NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron makes a leap after second straight win

With the early portion of the season through the West Coast swing, drivers and teams now have an idea of where they sit for superspeedways, intermediate tracks and a flat short track.

They’ll learn about road courses in a couple of weeks as they head to Circuit of the Americas after this week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on FOX), a 1.5-mile course but banked enough as part of a reconfiguration for 2022 that makes it race like a superspeedway.

There still hasn’t been a dominant driver as far as leading laps — and winning. A driver really needs to do both to truly be considered dominant.

Here is a look at how I would rank NASCAR Cup Series drivers at the moment:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week: 3) 

Harvick could have won at Phoenix if not for a late caution. He has earned stage points in six of the eight stages this year. And in the last three races, he has improved his finish from the first stage to the second stage. That shows he is improving his car during a race, which could be pivotal in upcoming races.

2. Ross Chastain (LW: 1) 

Chastain was running fifth-to-10th for much of the Phoenix race before tangling with Denny Hamlin in overtime, with Hamlin finishing 23rd and Chastain 24th. That kind of day doesn’t keep the driver in the No. 1 spot. Chastain and Hamlin had a long conversation after the race, but it didn’t appear heated.

3. William Byron (LW: 8

Back-to-back victories have vaulted Byron up the rankings. You could easily make the argument he should hold the top spot thanks to winning five of the last seven stages (when considering the final stage of each race, too). But he did need an overtime finish to win both of the last two races. The next two races (Atlanta and COTA) will be key to truly seeing whether Byron is poised for a breakout year.

4. Kyle Larson (LW: 6) 

Larson probably feels he could have had two wins — or even three, considering he was one of the fastest cars on the track after the throttle issue at Fontana. He has led laps in three of the first four races, and yet he is fifth in the standings following Phoenix. 

5. Kyle Busch (LW: 2

What has happened since Fontana? Racing happened. It is not rare for teams to have good weekends and bad weekends. But Busch does have a reason to feel good about an eighth-place finish at Phoenix — his teammate, Austin, Dillon, was lapped early in the race and had to fight just to finish 16th. So Busch likely was making the most out of his car at Phoenix.

6. Alex Bowman (LW: 5) 

Bowman finished ninth at Phoenix and moves up to the top spot in the standings, but he drops in power rankings? Yes. He wasn’t in the top 10 in either stage at Phoenix and was among those fortunate there in overtime. 

7. Denny Hamlin (LW: 7) 

Hamlin had a solid top-10 finish soured after the Chastain tangle in overtime at Phoenix. Hamlin has seemed to be the most consistent of the Toyota drivers with stage points in each stage of the last three races. And yet, only one top-10 finish.

8. Ryan Blaney (LW: NR) 

Blaney came up one spot short at Phoenix after running in the top 10 for most of the race at Phoenix. It was his first top-five finish of the year and his second top-10. He was clearly the best Penske car at Phoenix.

9. Christopher Bell (LW: 9) 

Bell’s crew had a slow pit stop during the second stage at Phoenix, and he was able to rally back, running among the top five until the late cautions and restarts. He has three finishes of sixth or better and ranks sixth in the standings. So why so low here? Just one lap led in the last three races. 

10. Joey Logano (LW: 4)

Logano had an uncharacteristically awful day at Phoenix, just four months after winning the championship at the same track. And despite an awful day, he finished 11th. If his team can find the reason for their lack of consistent speed the last two weeks, he will be dangerous.

On the verge: Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suárez, Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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