Photo courtesy of Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Watkins Glen International provided an entertaining race with many surprise racers running near the front and other championship hopefuls struggling in the wet conditions.
Here are the AOU Network Power Rankings of NASCAR Cup Series drivers heading to the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
20. Brad Keselowski
Last Week: 20
Brad Keselowski maintains his position at the last spot in the rankings thanks to another top-20 finish at Watkins Glen, his season-high seventh straight top-20 finish this season. Keselowski won the Daytona summer race in 2016. He got his only pre-All-Star Race top 10 in the Daytona 500 this season.
19. Kyle Busch
Last Week: 15
The summer of struggles continues for Kyle Busch. After ending a career-long eight-race streak without a top-10 finish at Richmond Raceway, he followed it up with a 32nd-place finish at The Glen after spinning with less than 20 laps to go.
18. William Byron
Last Week: 13
William Byron continues to fall under the radar with a 22nd-place finish at Watkins Glen. Now riding a nine-race streak without a top 10, Byron will look to break the streak with a win at Daytona where he won his way into the playoffs in 2020.
17. Ross Chastain
Last Week: 13
After six races of finishes no worse than eighth, Ross Chastain has finished outside the top 10 in five consecutive races culminating with his 21st-place finish at The Glen. He was again involved in an incident that ended in a wreck for teammate Kimi Räikkönen.
16. Chase Briscoe
Last Week: 18
Chase Briscoe has been solid at road courses this season, and he got enough out of the weekend to call it a success by winning Stage 1 and earning a playoff point. He didn’t get the result he wanted as the team had to go under the hood to fix an issue after Stage 2, ending in a 25th-place finish.
15. Austin Cindric
Last Week: 17
A two-tire pit stop on the final pit cycle of the race propelled him to a 13th-place finish after a costly pit road speeding penalty that likely would have ruined his day. With 15 winners this year and only one race left in the regular season, the rookie has clinched a spot in the playoffs thanks to his Daytona 500 win at the track the series heads to this weekend.
14. Michael McDowell
Last Week: 19
Road course? Rain? That sounds like the perfect combination for Michael McDowell, who once again came away with a top-10 finish at a road course this season with a sixth-place finish. McDowell was in line to become the 16th winner this season by taking the lead from Chase Elliott under wet conditions and leading on the restart to begin the final stage.
13. Martin Truex Jr.
Last Week: 9
It is essentially win or go home for former champion Martin Truex Jr., who sits 25 points behind Ryan Blaney for the final playoff spot. While Truex Jr. can still make the playoffs if Blaney has a poor finish and he earns stage points and finishes far enough ahead of Blaney, Truex Jr. has to rely on a type of race track he has never won at. Truex Jr. did sweep the first two stages in the Daytona 500, so a points battle for the final spot could brew until a boiling point on the final lap.
12. Ryan Blaney
Last Week: 6
Unlike Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney is not in the direst of situations in terms of playoff contention. Should one of the 15 winners this season win again at Daytona, Blaney should be above the cutline provided he keeps Truex Jr. at bay. Blaney lost one point to his lead as Truex Jr. beat him out for 23rd at Watkins Glen. That point could be a factor come Saturday.
11. Erik Jones
Last Week: 16
Erik Jones prepared himself for one last playoff push thanks to a 10th-place finish at The Glen, his first top 10 at a road course since finishing ninth at Circuit of the Americas. He is seen as one of the drivers who could turn the playoffs upside down with a win at Daytona as he won the summer race in 2018.
10. Chris Buescher
Last Week: 12
Chris Buescher earned his fourth-straight top-10 road course finish at Watkins Glen, bringing his Ford Mustang home ninth. He continually ups his stock for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing and is another driver to look out for as a contender at Daytona.
9. Bubba Wallace
Last Week: 5
Bubba Wallace looked to have kicked his road course demons to the curb after finishing fifth at the Indy Road Course. However, the demons came back as he went to the garage late for a suspension issue and finished 35th. Wallace could still be considered the most likely new winner at Daytona this season. He finished second in the Daytona 500 and won the fall race at Talladega, another superspeedway, last season.
8. Daniel Suárez
Last Week: 11
Daniel Suárez has held down the fort at Trackhouse Racing during Chastain’s recent struggles. He secured his first top-five finish since Pocono Raceway and his first top-10 finish since his four-race top-10 streak that ended at the Indy Road Course. He sits squarely in the playoff picture, sitting 12th in overall points.
7. Denny Hamlin
Last Week: 2
Denny Hamlin was practically nowhere to be seen at Watkins Glen, a track he had back-to-back top-five finishes at. He finished mid-pack in 20th, continuing the trend of Toyotas struggling at road courses.
6. Joey Logano
Last Week: 10
The Stage 2 at Watkins Glen, Joey Logano secured his 14th playoff point with his fourth stage win of the season to go along with his two wins at Darlington Raceway and World Wide Technology Raceway. A stage win and a third-place finish put the No. 22 team in a comfortable spot come playoff time. He now has four consecutive top-six finishes.
5. Tyler Reddick
Last Week: 8
Tyler Reddick’s road course strength continued at The Glen with a seventh-place finish, bettering his 10th-place finish last year in his first Cup start at the track. He hit a speedbump at the previous two tracks with 29th and 31st-place finishes respectively, but he looks to be a championship contender when racing like he did this past weekend.
4. Kevin Harvick
Last Week: 3
Kevin Harvick was unable to complete the three-peat coming off wins at Michigan International Speedway and Richmond as the conditions were not the kindest to him at Watkins Glen. He still managed a 12th-place finish, a result he and the team would certainly be content with due to the treacherous early rain.
3. Kyle Larson
Last Week: 7
Kyle Larson used questionable means to some to take his second win of the season and 18th of his career by moving teammate Chase Elliott on the final restart to take the lead and the eventual win. Nonetheless, Larson won at Watkins Glen where he also won the Xfinity race the day before and the Cup race last season.
2. Christopher Bell
Last Week: 4
Christopher Bell broke the mold of Toyotas struggling at road courses with an eight-place finish at The Glen. Bell has four top 10s in six races, three of which have been top fives going back to his win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He is another driver in position for his best playoff appearance after being eliminated in the Round of 12 last season.
1. Chase Elliott
Last Week: 1
Chase Elliott is once again at the top of the Power Rankings after out-classing the field at Watkins Glen. At the site of his first career win in 2018, Elliott led most of the race and won a handful of restarts except for the very last one after making contact with eventual winner Kyle Larson. Elliott still placed fourth and clinched the regular season championship, giving him 40 total playoff points going into Daytona where he could win more.