NASCAR Power Rankings: Logano to the top after Jones’ victory

Joey Logano speeds around turn four during the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
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The 2022 NASCAR playoffs began with a shocking winner.

Erik Jones, who didn’t qualify for the postseason, took the victory at Darlington’s Southern 500 on Sunday after multiple playoff drivers had huge issues. It was Jones’ second Southern 500 win (2019), and the 200th overall victory for Richard Petty’s famed No. 43 car (first since 2014).

Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe and Kevin Harvick were among the playoff contenders who went through various troubles. Now, all those drivers can’t afford a mistake in the next two races at Kansas and Bristol if they hope to advance to the Round of 12.

So, who’s the driver to beat after a wild playoff opener? Here’s our latest power rankings:

1. Joey Logano

Last week: 2

Logano led 64 of the first 65 laps on Sunday, as he appeared poised to repeat his Darlington victory from earlier this season. But once his car was back in traffic, he struggled to get back to the front. He ended up finishing fourth – his sixth straight top-12 finish – which was good enough to take over the points lead.

2. Chase Elliott

Last week: 1

Darlington was a disaster for Elliott, who previously led the points standings since March. He qualified poorly, then spun out completely on his own and finished dead last in 36th. The silver lining is that he’s still 14 points above the cut line. Elliott has crashed in four of the last five playoff openers but has never been eliminated in the Round of 16, so this isn’t uncharted territory.


3. Denny Hamlin

Last week: 5

A fifth Southern 500 trophy was dangling in front of Hamlin’s eyes in the closing laps, but he just didn’t have enough to catch Jones. Running second after all the troubles from other playoff drivers isn’t a bad consolation prize, though. Hamlin is 30 points above the cut line and he’s a three-time Kansas winner.

4. Kyle Larson

Last week: 4

Engine issues almost ended Larson’s race, but his team solved the problem and he salvaged a 12th-place finish. At one point he was three laps down, so this has to almost feel like a victory for the No. 5 team. Larson won at Kansas last year and finished second in the spring race, so he should be a contender this weekend.

5. Christopher Bell

Last week: 6

Bell’s name was barely mentioned on the race broadcast at Darlington, and that was actually a good thing. He stayed out of trouble while others seemed to find it, finishing fifth to gain valuable points. Bell has a 28-point lead on the cut line and he was fifth at Kansas in the spring.

6. Kevin Harvick

Last week: 3

The latest victim to the growing pains of the new Next Gen car, Harvick had a good run spoiled when his car went up in flames. He was obviously frustrated, though luckily he escaped the car safely. The 2014 champion has work to do if he hopes to earn a second title, as he’s now 13 points below the cut line – worst among all 16 playoff drivers.

7. Tyler Reddick

Last week: 8

Due to the misfortunes of others, Reddick found himself in position to steal a win on the final restart. He ended up settling for third, but that put him a comfortable 23 points above the cut line. Reddick was eliminated in the Round of 16 in his playoff debut last year, so he has a real chance to improve on that in 2022.

8. Ryan Blaney

Last week: 7

If it weren’t for a loose wheel on his final pit stop, Blaney likely would’ve scored a top 10 finish. Instead, he crossed the line in 13th, which was eighth best among playoff drivers. Blaney is the only winless competitor in the postseason, but he appears well-positioned to move on to the Round of 12 with a 20-point cushion after Darlington.

9. Kyle Busch

Last week: 10

Busch led after the final pit stops and he didn’t even get to take the green flag, as his engine shockingly blew under caution. So, he finished 30th-place after leading a race-high 155 laps. Bad luck like this has haunted the No. 18 all season and he has just an eight-point lead on the cut line. The good news is that his car clearly has the speed to win races.


10. Ross Chastain

Last week: 9

It’s now been seven straight races without a top 15 for Chastain after his 20th-place run at Darlington. He looked quick enough to compete for the win until his left rear drive pins came loose. Rallying to finish 20th was encouraging, but he’s just 15 points above the cut line and has struggled mightily over the summer months.

First four out: William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Alex Bowman