Ladies and gentlemen, we have another new race winner.
For the 11th time in 13 races this season, a different driver ended the day in victory lane. This time it was Kurt Busch, driving a Jordan Brand-sponsored Toyota for 23XI Racing, picking up his 34th career win. He passed his brother Kyle Busch and defending champion Kyle Larson in the final 25 laps to earn the win.
It was a dominant day for Toyota, as the manufacturer placed all six of its drivers in the top 10. Next week, the Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the annual All-Star Race. No points will be awarded in the exhibition race, but $1 million goes to the winner.
So, who is the driver to beat at the halfway point of the regular season? Here’s our power rankings with 13 races to go before the playoffs:
1. Chase Elliott
Last week: 1
Elliott’s remarkable string of good finishes finally came to a close at Kansas, as a blown tire cost him a likely top-10 run. He led 10 laps and collected 14 stage points before finishing 29th, ending a streak of 10 straight top-15s. Despite the rough day, Elliott still holds a comfortable 52-point lead in the standings.
2. Ross Chastain
Last week: 2
All season, Chastain has been the bold newcomer shaking up the series. But on Sunday, he had a quiet, steady seventh-place finish while gaining more valuable experience for Trackhouse Racing. This wasn’t the type of race that will “wow” anyone, but it was necessary after last week’s wreck at Darlington.
3. William Byron
Last week: 3
Following the heartbreaking finish at Darlington, Byron seemed determined to bounce back at Kansas. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as he cut a tire while leading during Stage 2. Byron lost two laps and was able to recover to finish on the lead lap in 16th. This team has the speed to win more races in the coming weeks.
4. Kyle Larson
Last week: 7
Larson hasn’t reached the level of his 2021 championship season yet, but is he on the cusp? Kansas was his third top-two finish of the season – and his first since March 6. He now has five top-six finishes in the last seven races. This is the part of the season last year where Larson rattled off six straight top-two finishes, so Kansas could be the start of another run.
5. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 4
Is it time to start worrying about Blaney? Well, he’s still second in the points standings, so not quite. But he’s in a funk, and being the highest-ranked winless driver is likely frustrating. Blaney hasn’t finished in the top-10 over the last four races. Kansas was a quiet 12th-place run where he faded in the final stage, while Team Penske’s Fords looked a step behind the Toyotas and Chevrolets.
6. Kyle Busch
Last week: 8
The younger Busch brother had to watch his brother win at Kansas while he settled for third. He was in the mix all race long, winning Stage 1 and collecting 19 stage points. Busch has climbed to third in the points standings behind Elliott and Blaney after scoring top-10 finishes in six of the last seven races.
7. Alex Bowman
Last week: 6
Consistent Bowman is back after a one-week hiatus. With a ninth-place result at Kansas, he now has top-15 finishes in 10 of the last 11 races. While Bowman hasn’t seriously challenged for wins as of late, he has the early season victory at Las Vegas in his back pocket.
8. Joey Logano
Last week: 5
Momentum did not carry over from Logano’s Darlington win, as he wrecked in practice and finished 17th in the race. That marks three of four races where Logano has finished 17th or worse, with the outlier of course being the victory. There’s reason to be concerned for Logano and Team Penske, but they have 13 races to figure it out before the playoffs.
9. Christopher Bell
Last week: 9
Here are Bell’s stats over the last three weeks: two top-fives, three top-10s, 40 laps led, 5.0 average finish, 7.0 average start and 20 stage points. He’s quietly been the series’ most consistent driver, rounding into form during his second season with Joe Gibbs Racing. Bell is 10th in the standings with a 48-point cushion on the playoff cutoff.
10. Kurt Busch
Last week: unranked
Busch wasn’t even on the power rankings radar before his Kansas win. He had finished 15th or worse in six of seven races, with five finishes of 25th or worse. Then, he led a race-high 116 laps and scored a convincing win to punch his playoff ticket. There’s no guarantee that he’ll stay here longer than this week, but the 43-year-old veteran deserved some love after that run with a sweet paint scheme.
First four out: Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon