For the fifth straight week to begin the 2022 NASCAR season, a different driver finished the day in victory lane.
Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the track, with the new repave and reconfiguration turning the traditional 1.5-mile track into a miniature superspeedway. There was a track record 46 lead changes among 20 drivers. In the end, William Byron scored his first victory of the season after leading a career-high 111 laps.
After five races with the brand new Next Gen car, drivers now have data from five completely different tracks. Teams are starting to become more comfortable with the new vehicle, but there’s another big unknown next week as the series heads to its first road course of the season at Circuit of the Americas.
So, who is the driver to beat after five races? Here’s our power rankings with 21 regular season races still remaining:
1. Ross Chastain
2022 average finish: 15.2
No one has been more impressive than Chastain this season. He entered 2022 with a new team for Trackhouse Racing and just three career top-fives in 115 starts. After placing 40th and 29th to begin the season, the 29-year-old has rattled off three straight podium finishes – finishing second twice and third once. He’s led 35 or more laps in each of the last three races, and his first career win is likely coming in the near future.
2. Chase Elliott
2022 average finish: 12.4
It hasn’t been a perfect start to the season, but Elliott is leading the points standings after five weeks and has four finishes of 11th or better. The 2020 champion was in contention to win at Auto Club, Phoenix and Atlanta before ultimately falling short. With seven of his 13 career wins on road courses, he’ll be thrilled to see Circuit of the Americas on the schedule for next week. All three of his teammates have already won races this season, and Elliott could clinch Hendrick Motorsports another playoff spot with a win at COTA.
3. William Byron
2022 average finish: 19.2
It was an ugly start to the season for Byron with finishes of 38th and 34th at Daytona and Auto Club, but he’s since recovered to become a consistent threat to win. His first victory of the season in Atlanta came in dominant fashion, and the 24-year-old is now up to fourth in the points standings. With one victory now in three straight seasons, Byron’s next step in his development is putting together a multi-win campaign.
4. Joey Logano
2022 average finish: 11.4
Logano lost his points lead, dropping to second behind Elliott, but Atlanta was still a solid result for the Team Penske driver. He finished ninth, led 12 laps and, most importantly, kept the No. 22 car out of harm's way. Logano now has three top-10 finishes this season. While the race-winning speed hasn’t quite been there yet, Logano is rattling off consistent finishes to keep himself near the top of the standings.
5. Chase Briscoe
2022 average finish: 14.0
Following up his first career win, Briscoe had a solid day in Atlanta, finishing 15th after some early troubles while running up front. For the third time in the last four races, Briscoe led at least five laps – something he accomplished in just two of 36 races as a rookie. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is now up to third in the standings. It’s safe to say Briscoe isn’t experiencing the dreaded sophomore slump. Instead, he’s on a sophomore surge.
6. Ryan Blaney
2022 average finish: 15.8
Blaney ran up front all day Sunday, leading 15 laps and putting himself in position in the final laps. After taking the white flag in fifth place, he got into the wall on the last lap and finished 17th. He’s been more of a threat to win than his teammate Logano, but the finishes just haven’t been as consistent. Blaney has led laps in all five races this season, but has finished outside the top-15 three times. If his speed holds, luck will come around and the No. 12 will be in victory lane before long.
7. Kyle Larson
2022 average finish: 19.8
Larson’s title defense hasn’t started off the way many expected it to. He has a win and a second-place finish, but his three other races were DNFs where he finished outside the top-30. Consistent dominance defined his championship-winning 2021 season, finishing worse than 30th just twice in 36 races. Luckily for Larson, he already has a win and he’s headed to a road course – a track type where he won three times last year.
8. Kurt Busch
2022 average finish: 9.6
In his new ride for Michael Jordan at 23XI Racing, the veteran Busch has been finishing far better than he’s been running. He has two top-fives and three top-10s so far, including third in Atlanta. Busch has yet to finish worse than 19th this season, limiting the damage even when the car doesn’t have as much speed. Now up to fifth in points, Busch is displaying the skill we’re used to seeing since he debuted back in 2000.
9. Kyle Busch
2022 average finish: 12.8
After running second in practice on Saturday, the younger Busch brother appeared poised for a strong race. Instead, he was collected in a wreck where he pushed Austin Dillon a little too hard. Busch came home 33rd, his first finish outside the top-15 this season. He’ll be happy to see a road course after posting four top-fives in seven starts at that track type in 2021.
10. Alex Bowman
2022 average finish: 14.8
Bowman got caught up in the big wreck on Sunday and still finished 10th. Since winning at Las Vegas three weeks ago, he has two top-15s. It’s not flashy, but it’s the type of consistency he has to find to compete with his Hendrick teammates. While the wins have been there for Bowman over the last two years, he’s lacked solid runs. Perhaps he’s starting to put that together.
First four out: Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola