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Just one spot remains in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and there’s still three races left before the 10-race postseason begins. Will there be more than 16 winners? Maybe one of the guys in this latest edition of power rankings can snag that last spot. Here are the 20 best drivers heading to Richmond Raceway.
20. Justin Haley
Last Week: NR
Justin Haley has overachieved in his first year with Kaulig Racing’s Cup Series team. Haley’s 17th-place finish at Michigan was his best finish since coming seventh at Atlanta last month. Haley sits 22nd in points and can be a spoiler in the next few races, especially Daytona where he has had arguably more recent total success than anyone in the series.
19. Kyle Busch
Last Week: 15
“Just can’t buy a break right now.” Those were the words of Kyle Busch after being involved in a Lap 25 wreck that placed him in 36th. On top of there still being no news on a new sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch has missed the top 10 in eight-straight races. He has finished 36th in two of the last three races.
18. Chris Buescher
Last Week: 19
Chris Buecher ran a decent Michigan race that saw him net five stage points in Stage 1 and come away with a 16th-place finish. The result was the best finish for him at an oval since he also finished 16th at Darlington and eighth at Dover the week before.
17. Austin Cindric
Last Week: 12
Austin Cindric was in the wrong place at the wrong time at Michigan. On Lap 25, JJ Yeley got loose on the first turn of a restart and caused a huge wreck that sent Cindric head-on into the wall. The collision placed Cindric in dead last and allowed Chase Briscoe to pass him in the points standings among drivers with one win this season.
16. Chase Briscoe
Last Week: 16
Chase Briscoe sees no change on this week’s list compared to last week’s. Briscoe’s playoff situation did improve at Michigan even though he has a win at Phoenix. With Kurt Busch still being out and Austin Cindric’s head-on collision at Michigan, Briscoe is ahead of both of them if there are 17 or even 18 winners in the regular season.
15. Michael McDowell
Last Week: 10
Having run the most laps of anyone this season, three more than Erik Jones, Michael McDowell continues a career-best season. However, that has hit quite literally a bit of a bump in the road. McDowell was involved in an early wreck on Lap 25 that severely damaged his car and totaled a few others. He finished 13 laps down in 28th thanks to the damage.
14. Ross Chastain
Last Week: 11
Ross Chastain looked like he was in position to win at Michigan, and do so cleanly too. He was on the wrong end of a bad block from Christopher Bell that hurt both cars and had an ugly pit stop where two tires left his pit box. Chastain fell a lap down late in the race and ended up 24th.
13. William Byron
Last Week: 17
Despite not having a top-10 finish since Sonoma, William Byron is scratching the surface of hitting the peak he had in the spring. A 12th-place finish at Michigan may not be flashy, but Byron has still led the second-most laps this season at 611.
12. Joey Logano
Last Week: 18
Joey Logano battled a car that suffered a large drop-off on long runs at Michigan. Running in second with about 20 laps to go, Logano did what he could to hold up Bubba Wallace to keep his position. Logano fell to fourth, which was still better than where he was running for most of the day.
11. Erik Jones
Last Week: 13
Erik Jones continues to impress with PettyGMS, securing his seventh top-10 finish of the season. The Byron, Michigan native finished eighth at his home track after starting 10th. Jones is showing he can be yet another new winner this season.
10. Martin Truex Jr.
Last Week: 9
It is officially crunch time for Martin Truex Jr. The 2017 Cup Series champion now finds himself 19 points below the cutline to Ryan Blaney. Truex Jr. has gotten close to winning a handful of times and came away in sixth at Indy. He has finished seventh or better in three of the last four races, but almost certainly needs a win to get in the playoffs.
9. Ryan Blaney
Last Week: 8
The only driver currently in the playoffs on points, Ryan Blaney is now the last car on the playoff bubble with Kevin Harvick’s win. Despite being 16th on the playoff grid, Blaney is second in total points behind Chase Elliott. Blaney is 19 points ahead of Truex Jr. for the final playoff spot.
8. Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 14
Kevin Harvick snapped a 65-race winless streak going back to the Bristol night race in September 2020 with his sixth career win at Michigan and fifth in the last seven races at the track. Harvick is the 15th different winner this season and pushes Truex Jr. below the cutline.
7. Daniel Suárez
Last Week: 4
Entering Michigan with a four-race top-10 streak, it looked almost certain Daniel Suárez was going to extend that and potentially reach Victory Lane for the second time this season as he did at Sonoma. Suárez had a left-front tire failure with six laps to go while running 13th, forcing him to pit and come away with a 25th-place finish.
6. Christopher Bell
Last Week: 3
The Stage 1 winner at Michigan, Christopher Bell is continuing to capitalize on his recent New Hampshire win. Bell started in the front row where it looked like he was primed to add on more points and contend for a win, but a misplaced block on Ross Chastain hurt his car and his race that ended with him in 26th.
5. Kyle Larson
Last Week: 7
Much like the race-winner, Kyle Larson has performed his best at Michigan where he won three races in a row from 2016-2017. The defending champion carried the load for a Hendrick Motorsports team despite needing to make up for a late pit road speeding penalty to finish seventh.
4. Tyler Reddick
Last Week: 1
The No. 1 racer on last week’s AOU Network Power Rankings, Tyler Reddick fell this week but not due to fault of his own. Last week’s winner at Indy was running well before he noticed his engine sputtering under caution and pulled off the track once he began smelling smoke. He finished 29th due to the issue.
3. Denny Hamlin
Last Week: 6
Denny Hamlin showed Toyota’s speed at Michigan with a third-place finish, but he did so by overcoming a late pit road penalty for a safety violation and having too many crew members over the wall. The No. 11 prioritized winning Stage 2 after a second-place Stage 1 finish, bringing in a good points haul.
2. Bubba Wallace
Last Week: 5
Bubba Wallace earned his first career pole at Michigan and was the one of the fastest car all race. The 23XI Racing driver is on a career-high four-race top-10 streak, with three of the four races being top fives. Wallace finished second at Michigan, tying his season-best at the Daytona 500.
1. Chase Elliott
Last Week: 2
Despite Chase’s top-two finish streak ending last week at Indy last week, he has remained the most consistent driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. The 2020 Cup champion turned a difficult day where he was barely scratching the top 20 into an 11th-place finish. With three races left in the regular season, Elliott has a firm grasp on the regular season title with a 119-point lead on Ryan Blaney.