After three races with NASCAR’s new Next Gen car, all signs continue to point up.
Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway provided more of what we saw last week at Auto Club Speedway: ample passing, cars that were hard to drive and an exciting finish. There were 23 lead changes with seven drivers leading at least 10 laps. In the end, Alex Bowman edged teammate Kyle Larson on an overtime restart for his first victory of the season.
Once again, drivers, team owners and fans have to be optimistic by the early returns of the Next Gen car, which is the sport’s first new vehicle since 2013. At three wildly different tracks to begin the season, the car has delivered three strong races.
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Who is the driver to beat after three weeks? Here’s our power rankings with 23 regular season races still remaining:
1. Kyle Larson
Last week: 2; 2022 average finish: 11.7
The 2021 champion followed up his Fontana win with a second-place effort at Vegas. He restarted in the lead for overtime but was unable to fend off Bowman, getting loose exiting turn four on the final lap. Still, Larson clearly isn’t experiencing a championship hangover as he now leads the overall points standings.
2. Kyle Busch
Last week: 5; 2022 average finish: 8.0
If it wasn’t for the final caution, Busch would’ve won at his home track – in a backup car after crashing in practice and spinning early in the race. He led 49 laps and finished fourth, but his final four-tire pit stop proved to be the wrong decision after Larson and Bowman took two. Busch is now up to fifth in the standings.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: not ranked; 2022 average finish: 11.3
Quiet and consistent have been the best ways to describe Truex this season after finishes of 13th (Daytona), 13th (Fontana) and eighth (Vegas). He was hounding Busch for the win in the closing laps before the final caution, and overtime just didn’t go his way. MTJ is second in points behind Larson as the series heads to Phoenix, where he won last March.
4. Alex Bowman
Last week: not ranked; 2022 average finish: 16.7
Busch claimed after the race that Bowman “backs into every win,” but backing into wins is becoming a skill at this point. He now has five wins in his last 31 starts dating back to last year, all while leading 16 laps or fewer in four of those five victories. Being a good closer is part of the game, and Bowman always seems to find himself in position to steal wins.
5. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 3; 2022 average finish: 19.3
Another week, another “what if” for the No. 12 team. After the pit crew disappointed last week, it was unforeseen circumstances that ruined his day in Vegas. Brad Keselowski, Blaney’s former teammate, spun and Blaney just had nowhere to go. He had a top-10 car in the early stages, leading 10 laps, but the wreck forced him to retire after 104 laps with a 36th-place finish.
6. Joey Logano
Last week: 4; 2022 average finish: 13.3
It was an uneventful day for Logano at a track where he was expected to come for a win. The Team Penske driver was solid all day, though he never challenged for a top-five. In the end, he finished 14th and collected four stage points. Logano certainly has higher expectations for himself, but he is a solid third in the standings entering Phoenix.
7. Aric Almirola
Last week 6; 2022 average finish: 5.7
Almirola’s retirement tour season continues to go swimmingly. He finished sixth for the second straight week after running fifth at Daytona, making him the only driver with a top-10 in all three 2022 events. Almirola hasn’t really challenged for any victories, but he has been the sport’s most consistent finisher so far.
8. Chase Elliott
Last week: 9; 2022 average finish: 15.0
The No. 9 team needed a day like it had on Sunday, with Elliott finishing ninth and grabbing 15 stage points. Even though he didn’t have the same speed as his three teammates – who finished first, second and fifth – Elliott was able to capitalize on points and keep the car clean all weekend. He’s seventh in points entering Phoenix, where he won in 2020.
9. Tyler Reddick
Last week: 10; 2022 average finish: 22.0
After leading the most laps before cutting a tire at Fontana, Reddick put together a solid race in Vegas. He finished seventh and jumped up three spots in the standings to 18th. The third-year Richard Childress Racing driver is still searching for that elusive first victory, but it seems like that’s coming at some point this season.
10. Ross Chastain
Last week: not ranked; 2022 average finish: 24.0
Chastain surprised the field by leading a race-high 83 laps and finishing third. He led 75 total laps in his first 117 career starts before Sunday’s race. Chastain jumped a whopping 15 positions in the points standings to 20th, just a few spots outside of the playoffs with plenty of racing still to come.
Just out: Austin Cindric, Denny Hamlin, William Byron