It took 19 races, but there’s finally a three-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Chase Elliott was the driver to break through, and he did it at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway. On the newly-repaved AMS surface, the Georgia native blocked underdog Corey LaJoie on the final lap and triggered a massive wreck to score the win.
Looking ahead, the Cup Series will head north to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for its annual trip to New England. Aric Almirola is the defending race winner, as he’ll look to repeat and get back to the playoffs with a victory.
So, who is the driver to beat after 19 races? Here’s our power rankings with seven races to go before the playoffs:
1. Chase Elliott
Last week: 1
No driver is running better than Elliott right now. His last three runs include two wins and a second-place finish, and he led the most laps in two of those races. The 26-year-old Georgian leads all drivers in wins (3), laps led (645), average finish (10.8) and playoff points earned (20). It’s safe to say a championship favorite is emerging as Elliott closes in on the regular season title.
2. Ross Chastain
Last week: 2
In terms of consistency, Chastain is the only driver challenging Elliott. He’s scored three straight top-fives and five straight top-10s after finishing second in Atlanta. The only worry with Chastain is his growing list of enemies. He had a few more run-ins on Sunday and nobody is going to cut him any slack – especially if he’s fighting for a championship in a few months.
3. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 4
Blaney continues to rattle off good runs while searching for his first win. He settled for fifth in Atlanta, but he has to be relieved that there wasn’t another new winner. With just three playoff spots available for winless drivers right now, Blaney is precariously holding on. It feels like he could win at any time, but he’s going to be sweating until it happens.
4. Kyle Larson
Last week: 3
Damage from an early wreck eliminated Larson’s chance at winning, but he salvaged a 13th-place finish because so many others crashed out. The defending champion now has seven straight top-15 finishes despite having not won a race since February. Larson has three second-place finishes but no victories in his 11 career starts at New Hampshire.
5. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: 6
Restarting on the front row with three laps to go usually results in a better finish than 11th, but that’s where Truex ended up Sunday. Elliott snuck underneath him and Truex got shuffled back. Like Blaney, MTJ was likely relieved that there wasn’t a new winner. Next week could finally be Truex’s moment, as he’s traditionally quick at New Hampshire.
6. Kyle Busch
Last week: 5
The good news: Busch’s finish at Atlanta was his best in his last four races. The bad news: he finished 20th, which shows the slump that the two-time champion is in. Busch was caught up in multiple incidents at Atlanta, and he’ll be happy to head to New England, where he has three wins and over 1,000 laps led.
7. Kevin Harvick
Last week: 8
The 46-year-old veteran remains one of the most consistent drivers in the field, with top-15 finishes in nine of his last 10 starts. It could be all for naught, as he’s 19 points behind Christopher Bell for the final playoff spot. Harvick has to be hunting for wins, and he has a record four in his career at New Hampshire.
8. Joey Logano
Last week: 7
Here’s Logano’s last 10 races: two wins, three top-10s and seven finishes outside the top-15. The wins will give the impression that he’s a championship contender, but this team just doesn’t have the race-by-race consistency. The Connecticut native has two wins at his home track, so maybe Sunday will be the start of something good.
9. William Byron
Last week: first four out
I moved Byron back into the top-10 even though he finished 30th in Atlanta. Why? Well, he led 41 laps and scored nine stage points before getting caught up in a crash. Much like Logano, Byron has two wins and a lot of poor finishes. It feels right that they’re grouped together.
10. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 10
Speaking of two wins and a lot of poor finishes, let’s go to Hamlin. He was 25th on Sunday after another incident with Chastain. Sitting 19th in the points standings, it’s all about grabbing playoff points from here on out. Like all Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, New Hampshire is one of Hamlin’s best tracks.
First four out: Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Austin Cindric