Love it or hate it, one thing is true after Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway: Joey Logano is heading back to the NASCAR playoffs.
Logano led a race-high 107 laps after starting on the pole. On paper, it looked like a dominant victory for the now 28-time Cup Series winner. But all anyone can talk about is how the race was won. Second-place Logano floored it into turn three on the penultimate lap, sending race leader William Byron into the wall and out of the way.
The move will be talked about for weeks to come, with some claiming Logano crossed the line and others saying he was just going for the win. Regardless, Byron was subjected to a 13th-place finish and Logano ended up in the victory lane.
With a race at Kansas Speedway on tap for this Sunday, who is the driver to beat in the Cup Series? Here’s our power rankings with 14 regular season races remaining:
1. Chase Elliott
Last week: 1
After a bad crash in practice on Saturday, Elliott had to start last and drive in a backup car with zero track time. While he never challenged for the win, he steadily worked his way through the field and ended up in fifth place. Elliott extended his standings lead to 65 points – over a full race ahead of second – and he has a series-best 9.3 average finish this season.
2. Ross Chastain
Last week: 2
Driving a beautiful Dale Earnhardt Jr. throwback paint scheme, Chastain was in the mix for his third win of the season at Darlington. He led 26 laps and won the second stage, but he lost control of his car and wrecked while fighting for the lead early in the final stage.
Chastain should still be confident when the series returns to Darlington for the playoff opener in September.
3. William Byron
Last week: 5
Byron has every right to be upset with the finish, which cost him a win and a handful of points. In his five-year career, the 24-year-old Byron has never been wrapped up in a controversy like this. He’s billed as a clean racer who usually stays out of trouble – so it’ll be interesting to see if, and when, he retaliates against Logano for costing him this win.
4. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 3
Darlington was a puzzling result for Blaney, who now sits third in the standings and remains the best winless driver this season. The car had good speed, but yet again the pit crew plagued the No. 12 team. Blaney didn’t score any stage points, picked up some damage in the big wreck on lap 262 and finished 17th. That’s not a recipe for success.
5. Joey Logano
Last week: 10
Logano won’t apologize for the way he won this race, and that’s something you have to appreciate. He’s an aggressive driver – sometimes overly aggressive, some say – but he’s always himself through good times and bad, which is admirable. It’s come back to bite him in the past (just ask Matt Kenseth), so we’ll see if there are any consequences for this move.
6. Alex Bowman
Last week: 4
Bowman’s career-best string of nine straight top-15 finishes ended at Darlington, where he didn’t finish the race and was scored 29th. He was off the pace behind his teammates for most of the race before he crashed in the final stage.
Bowman has been solid at Kansas in his career (five top-10s in his last nine starts), so he’ll be looking to start a new streak on Sunday.
7. Kyle Larson
Last week: 7
Bad luck continues to haunt the defending champion in 2022. Larson had a race-winning car at Darlington, leading 30 of the first 31 laps. He spun out while running inside the top-five at lap 56, then his engine expired and he completed only 112 of 293 laps. Larson now has five finishes of 29th or worse in 12 races this year; he had four such finishes in 36 races last year.
8. Kyle Busch
Last week: 6
Despite winning at Bristol just last month, frustration is boiling over for Busch. He was ruined by an untimely caution at Dover, then he was collected in Brad Keselowski’s crash while running well at Darlington. Then, Busch simply parked his car on pit road and walked away from the mess.
9. Christopher Bell
Last week: 9
With his sixth-place finish at Darlington, Bell has rattled off five top-10s in his last seven races. The youngest Joe Gibbs Racing driver is proving his worth, as he climbed to 10th in the points standings. Bell has two top-10s in four career starts at Kansas.
10. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: 8
The biggest wreck of the day came at Truex’s expense while he was running fifth. Nine drivers were involved.
Sitting seventh in the standings, Truex still needs a win this season. He has two in his career at Kansas, plus top-10 finishes in nine of his last 10 races there.
First four out: Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones