After hours of rain and lightning delays on Sunday, Nashville Superspeedway delivered a great finish in NBC’s first NASCAR broadcast of 2022.
Following a late caution, the field was stacked up and on differing pit strategies. At the front, Chase Elliott held off Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney in a final four-lap shootout to clinch his 15th career win and second of the season.
The Cup Series heads to Wisconsin next week for a race around Road America, a 14-turn road course located just north of Milwaukee. It will mark the second straight visit to Road America for Fourth of July weekend after last year’s debut race attracted over 100,000 fans.
So, who is the driver to beat with just nine regular-season races remaining? Here’s our power rankings after Nashville:
1. Chase Elliott
Last week: 2
After three finishes outside the top-20 in his last four starts, Elliott found his form under the lights at Nashville. His car picked up speed after sunset, and he overcame a pit road issue early in the race to score another win. Elliott, 26, now has two or more wins in five straight seasons as he continues to lead the points and playoff standings. He’s the defending winner at Road America, with a realistic shot at back-to-back victories.
2. Ross Chastain
Last week: 1
Chastain was one of the few drivers who benefitted from pitting under the last caution, rallying for a fifth-place finish. He leads all drivers with eight top-fives in 17 races. Road America could be another prime opportunity for Chastain, as Trackhouse Racing has won the first two road course races this season.
3. Kyle Busch
Last week: 3
Instead of restarting second with four laps to go, Busch pitted for two tires and restarted 11th, only to finish 21st. The strategy call was odd, and it delivered Busch a finish he didn’t deserve after running top-five for most of the race. He dropped one spot to fourth in the points standings.
4. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 5
Blaney is still winless this season, but third-place probably felt like a win after the night he had in Nashville. The No. 12 was fast early, scoring 10 stage points, before spinning and kissing the wall with under 100 laps to go. Blaney recovered well, played the strategy card correctly and walked away with his best finish of the season.
5. Kyle Larson
Last week: 4
I’m still waiting for 2021 Kyle Larson to show up, but the defending champion remains a half-step behind. He finished fourth at Nashville, giving him five straight top-15 finishes. But at this point last year, Larson had four wins and 1,426 laps led, compared to one win and 273 laps led in 2022.
6. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: 8
Nashville was the best that Truex looked all season – and he left with just a 22nd-place finish. MTJ led a season-high 82 laps and won both stages. The final pit decision doomed him though, as he’s still winless through 17 weeks – the longest he’s started a season without a win since 2014 (when he went winless).
7. Joey Logano
Last week: 6
For the first time in over two months, Logano finished in the top-10 but didn’t win. That streak of seven races with two wins and five finishes worse than 15th is over after his ninth-place run at Nashville. While it wasn’t the finish he was probably hoping for, it was assuring to finally see this team put together a solid run in a race it didn’t win.
8. William Byron
Last week: 7
Byron’s miserable slump continued at Nashville after he was forced to the garage early with steering issues. He finished 35th, marking eight finishes outside the top-10 in the nine races since his win at Martinsville. Byron has just five top-10s this season despite his two wins, and he’s now ninth in the standings.
9. Kevin Harvick
Last week: 9
Is Harvick finally on the verge of a win? The 46-year-old veteran, in the midst of a 60-race winless streak, finished 10th at Nashville but ran out front for most of the race. He was fourth at Sonoma before that, so perhaps this team is onto something. Harvick currently holds the final playoff spot, but his position is still far from secure with nine races to go.
10. Denny Hamlin
Last week: first four out
Another Joe Gibbs Racing driver whose chance at a win was thrown away with the final pit call. Hamlin led a race-high 114 laps and rallied to finish sixth after a hectic last restart, but he collected no playoff points on the day – and that’s all that matters to him. With two wins this season, Hamlin’s only goal before the playoffs is to keep winning, and he clearly has the speed to do it.
First four out: Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez