For the second straight week, the NASCAR Cup Series race was shortened due to Mother Nature. But on Sunday, yet, again, thrilling racing overshadowed the unfortunate weather circumstances.
Drivers had a heightened sense of urgency from the jump at Atlanta Motor Speedway as the threat of rain loomed. When the skies finally opened just after Stage 2 finished, William Byron was leading the field. The race was called moments later and the 25-year-old driver was credited with his series-best fourth win of 2023.
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The regular season is starting to wind down, with just seven races remaining before the playoffs begin. NASCAR heads north this weekend for its annual visit to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Who’s the driver to beat as the Cup Series rolls into New England? Here’s our latest NASCAR power rankings before the upcoming race (Sunday, July 16, 2:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, streaming on NBC.com):
1. William Byron
Last week: 4
Pit road penalty on lap 63. Spun out on lap 80. Took the lead on lap 167. Won the race on lap 185. Byron had an eventful evening to say the least, but winning in this fashion is exactly what the No. 24 team has done all year. He entered 2023 with four wins in his first 180 career starts, and he’s now up to four wins in 19 races this season alone.
2. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 1
After spinning through the grass on lap 155, Hamlin recovered to finish 14th. It’s not the finish Hamlin expects at a drafting track, where he’s typically among the series’ best drivers. New Hampshire is another strong track for Hamlin, though – he has a 9.5 average finish in 29 starts with 11 straight top-15 runs dating back to 2015.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: 2
Truex finished one lap down in 29th at Atlanta, losing the points lead to Byron after holding it for three straight weeks. Like his teammate Hamlin, Truex has thrived at New Hampshire in recent years. He’s scored eight straight top-12 finishes at the track and led 916 laps in 29 starts.
4. Kyle Busch
Last week: 6
The most consistent driver and team in the garage right now? That would be Busch and the No. 8 crew. He finished fifth at Atlanta, giving him seven straight top-10 finishes. It’s been over two months since Busch was outside the top-10 and now he’s heading to a track where he has three career wins.
5. Kyle Larson
Last week: 3
Larson’s top-10 streak was snapped at four when he crashed out early on Sunday. He finished second in Stage 1 before being involved in an accident on lap 92. Then, his tire literally exploded and he was forced to retire from the race. Larson now has seven finishes of 29th or worse this season.
6. Ross Chastain
Last week: 5
Aside from his win at Nashville two weeks ago, Chastain has been in a slump. He crashed out to finish 35th at Atlanta, giving him five finishes outside the top-20 in his last seven races. The win, of course, ensures that he’ll be in the playoffs. But the No. 1 team still feels like it’s missing something right now.
7. Christopher Bell
Last week: 7
Atlanta was another race to forget for Bell, who finished 23rd after starting in the back. All eyes are on New Hampshire, a track where Bell won last year, finished second in 2021 and won all three of his Xfinity Series starts from 2018 to 2021. If there’s a place for Bell to get his second win of the season, here it is.
8. Joey Logano
Last week: 8
Logano was unable to sweep Atlanta, finishing 17th on Sunday after winning there in March. He led 11 laps and scored seven stage points, but faded in Stage 2 and wasn’t in a great position when the rain hit. The Connecticut native will visit his home track this weekend looking for his third career win at the Magic Mile.
9. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 10
If weather wasn’t a factor on Sunday, Blaney would’ve been the man to beat. He started second, won the opening stage and finished second in Stage 2, but had to pit just before the rain and settled for a ninth-place result. That finish snapped a streak of three straight outside the top-30.
10. Chase Elliott
Last week: 9
Elliott stayed out of trouble in his home race at Atlanta, but that only netted him a 13th-place finish. He now has 10 top-15s in 12 starts this season, but time is running out if Elliott wants to make the playoffs. After missing seven races due to injury and suspension, Elliott essentially needs to win a race in the next seven weeks because he’s now 60 points below the cut line.
First four out: Chris Buescher, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick