The NASCAR Cup Series Power Ranking after Auto Club Speedway picks up some steam with two point-paying races now in the books.
With the future of the Auto Club race track up in the air, it was only fitting that Sunday’s race was wild. A second stage marred with cautions, including a ten-car wreck after a restart stack-up, was followed by a long green flag run in Stage 3 that saw Kyle Busch outwork Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott allowing him to pick up his first win of the year. Busch continued his reign of terror at the two-mile track, picking up his fifth career win at Auto Club. In addition to Busch, a few drivers put together impressive performances, while others had their days ruined early. This week’s power ranking reflects Sunday’s craziness, with movement throughout the top 20.
1. Joey Logano (Team Penske #22)
Last Week: 1
Pala Casino 400 Result: 10th
It’s very early in the season, but Logano’s championship defense is off to a terrific start through two races. After a strong race at Daytona, Logano backed it up by leading 19 laps and finishing in the top ten at Auto Club, even with his car falling off dramatically in the closing laps. He currently sits second in points, just one behind current leader Ross Chastain. Logano should be the favorite heading into next weekend’s tilt at Las Vegas, as he has won three of the last eight races there, including last fall’s race. Logano hasn’t finished worse than 14th at Vegas since 2012. It seems like a guarantee that he’ll have a good points day.
2. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports #9)
Last Week: 3
Pala Casino 400 Result: 2nd
For a brief moment in the closing laps, it appeared Elliott was hunting down Kyle Busch for the lead. In the end, Elliott finished as a distant runner-up but still brought home a great points day for the No. 9 after an early exit at Daytona. With that result, Elliott climbed from 29th to 14th in the standings. His day at Auto Club was impressive; his 78 quality passes ranked third, and his 39-plus pass differential tied for second best. Elliott has a decent history at Las Vegas, with three top-five and five top-ten results in 12 starts. As usual, he’ll be one to look out for as he’ll attempt to string together two solid races.
3. Ross Chastain (Trackhouse Racing #1)
Last Week: 4
Pala Casino 400 Result: 3rd
Chastain was runner-up for the title last year as a big breakout star. This year he is continuing his ascent to championship contender status. After winning a stage at Daytona, Chastain increased his total by sweeping two stage segments at Auto Club. He couldn’t hang on for the win after a long battle with Kyle Busch, but he still came home third after another impressive race. With three stage wins in the first two races, Chastain is the points leader. His 137.6 driver rating at Auto Club was the best among any driver, and his 91 laps led were more than triple anybody else. It wouldn’t be shocking for Chastain to visit victory lane next week, as he finished top five in both races in Las Vegas last year.
4. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports #5)
Last Week: 2
Pala Casino 400 Result: 29th
It’s safe to say that Larson probably dreamed of a better start to his season. He was running well at Daytona before getting caught up in a last-lap wreck, and his day was derailed early at Auto Club after his team dealt with electrical issues. Larson was able to get the car repaired and finish the race, but he brought it home 15 laps down and well outside the top 20. Considering the difficult start, his place in the standings (24th, eight points out of 16th) could be much worse. But that doesn’t change the point that his finish at Auto Club represents a missed opportunity, especially considering Larson’s prowess at the track. However, Larson has a win, five top-five, and eight top-ten results in his last ten races at Las Vegas, so there’s a good chance he’ll get back on the right track next weekend.
5. Kyle Busch (Richard Childress Racing #8)
Last Week: 8
Pala Casino 400 Result: 1st
Busch reached another career milestone at Auto Club’s two-mile track after an incredible drive led to his first win with Richard Childress Racing. That victory, the 61st in Busch’s Hall-of-Fame caliber career, allowed him to set a NASCAR record by winning a race in 19 consecutive seasons. Busch’s longevity in the sport is unprecedented, and his success may continue for quite some time. Busch still has plenty left to offer. And, with Busch now a part of the RCR camp, the organization will continue to find better results each year. Las Vegas is a solid track for Busch over his career as well. He’s only won there once but has recorded five straight finishes of sixth or better. Busch hasn’t finished outside the top 20 at Vegas since 2017, so he’s a good bet to put together a great points day.
6. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing #11)
Last Week: 6
Pala Casino 400 Result: 6th
Hamlin put together a quality race at Auto Club, running almost the entire race inside the top 15, leading 11 laps, and finishing sixth. It was a nice uptick race after a disappointing finish at Daytona, and Hamlin is now inside the top ten in series points. As one of the more consistent drivers in the series, it’s never a surprise to see Hamlin in contention for wins, and he should be in the mix next week at Las Vegas as well. Though his career results at the track are mixed, he has four top-five finishes, including a win, in his last five starts in Las Vegas dating back to 2020.
7. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing #4)
Last Week: 9
Pala Casino 400 Result: 5th
In his final full-time season, and if the first two races of the season are any indication, Harvick means business. The driver of the No. 4 was near the front all race long, even leading a few laps at Auto Club. Through two races, Harvick is fourth in points and seems to be driving with a resurgent pace after a down 2021 and uneven 2022 season. Ending his career with a championship could be a tall task, but it would be a storybook conclusion to a legendary tenure. Harvick has two wins in 27 starts at Las Vegas, so he’ll look for a strong finish this weekend.
8. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports #48)
Last Week: 12
Pala Casino 400 Result: 8th
Two years ago, Bowman dominated at Auto Club Speedway, leading almost the entire race and securing a win. This season didn’t bring quite the same level of success for him. Bowman still drove a quality race, running a race-high 98.5 percent of laps inside the top 15, leading 17 laps and finishing inside the top ten. He has finished top ten in both races so far this season after bringing home a fifth-place result at Daytona, and he’ll look to keep that consistency throughout the season. Bowman is happy to see Las Vegas on the schedule, as he won there last season. If he can even come close to replicating that result, it will be a nice three-race stretch for the No. 48 team.
9. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing #20)
Last Week: 5
Pala Casino 400 Result: 32nd
Bell survived the chaos that is always part of the Daytona season opener and brought home a third-place finish. So, of course, he would get caught up in a massive wreck at Auto Club, ending his day early. Luckily for Bell, his Daytona result means his 32nd-place finish in Fontana won’t hurt him too much standings-wise. However, it feels like a missed opportunity, especially after qualifying was rained out and he was given the pole position. It’s been all or nothing for Bell at Vegas to this point in his career. In six career starts in Vegas, he has two top-ten finishes but four finishes of 24th or worse. He’ll hope for the former this coming weekend.
10. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske #12)
Last Week: 7
Pala Casino 400 Result: 26th
The first two races have not been kind to Blaney’s car, as he has sustained significant damage in both. At Daytona, he was able to persevere through the carnage of the final laps and still bring home a top-ten finish. He wasn’t so lucky at Auto Club, as his car limped home four laps down. Points-wise, Blaney is still in a good spot, especially considering how the first two races have transpired for him, but he’d love to have a clean race at Las Vegas and get into a rhythm. He had a rough go at Vegas last year, with finishes of 36th and 28th, but has five top-five and eight top-ten finishes in 13 career races at the track.
11. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing #3)
Last Week: 14
Pala Casino 400 Result: 9th
Sunday was a typical Austin Dillon race; hang around in the 15th-20th place for most of the race and gradually make a move toward the front. Toward the end, it appeared that Dillon may even break into the top five, but he lost a couple of spots in the final laps and came home ninth. Despite that, it was a nice bounce back for Dillon, who had a rough day at Daytona and entered Auto Club 33rd in points. If Dillon can keep his consistent ways rolling, there’s no reason he can’t return to the playoffs this year. He has only two finishes outside of the top 20 in 14 career Las Vegas starts, so it’s likely he’ll continue to build off of a good Auto Club run.
12. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing #19)
Last Week: 13
Pala Casino 400 Result: 11th
It was an eventful day for Truex at Auto Club, as he endured two separate penalties (including a two-lap penalty for losing a wheel), yet still rebounded to nearly finish inside the top ten. Considering the adversity he faced throughout the day, he has to be somewhat satisfied with his result. Many drivers can’t say the same even after running near the front most of the day. Truex sits 11th in points through two weeks, a decent start to his year after missing the playoffs in 2022. Vegas is a track where Truex has seen a ton of success over the years. He has two wins and seven top fives in his last 13 starts at the Las Vegas, and just two finishes outside of the top ten in that time.
13. Tyler Reddick (23XI Racing #45)
Last Week: 10
Pala Casino 400 Result: 34th
Well, eventually bad luck has to turn, right? Reddick will be hoping so after his day at Auto Club ended early, especially since he didn’t get much out of Daytona either. After two races, Reddick is dead last in the point standings, totaling just four marks so far. It’s hard to get much of a read on where this No. 45 team is, considering he’s had two early DNFs, so hopefully, Las Vegas brings a little more clarity. Reddick hopes he can keep his streak at Vegas going, as he’s finished seventh or better in his last three races at the track.
14. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing #99)
Last Week: 17
Pala Casino 400 Result: 4th
Trackhouse is here to stay, folks. Suarez and teammate Ross Chastain made playoff runs last year, and now both drivers are driving like legitimate contenders. Suarez put himself in a great position throughout the race and ended up bringing home a top-five finish. His 113.9 driver rating from Sunday placed him third among all drivers. Suarez will be glad to be off to this fast start, as Las Vegas has not been a particularly strong track for him. He has just one top-ten finish in 11 career starts in Vegas, with that coming back in 2018 during his time with Joe Gibbs Racing. Sitting fifth in points, he doesn’t need a huge day, but a nice top 15 could do wonders.
15. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports #24)
Last Week: 11
Pala Casino 400 Result: 25th
It’s been a rough start for Byron, but he at least put together a quality race for about 80% of the duration of the Pala Casino 400. Byron ran most of the race inside the top ten before a green flag speeding penalty put him two laps down, which is where he ended up finishing. He did grab a few stage points to at least somewhat salvage a poor day, but he still sits 29th in points after a rough go of it at Daytona to open the season. Byron had finishes of fifth and 13th at Las Vegas last year, but that fifth-place finish was the only top five he’s recorded at the track, so he’s far from a guarantee to grab points.
16. Chris Buescher (RFK Racing #17)
Last Week: 21
Pala Casino 400 Result: 13th
Buescher is off to a terrific start to the year after another solid race at Auto Club. His 13th-place finish backs up a top-five at Daytona and places Buescher sixth in points. RFK Racing, as a whole, seems to have taken a step forward this season, at least from the early indication, this could be an opportunity for Buescher to make his first playoff appearance since 2016. Buescher has just one career top-ten finish at Las Vegas, and he’s finished worse than 18th just three times in 12 starts. He seems to be a good bet to finish somewhere in the tenth-20th range, which would continue a solid beginning to Buescher’s year.
17. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing #14)
Last Week: 15
Pala Casino 400 Result: 20th
A driver doesn’t breathe a sigh of relief after finishing 20th, but Briscoe did after Auto Club. The in-car camera repeatedly shows that Briscoe’s car was significantly off the pace early in the race, and he spent a good part of the first couple of stages outside the top 30. His average running position for the race was 25.7, and he didn’t even break into the top 20 until numerous incidents ended the days of many competitors. He’s glad to move on to Las Vegas, and he’ll be looking to build on his fourth-place finish from last fall’s race. Briscoe sits 33rd in points so a clean, quality race would be much preferred in Sin City.
18. Austin Cindric (Team Penske #2)
Last Week: 16
Pala Casino 400 Result: 28th
Like many other drivers, Cindric had a rough finish at Auto Club. Running mid-pack for most of the race, Cindric was at least in place to grab a top-15 finish until he was turned into the wall during the final stage. Cindric was able to continue but finished six laps down in 28th place. He sits 18th in points as of now, which is never a bad spot after the unpredictability of the season’s start. Cindric looks for a leap at Las Vegas, where he finished 29th and 16th in his first two career starts.
19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing #47)
Last Week: 18
Pala Casino 400 Result: 12th
After winning the Daytona 500, most drivers would take a moment to rest on their laurels as the race win should take some pressure off by getting the team into the post-season playoff. Last year, however, the Cup Series saw 19 unique winners. One win may not be enough to get into the playoff anymore. Another big challenge for him is to keep his point-standing high enough to qualify. He did keep his strong start going after finishing inside the top 15 at Auto Club and leading the race with 84 quality passes. Stenhouse always gets the most out of his JTG Daugherty machine, and when he keeps it clean, he’ll have a good finish. With just two top-ten finishes in 15 starts at Las Vegas, Stenhouse will still be in the spotlight and looking to hang on for more success.
20. Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing #6)
Last Week: 25
Pala Casino 400 Result: 7th
Like his teammate Chris Buescher, Keselowski is off to an impressive start, running well at Daytona and picking up a stage win. He also brought home a top-ten finish at Auto Club, even after an early accident where Keselowski spun into the infield after contact with Corey Lajoie. In a disappointing debut season with his new team, this season seems to be looking up for Keselowski. He has three wins in 19 starts at Las Vegas, and before last year, he had finished top ten in 12 of his last 13 races. With how the RFK cars have looked so far, Keselowski could start another streak this coming Sunday.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Erik Jones (Legacy Motor Co. #43) LW: 23
22. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing #23) LW: 20
23. Ty Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing #54) LW: 24
24. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing #10) LW: 22
25. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports #34) LW: 26
26. AJ Allmendinger (Kaulig Racing #16) LW: 19
27. Justin Haley (Kaulig Racing #31) LW: 28
28. Harrison Burton (Wood Brothers Racing #21) LW: 30
29. Ryan Preece (Stewart-Haas Racing #41) LW: 27
30. Corey Lajoie (Spire Motorsports #7) LW: NR