As the 2022 NASCAR season inches closer to the postseason, the list of 16 playoff participants is only becoming fuzzier.
Christopher Bell became the latest driver to punch his playoff ticket, winning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday after entering the race on the bubble. He now has two career victories and became the 14th different driver to win a race in 2022.
Looking ahead, the Cup Series will visit Pocono Raceway this weekend for a race around the only track with just three turns. The “Tricky Triangle” has hosted two races per year since 1981, but Sunday marks the only race there this season.
So, who is the driver to beat after 20 races? Here’s our power rankings with six races to go before the playoffs:
1. Chase Elliott
Last week: 1
Elliott was beating himself up after finishing second at New Hampshire, which is historically one of his worst tracks. That just shows you how locked in this team is, with four straight top-two results and a commanding regular-season points lead. Two upcoming road course races at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen should only increase his stranglehold on the field.
2. Ross Chastain
Last week: 2
New Hampshire was the worst that the No. 1 team has looked in a while, and Chastain still finished eighth. He now has six straight top-10s and climbed to second in the points standings behind Elliott. Chastain still leads all drivers with 10 top-five finishes in 2022.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: 5
Sunday was shaping up to be Truex’s breakthrough win … until it wasn’t. He dominated the first two stages and led 172 of 301 laps before a late two-tire call didn’t agree with his car. Truex still finished fourth, but he’s now on the playoff bubble after Bell’s win. Luckily for MTJ, he has two wins at Pocono and Sunday could be another victory opportunity.
4. Kyle Larson
Last week: 4
Larson’s odd season continued on Sunday, as he finished one lap down in 14th despite running in the top-10 for most of the race. He has eight straight top-15 finishes, but that isn’t as encouraging when your teammate is rattling off top-two finishes. Crew chief Cliff Daniels will return from his suspension at Pocono and could provide a big boost.
5. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 3
With every new winner, Blaney’s anxiety level should be rising. There are now just two playoff spots available for winless drivers, and the No. 12 looks far from victory lane right now. He entered New Hampshire as the betting favorite and struggled to finish 18th after spinning. Pocono was the site of Blaney’s first career win in 2017, and now he’ll look to recapture that magic.
6. Kevin Harvick
Last week: 7
Even with another great run, Harvick continues to drop further away from playoff contention. He was fifth at New Hampshire, marking his 10th top-15 finish in the last 11 races. But thanks to Bell, Harvick is now 68 points below the cut line and is essentially in must-win territory. Riding a 63-race winless streak, the odds are stacked against the 2014 champion.
7. Kyle Busch
Last week: 6
It’s been a summer to forget for Busch, as his 12th-place run on Sunday was his best finish since June 5 at Gateway. He’s now gone five straight races without a top-10, his longest streak since 2011-12. Busch won at Pocono last year and has four victories in his last nine starts there.
8. Christopher Bell
Last week: first four out
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is Bell’s personal playground. He’s finished 28th, second and first there in three Cup starts. In three Xfinity Series starts, he’s undefeated with three victories. Bell could dominate this track for years to come. Unfortunately for him, NHMS only hosts one race per season.
9. Joey Logano
Last week: 8
In what has become the norm, Logano only got to the front of the field on Sunday through pit strategy. He led 25 laps and tried to catch a timely caution that ultimately never came, which subjected Logano to a 24th-place finish.
10. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 10
A quiet sixth-place finish was much-needed, though it’s just the fifth top-10 of Hamlin’s season. His two wins will carry him into the playoffs, but the No. 11 team needs solid runs like this to show it can complete into the later rounds.
First four out: William Byron, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick