Week four is now in the books and sets the stage for the NASCAR Cup Series Power Ranking after their race at Phoenix Raceway.
In November, Phoenix will host the NASCAR Cup Series championship race, where the series’ top drivers are contending for the 2023 championship. This past weekend, the series visited the same track for the United Rentals Work United 500, the fourth race of the regular season. It was another race dominated by Hendrick Motorsports, as Kyle Larson and William Byron were the class of the field for most of the day. Later on, Kevin Harvick nearly swooped in for the win, but a late caution gave Byron the edge to bring in his second straight victory. The headlines are on Hendrick now for a different reason, as Larson, Byron, and Alex Bowman were each docked 100 points for a parts violation, a penalty with massive implications. Even with the penalties, the Hendrick Byron and Larson duo cannot be denied their spots in these rankings.
The NASCAR Cup Series Power Ranking after Phoenix
1. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports #5)
Last Week: 1
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 4th
Larson led 201 laps in what looked like another dominant performance at Phoenix, but for the second straight race, he fell short to teammate William Byron on a late-race restart. Another top-five finish is nothing to scoff at for Larson, and his analytics back up the surface numbers. Larson leads the series in quality pass % (69.4 percent) and is second in driver rating behind only Byron. Unfortunately, the massive penalty handed down to Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates means he now faces an uphill climb to get back in the playoff picture. It also means that his performance may have to be taken with a grain of salt, at least for now.
2. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports #24)
Last Week: 9
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 1st
Byron’s season has been a tale of two halves, as he finished outside the top 20 in each of the first two races before dominating at Las Vegas and taking advantage of a late caution to win again at Phoenix. Consistency has been the name of the game for Byron when he is keeping the car clean, as he’s run over 85 percent of his laps inside the top 15 so far this year. His 107.2 driver rating is easily the best in the series so far, and his wins mean that, even with the 100-point penalty, he still has a playoff spot locked up. Byron would love to erase his deficit in points as quickly as possible, but at least he knows his playoff position isn’t in jeopardy.
3. Ross Chastain (Trackhouse Racing #1)
Last Week: 2
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 24th
The beef between Chastain and Denny Hamlin continued at Phoenix, though this time was more one-sided. Hamlin rode Chastain into the wall on the final restart, causing him to lose significant ground and finish outside of the top 20. Despite the disappointing final result, Chastain raced inside the top ten for almost the entire day in his fourth straight race with above-average speed. He’d love to visit victory lane soon, and he likely will. Chastain can’t be dissatisfied with his current position as he now sits second in point standings, just three below the series leader Kevin Harvick.
4. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing #11)
Last Week: 4
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 23rd
As stated above, Hamlin had a run-in with Ross Chastain on the final lap, and though Hamlin was the instigator, he also saw plenty of adverse effects. Hamlin dropped from the top ten to outside the top 20 after the collision, giving up several points. Hamlin’s 450 quality passes are the most in the series by a wide margin, and he’s run an incredible 93.1 percent of his laps inside the top 15. The speed is there for Hamlin, but he needs to do a better job of finishing races. Somehow, Hamlin still has just one top-ten finish defying the above statistics, evidence that his races haven’t broken his way toward the end.
5. Joey Logano (Team Penske #22)
Last Week: 3
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 11th
After two races, Logano looked like the fastest car on the track and the early favorite to repeat as series champion. Over the past two races, we’ve seen why the championship isn’t decided after two races. Logano struggled badly at Vegas and had a rough time for most of the race at Phoenix before grinding out an 11th-place finish. With that in mind, it was more than an acceptable result, as Logano ran just 30 percent of the race inside the top 15. Logano is one of the series’ best superspeedway racers. But, with the new changes, Atlanta isn’t quite a typical superspeedway. Logano will still be one of the favorites to win, putting him back on the right track.
6. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports #48)
Last Week: 5
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 9th
For the past couple of seasons, consistency has been the big issue for Bowman. He’s had plenty of speed and has won his share of races, but his stretches of rough races have always done him in when it comes to contending for a championship. This year, his team was on an upward swing when Bowman was the series points leader despite no race wins. Right on cue, Bowman was handed a 100-point penalty in the Hendrick Motorsports debacle, dropping him from first to 23rd in the standings, 22 points out of a playoff spot. With the speed that the No. 48 machine has had so far this year, a penalty that massive will throw a wrench into the mix for Bowamn, at least for the time being.
7. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing #4)
Last Week: 6
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 5th
Another week, another excellent run for Harvick, who is showing that he’s still the class of Stewart-Haas Racing even in his late 40s. At least to this point, Harvick is going out with a bang, as his 2023 season is closer to mirroring his incredible 2020 season than either of the past two. Harvick is now the series points leader after Alex Bowman’s penalty knocked him off of the top peg, and his 86 percent rate of laps run inside the top 15 is second in the series, only behind Denny Hamlin. Atlanta isn’t the type of track it once was, but from his rookie season, Harvick has had plenty of success there. It won’t be shocking if he maintains the points lead next week.
8. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing #20)
Last Week: 8
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 6th
Bell somewhat flew under the radar at Phoenix, never leading but running almost the entire race inside the top ten. His sixth place is a strong finish that marks his third top-ten this season. After a year in which Bell didn’t turn up a notch until the playoffs, he seems to be getting started earlier this year. Last year’s run to the championship race may have been a Cinderella story, but he’s showing right now that it wasn’t a fluke. In terms of championship contenders, Bell’s name isn’t the first one to come up, but at this point, he should be considered more than just a sleeper.
9. Kyle Busch (Richard Childress Racing #8)
Last Week: 7
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 8th
This past weekend, Busch finished inside the top ten for the second time this season. Throughout the race, he was never a true contender but always in the thick of the action. Phoenix has always been a strong track for Busch, so it was surprising not to see him contending for a win. The result is still a strong race for the driver of the No. 8. Busch currently sits fifth in series points, and another good run at Atlanta could push him close to the lead, especially with the chaos that is almost certain to set in during that race.
10. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske #12)
Last Week: 11
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 2nd
Blaney had a terrific bounce-back race at Phoenix after struggling pretty badly at Las Vegas. He ran almost every lap inside the top 15, with an average running position of 7.5. Blaney finished second after a chaotic final restart, giving him a decent result, especially considering that his teammates faced some struggles. Through four races, Blaney is fourth in points, a great spot to be, even at this early stage in the season. Whenever the Cup Series heads to a track where drafting is necessary, Blaney seems to be a contender. So, Atlanta has to be circled on his schedule.
11. Tyler Reddick (23XI Racing #45)
Last Week: 13
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 3rd
After a nightmare start to the season that included a pair of DNFs and a blown engine eliminating Reddick’s chance to practice and qualify at Las Vegas, he finally got his team on the right track at Phoenix. Reddick had an average running position of 6.9 and was rolling through the last stage without any issues en route to a third-place finish. One stat to note with Reddick is that he leads the series in pass differential at +95. Of course, much of this is due to him starting at the rear at Las Vegas, but Reddick continues to show the ability to move through the field rapidly. When Reddick can keep the car clean, he can run with anyone.
12. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing #19)
Last Week: 10
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 17th
There wasn’t much to write home about for Truex during the Phoenix race, as he spent less than ten percent of the race inside the top 15 and made just six quality passes. Through four races, Truex has just one top-ten finish and is just 12th in driver rating, but has managed to get himself to sixth in the standings. This has been aided by the penalty handed to the Hendrick drivers, but Truex continues to run well enough to hang around. He’s still looking for a win to break his continuing winless streak. For now, consistency will have to do.
13. Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing #99)
Last Week: 12
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 22nd
Phoenix has never been a stellar track for Suarez, so it was no surprise that the team did not make much noise on Sunday. Though he wasn’t necessarily running near the front, he did spend over 77 percent of the race inside the top 15 and didn’t lose much ground in the standings. Suarez is one of just four drivers to have recorded three or more top-ten finishes, and his consistency seems to have been turned up another notch this season. If a 22nd-place finish is a result that comes from a poor day, life could certainly be worse for the No. 99 camp.
14. Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing #6)
Last Week: 17
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 18th
Though Keselowski wound up finishing outside the top 15, it’s safe to say that his total body of work is more important in this case. Keselowski’s average running position of 6.3 kept him near the front for most of the race. He continues to show a massive increase in speed so far this season. RFK Racing means business this season in year two with Keselowski as a driver-owner, and their season is off to a terrific start. Keselowski sits ninth in points, and the underlying stats are even better, as he’s currently seventh in driver rating. Superspeedways have always been a strength for Keselowski, so Atlanta will be a chance for him to visit victory lane.
15. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing #23)
Last Week: 15
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 14th
Wallace had an okay day at Phoenix, running right around the middle of the pack for most of the race and finishing barely inside the top 15. Though it wasn’t a terrific performance by any means, Wallace’s past track record at Phoenix isn’t the best, so the fact that he was able to put together a solid result shows growth. Despite two DNFs, Wallace is 13th in points. Remembering that he nearly won Atlanta last year, there is some slowly building momentum for the No. 23 team after a rocky start.
16. Chris Buescher (RFK Racing #17)
Last Week: 18
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 15th
Though Buescher hasn’t entirely kept up with teammate Brad Keselowski so far this season, he has still turned up a bit compared to last year. Buescher has run over 62 percent of laps inside the top 15 this season. He was solid once more at Phoenix, typically hanging around the back end of the top ten and finishing 15th. Buescher sits just three points behind Keselowski and is tenth in points. A playoff berth appears to be in the cards for Buescher, but he may still need a win to make it happen.
17. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing #14)
Last Week: 21
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 7th
Coming into Phoenix, Briscoe’s season couldn’t have gone much worse. He was outside the top 30 in points and hadn’t been able to put together a race that could be seen as competitive. Although Briscoe won the spring Phoenix race last year, given his performance, a strong race was hard to predict with any confidence. It was a slow build-up in the early stages of the race, but Briscoe did work his way into the top ten and finish seventh to grab a decent points day. But even after the Hendrick penalties, he is still 17 points out of a playoff spot. He’s in a much better place now than he was a week ago.
18. Austin Cindric (Team Penske #2)
Last Week: 14
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 25th
For the second week in a row, Cindric just wasn’t all that competitive. Team Penske struggled pretty badly at Las Vegas. Ryan Blaney finished top five, and Joey Logano ran on the lead lap to come home inside the top 15 at Phoenix. Cindric was sluggish, finishing a lap down and well outside the top 20. His -61 pass differential is the second worst in the series, better than only Corey LaJoie. Pass differential isn’t always the best indicator of speed, but it does show that cars are passing Cindric a lot easier than he passes them. That’s not good.
19. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing #3)
Last Week: 16
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 16th
It was shocking to see Dillon finish in the top 20, especially considering his average running position was outside the top 25. He spent most of the race off of the lead lap. Even though Dillon did bring the car home clean and with an okay finish, it is a bit concerning that he has now been well off the pace in two straight races. Especially with teammate Kyle Busch running so well, it’s odd to see how far off Dillon is. He is currently a dismal 30th in driver rating, behind drivers such as Justin Haley, Ryan Preece, and Corey LaJoie. Their plan is not going well, and they need a turn-around race soon.
20. Josh Berry (Hendrick Motorsports #9)
Last Week: NR
United Rentals Work United 500 Result: 10th
In race number two, filling in for the injured Chase Elliott, Berry seemed to settle in and brought his car to the line in tenth, a career-best finish. One could make the case that any driver behind the wheel of a Hendrick car (especially one with modified parts) could finish top ten, but it’s not that simple. These Cup cars are drastically different from the Xfinity cars that Berry is used to driving, so this performance is impressive. Berry’s ‘audition’ with Hendrick took a big step in the right direction this week.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Erik Jones (Legacy Motor Co. #43) LW: 20
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing #47) LW: 19
23. Justin Haley (Kaulig Racing #31) LW: 24
24. Ryan Preece (Stewart-Haas Racing #41) LW: 28
25. A.J. Allmendinger (Kaulig Racing #16) LW: 23
26. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports #34) LW: 27
27. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing #10) LW: 22
28. Ty Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing #54) LW: 25
29. Corey LaJoie (Spire Motorsports #7) LW: 26
30. Noah Gragson (Legacy Motor Co. #42) LW: 30