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NASCAR Power Rankings: Kyle Larson launches back to the top

The results from the Next Gen car’s debut at Auto Club Speedway have shaken up the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Some names from the season-opening Daytona 500 stuck around, but many new challengers vaulted into this week’s list, including race winner Kyle Larson.

Plenty of drivers turned in eye-catching performances, but there’s only room for 10 on this list. Here’s our selection.

NASCAR Power Rankings after Auto Club

1. Kyle Larson (Last week: Unranked) -- The defending Cup Series champion returns to his throne after winning for the fifth time in the last seven points races. The No. 5 team wasn’t the most dominant, but Larson outdrove his competition through multiple late restarts to grab his second win at Auto Club and 17th career victory.

2. Tyler Reddick (Last week: Unranked) -- Sunday was a day of what-could-have-beens for Reddick, the third-year driver for Richard Childress Racing in search of his first Cup win. Reddick dominated the race by leading a race-high (and career-high) 90 laps and was surely the driver to beat. That was until a flat left rear tire and subsequent contact from William Byron at Lap 152 derailed his day, relegating him to a 24th-place finish. Hard to believe that’s the last we’ve seen of Reddick near the front of the field in 2022.

3. Austin Cindric (Last week: No. 1) -- Finally, a name that was on last week’s Daytona 500 Power Rankings. Cindric remains the series points leader after two races and the first rookie atop those standings since Jimmie Johnson in 2002. The Team Penske driver impressed the field with a pole run Saturday and brought home a 12th-place finish Sunday.

4. Ryan Blaney (Last week: No. 4) -- If it felt like Blaney was charging through the field back into the top 10 on every restart, that’s because he was. Blaney’s No. 12 car appeared to be a top-five car all race, but pit road was a disaster for the team all day, forcing Blaney to play catch-up instead. Losing that track position (coupled with a sliding save off Turn 2 on the final lap) cost him a good finish, but the car certainly had speed.

5. Aric Almirola (Last week: No. 8) -- Almirola had a fairly quiet Sunday but leaves Fontana as the only Cup driver with top 10s in both races this season (fifth at Daytona, sixth at Auto Club). Almirola slid sideways both Saturday and Sunday and even had to pit an extra time Sunday after flat spotting his tires. The No. 10 Ford rebounded for another strong finish, starting Almirola’s retirement tour in good fashion.

6. Erik Jones (Last week: Unranked) -- Jones was remarkable all weekend, starting with his qualifying effort that placed him second on the grid. With new crew chief Dave Elenz atop the pit box, Jones was statistically a top-five car all day, notching a fourth-place average running position and never crossing the start/finish line lower than 12th. The No. 43 Chevrolet spent 18 laps out front, was a legitimate factor for the win and sits sixth in points. Strong start to the Petty GMS Motorsports era.

7. Chase Briscoe (Last week: No. 7) -- There has been no sophomore slump yet for Briscoe, who was on track for a much better finish at Auto Club than 16th before late contact and an extra trip down pit road. The Indiana native sits fifth in points through two races, thanks in large part to a third-place finish in the Daytona 500. Briscoe spent 20 laps in the lead Sunday, the most laps led in his career. After being in position to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last season, perhaps we should expect the No. 14 Ford to contend regularly this season.

8. Joey Logano (Last week: Unranked) -- Logano has snuck his way to second in points with finishes of 21st at Daytona and fifth at Auto Club. His secret? Stage points. Through four stages, Logano has already accumulated 27 stage points, earning at least four points in every stage this season. The 2018 Cup champion was also in the mix for the win Sunday. Heading into Las Vegas, that’s very likely to be the case again this weekend.

9. Kyle Busch (Last week: No. 5) -- The theme of Busch’s season so far has been recovery. In each of this year’s opening races, Busch has spun early and had to overcome significant setbacks. That was exemplified at Auto Club after three early issues (a spin, overheating and a flat tire) left him four laps down. Somehow, the No. 18 team rallied for a 14th-place, lead-lap finish and now sits 11th in points.

10. Chase Elliott (Last week: Unranked) -- On paper, it was a miserable day for Elliott, who spun twice and finished 26th. The first time he spun came shortly after contacting the wall by himself as the race leader. The second time, of course, came after getting walled by Larson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, in a three-wide battle for the lead with 21 laps to go. That battle for the lead came after Elliott rebounded from a two-lap deficit through, which is why Elliott makes the top 10 this week.

Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (Last week: No. 2), Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: No. 3), Bubba Wallace (Last week: No. 6), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Last week: No. 9), Michael McDowell (Last week: No. 10)