NASCAR Power Rankings: Joey Logano punches Championship 4 ticket originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The once-fuzzy NASCAR playoff picture is finally starting to clear up.
In the first race in the Round of 8, Joey Logano won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to lock up the first spot in the Championship 4. Logano, 32, led the final three laps after passing Ross Chastain.
Logano’s win leaves just three spots left in the Championship 4, with seven drivers fighting for those positions in the next two races. Homestead-Miami Speedway will host the second race in the Round of 8 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC), while the round concludes at Martinsville Speedway the following week.
So, who’s the driver to beat with just three races left? Here’s our latest power rankings:
1. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 2
After finishing fifth at Las Vegas, Hamlin has a 6.6 average finish in the first seven playoff races. He’s been more consistent than any other driver after the most inconsistent regular season of his career. The 41-year-old Hamlin is six points above the cut line as he seeks his fourth straight Championship 4 appearance.
2. Joey Logano
Last week: 4
Since the current playoff format was adopted in 2014, Logano has made the Championship 4 in every even-numbered year. That trend continued after his come-from-behind win at Las Vegas, where he led 32 laps but had to come from seventh to win in the final 25 laps. The pressure is off Logano for the next two weeks as he prepares for the title race.
3. Chase Elliott
Last week: 1
Elliott’s speed – or lack thereof – was the biggest shock of the race. He started 20th, ran around there all day and finished 21st. The regular season champion was a total non-factor, regardless of how many changes they made to the car. Elliott still has a 17-point lead on the cut line, but another performance like Sunday’s would put him right on the bubble.
4. Ross Chastain
Last week: 7
If the race was five laps shorter, we’d be talking about Chastain clinching a spot in the Championship 4. Instead, he settled for second after leading a race-high 68 laps. Chastain has an 18-point lead on the cut line, as he’s navigating his first career playoff run with a veteran-like composure.
5. Christopher Bell
Last week: 3
After his walk-off win at Charlotte, Bell’s race in Vegas was over before it really started. In Stage 2, he was innocently collected in the crash involving Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson. That gave Bell a 34th-place finish and a 23-point hole. For the second straight round, it looks like he’ll need a win to advance.
6. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 5
For a moment, Sunday looked like Blaney’s day to score his first win of 2022. He led 39 laps and won Stage 2, but the 28-year-old lost control of his car late in the race before hitting the wall and finishing 28th. The No. 12 car clearly has enough speed to win a race, but the team is quickly running out of time.
7. William Byron
Last week: 6
Las Vegas was a solid, yet unspectacular race for Byron. He finished 13th and scored six stage points, enough to keep him just six points below the cut line. But the Hendrick Motorsports cars don’t appear to be firing on all cylinders right now, as Byron and Elliott showed Sunday.
8. Chase Briscoe
Last week: 10
As the lowest seed remaining in the playoffs, Briscoe just keeps fighting. He was lapped in Stage 1 before fighting back to start on the front row for the final restart. Along with crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, Briscoe just kept improving his car all race long before scoring a solid fourth-place finish – his fourth straight top-10. Briscoe is nine points below the cut line.
9. Tyler Reddick
Last week: 9
Even though he’s leaving Richard Childress Racing after the season and he isn’t in the playoffs, Reddick continues to rattle off impressive runs. He was sixth at Las Vegas, leading 32 laps after starting on the pole. The 26-year-old California native is in the midst of a breakout season.
10. Kyle Larson
Last week: 8
It’s been a rough couple weeks for Larson, who was eliminated from the playoffs at Charlotte before being intentionally wrecked by Wallace at Las Vegas. He shouldered the blame for the incident after pinching Wallace into the wall, and Larson let him get a few shoves in afterward.
First four out: Daniel Suarez, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Justin Haley