Race and got caught up in the massive wreck prior to the end of the first stage this year. To make matters worse, Byron was running close to the front of the field and appeared poised to get significant stage points before the incident. It’s obviously very early in the season, but Byron’s continued poor luck at Daytona has to be discouraging.
11. Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing No. 6)
Last Week: 14
Daytona 500 Result: 9th
If there was any question of whether or not Keselowski’s superspeedway prowess would continue after his move to RFK Racing, that has been answered. Keselowski led plenty of laps and ran almost the entirety of the race near the front of the field, albeit while pushing a little too aggressively along the way. Keselowski has been the subject of criticism this week after turning Harrison Burton and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in separate incidents, but his talent behind a wheel is still evident, and he has a top ten to show for it.
12. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48)
Last Week: 10
Daytona 500 Result: 24th
Similar to Logano a few spots higher, Bowman took minimal damage in an accident, but his car wasn’t able to get rolling with all four tires flat, and it caused him to fall off the lead lap. Bowman came home outside the top 20, along with two of his three Hendrick teammates, but his speed in the No. 48 was still obvious. In the last race at Auto Club in 2020, Bowman utterly dominated, sweeping the stages and winning the race with ease. Needless to say, he’d like to repeat that feat this weekend.
13. Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 8)
Last Week: 11
Daytona 500 Result: 35th
When Reddick crashed out of the race about midway through the final stage, it first appeared as if he was turned by former F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve. However, Reddick’s car reportedly suffered an issue in the right rear which led to the spin, and ultimately a 35th place finish. While teams are obviously still ironing out some kinks with the new car, it is a bit concerning that Reddick also had a mechanical issue that forced him to bow out of the Clash early. He’ll hope to run cleaner at Auto Club and bring home some much-needed points.
14. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10)
Last Week: 15
Daytona 500 Result: 5th
It wasn’t a surprise to see Almirola running the early stages of the race pretty conservatively, especially given that he was the centerpiece of a massive wreck just 16 laps into the 2021 edition and that he hasn’t gotten his car to the checkered flag without significant damage once with Stewart-Haas Racing in the Daytona 500. It also wasn’t a surprise to see Almirola in the front three rows coming back to the final restart, as he has a long history of success at superspeedways. Almirola’s fifth-place finish has to be seen as a good sign of what’s to come for the team, especially after the extremely rough start he got off to last season.
15. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20)
Last Week: 12
Daytona 500 Result: 34th
After essentially taking out half of the field with a bad push early in last year’s 500, Bell saw his own machine head to the garage early this season, finishing outside of the top 30. It was a rough day overall for the No. 20 team as they weren’t able to consistently stay near the front and took early damage which derailed the race as a whole. That being said, Bell came out victorious in the second race of the 2021 season at the Daytona Road Course, and while this year’s second race comes out west, he may have a chance to repeat that.
16. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing No. 23)
Last Week: 18
Daytona 500 Result: 2nd
Wallace’s first season with 23XI Racing had its ups and downs, but the biggest up came at Talladega when he brought home his first career win in a rain-shortened effort. If the Daytona 500 is any indication, the 2022 season will have more ups than downs. Wallace ran near the front for the majority of the race and worked with Kyle Busch to stay near the front at the end of the race. Though he wasn’t able to get the victory in the end, he did bring home a runner-up finish to open the season, bringing home a ton of points in the effort.
17. Kurt Busch (23XI Racing No. 45)
Last Week: 13
Daytona 500 Result: 19th
Daytona brought a somewhat uneventful race for Busch, who ran a bit inside the top 15 but never truly was able to put together a run toward the front. Nevertheless, he was able to keep his car somewhat clean and bring home a decent finish inside the top 20. It may not have been the start he was hoping for to the season, but Busch’s speed will have a better chance to show itself at Auto Club next weekend.
18. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14)
Last Week: 22
Daytona 500 Result: 3rd
Following a rough rookie season that saw Briscoe well out of playoff contention, it was refreshing to see the No. 14 put together a top-five run in the season opener. Coming into his second year with Stewart-Haas Racing, there will be pressure on the youngster to build on his momentum from Daytona and carry it through the West Coast swing. The car looked incredibly fast in the 500, and Briscoe nearly took it to victory lane.
19. Chris Buescher (RFK Racing No. 17)
Last Week: 19
Daytona 500 Result: 16th
Buescher unfortunately was caught up in a late wreck which took away his chance for a big points day, but he was still able to get to the line somewhat in one piece, bringing home a 16th place finish. All things considered, it was a solid day for Buescher, who worked well with his new RFK teammate Brad Keselowski and appeared to have some serious speed throughout the race. Auto Club will be the newly branded team’s first real test, but the early results are good.
20. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3)
Last Week: 20
Daytona 500 Result: 25th
For a driver who has had some previous successes at Daytona (won 2018 500, finished third last year), it was shocking how little we saw Dillon near the front on Sunday. He wasn’t much of a factor, and his 25th-place finish added to an already rough day for Richard Childress Racing after teammate Tyler Reddick crashed out. He holds the final spot in our top 20 for now but will need a good race at Auto Club to keep it.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Ross Chastain (Trackhouse Racing No. 1) LW: 16
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47) LW: 23
23. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing No. 99) LW: 21
24. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34) LW: 26
25. Harrison Burton (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21) LW: 28
26. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41) LW: 24
27. Erik Jones (Petty GMS Racing No. 43) LW: 25
28. Justin Haley (Kaulig Racing No. 31) LW: 27
29. Ty Dillon (Petty GMS Racing No. 42) LW: 29
30. David Ragan (Rick Ware Racing No. 15) LW: NR