Denny Hamlin is on a roll.
The 42-year-old driver recently signed a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. He was leading late and could’ve won the last two races at Darlington and Kansas. The team he owns, 23XI Racing, won at Kansas and both of its drivers (Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace) advanced to the Round of 12.
To put a cherry on top, Hamlin won the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol on Saturday.
It was Hamlin's third win at the famed Bristol Night Race and the 51st of his career. He now has the most wins ever by a driver without a championship, as a Cup title is the final thing missing from his large – and still growing – trophy case.
The Round of 12 gets underway this weekend, with the playoffs now cut from 16 drivers in pursuit of the Bill France Cup. Here’s our latest NASCAR power rankings heading into the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Sept. 24, 3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBCSports.com):
1. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 1
If it weren’t for a loose wheel at Darlington and a late caution at Kansas, Hamlin would have swept the Round of 16. The No. 11 team is locked in right now, looking like the clear championship favorite. If any round could present some trouble, though, it’s probably this one. Talladega is a wild card track and the Charlotte Roval hasn’t been kind to Hamlin.
2. Kyle Larson
Last week: 2
Starting dead last didn’t hurt Larson at Bristol. He moved to eighth after Stage 1, third after Stage 2 and finished second, just over two seconds behind Hamlin after leading 20 laps. Larson had two worry-free weeks after winning at Darlington, but he’s back under pressure starting at Texas, where he enters 12 points above the cut line.
3. Chris Buescher
Last week: 4
Buescher followed up his 2022 Bristol win with a solid fourth-place run on Saturday. In the midst of a career year, the No. 17 team looks like a legitimate threat to win at any track type. But Buescher’s home track of Texas has been a struggle throughout his Cup career (no top-10s, average finish of 23.3 in 13 starts).
4. William Byron
Last week: 3
The Round of 16 went exactly like Byron needed it to. As the No. 1 seed, he didn’t need to do anything spectacular to advance – he just needed clean finishes. That’s exactly what the 25-year-old driver did, with runs of fourth, 15th and then ninth at Bristol. Similar finishes in the Round of 12 will likely be enough for him to advance, too, as he enters with a 25-point cushion.
5. Tyler Reddick
Last week: 5
Bristol was Reddick’s worst race in the Round of 16, finishing 15th in a quiet run. He was fifth in Stage 1, but faded and then played the wingman role behind his teammate Wallace. He’s the defending winner at Texas, and a repeat performance would give 23XI Racing and Reddick their first Round of 8 appearance.
6. Brad Keselowski
Last week: 7
Keselowski easily advanced to the Round of 12 with his eighth-place finish at Bristol. The RFK Racing driver and owner has posted four straight top-10 runs, and he hasn’t finished outside the top-10 at an oval track since Nashville in June (eight races).
7. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: 9
Somehow, Truex overcame a seven-point deficit and advanced despite finishing 19th. He capitalized on the misfortune of others, staying out of trouble and getting all he could at one of his worst tracks. And now, with the points reset, Truex is tied for the lead with Byron. He truly avoided disaster, as no regular season champion has ever been eliminated in the first round.
8. Christopher Bell
Last week: first four out
Bell had perhaps the strangest Round of 16 of any driver. He qualified on the pole for all three races. He had pit road miscues in every race despite being granted the series’ fastest crew before the playoffs in a swap with his teammate. He led at least 15 laps in every race, including 187 in his third-place Bristol run. But because of in-race errors, advancing was no easy task. The No. 20 team and driver have to clean things up if they hope to go any farther.
9. Kyle Busch
Last week: 7
Is any driver showing less confidence right now than Busch? The two-time champion finished 20th at Bristol, where he’s an eight-time winner. He hasn’t scored a top-five in his last seven starts and he’s led a total of seven laps in his last 12 starts. Busch is just eight points above the cut line as he looks to give Richard Childress Racing its first Round of 8 appearance since 2014 (Ryan Newman).
10. Joey Logano
Last week: 6
Logano’s reign as champion will officially end after he was bounced in the Round of 16. He wrecked out at Bristol and finished 34th, ending up four points behind Wallace. Even before the wreck, though, Logano was in serious danger. The No. 22 Ford just hasn’t been fast enough this year, as Logano has led just 260 laps (his lowest total since 2012, though he has seven races to add to that still).
First four out: Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace