NASCAR Power Rankings: Elliott back on top after Talladega win originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
It took five weeks, but a championship-eligible driver has finally won a playoff race.
Fittingly, it was No. 1-seed Chase Elliott visiting victory lane after his last-lap pass of Ryan Blaney on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. The win automatically sends Elliott into the Round of 8 - and he'll enter the penultimate round with a commanding championship lead after his series-leading fifth win of 2022.
There's just one race left in the Round of 12, with four drivers set to be eliminated after this Sunday's race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course (2 p.m. ET on NBC). Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman stand below the cut line entering the weekend.
So, who's the driver to beat with the playoffs halfway over? Here's our latest power rankings:
1. Chase Elliott
Last week: 3
What a difference one week can make. Elliott entered the Round of 12 with a comfortable points lead before giving it all away due to a crash at Texas. Now, he's the only driver locked into the Round of 8 after his second Talladega win. Most importantly, Elliott has 46 playoff points to carry into the next round - 21 more than the next-closest driver. And he could add to that total at the Charlotte Roval, where he's won two of the last three years.
2. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 1
Five playoff races, five top-10s for Hamlin after finishing fifth at Talladega. Hamlin is running better than he has all season - he had just seven top-10s in the first 26 races before going 5-for-5 in the playoffs so far. Charlotte could be a struggle, though, as Hamlin has no top-10s in the first five road course races of 2022.
3. Kyle Larson
Last week: 2
Larson ran better than he finished at Talladega, crossing the line 18th after scoring 11 stage points. He sits 18 points above the cut line, which should be plenty of cushion to advance to the Round of 8 barring a disaster at Charlotte. Larson won at the Roval last year and the latest road race at Watkins Glen in August, so he should be confident going in.
4. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 7
It was another near-miss for Blaney at Talladega, as Elliott rocketed by him in the final straightaway to steal the win. He's still winless in 2022, but he's 32 points above the cut line and should easily advance to the Round of 8. It feels like Blaney has to win a race at some point if he wants to win the championship.
5. Joey Logano
Last week: 4
After being involved in an early accident with minimal damage, Logano opted to play it safe at Talladega. He waited in the back, expecting another big crash out front, but it never came. In the end, he was trapped with a 27th-place finish. He's 18 points above the cut line entering Charlotte.
6. Ross Chastain
Last week: 8
Chastain followed up his Talladega win earlier this year with a strong fourth-place run, leading a race-high 36 laps. Even after making a handful of enemies with his aggressive moves this season, Chastain is in a great spot to advance to the Round of 8 with a 28-point cushion.
7. William Byron
Last week: 6
If it weren't for a 25-point penalty for spinning Hamlin under caution at Texas, Byron would've probably been content with his 12th-place finish at Talladega. Instead it was a huge missed opportunity as he sits 11 points below the cut line, in great danger of being eliminated.
8. Christopher Bell
Last week: 5
Bell's fantastic first round is a distant memory now after two disaster results to begin the Round of 12. He finished 17th at Talladega after a spin entering pit road and a speeding penalty. Now 33 points below the cut line, Bell needs to win at Charlotte if he wants to keep his title hopes alive.
9. Tyler Reddick
Last week: 9
Reddick was in position to win Stage 2 at Talladega before running out of fuel. He never really recovered after that, finishing one lap down in 28th. The No. 8 team should be excited for Charlotte, though, after winning two of the first five road races this season.
10. Daniel Suarez
Last week: first four out
Suarez is quietly working his way through the playoffs after finishing eighth at Talladega. His results haven't been spectacular (average finish of 13.4 in five races), but the No. 99 team has avoided mistakes - which most others haven't been able to do. Suarez is 12 points above the cut line, plus he has one win and three top-10s on road courses this season.
First four out: Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Erik Jones, Michael McDowell