NASCAR Power Rankings: Christopher Bell rises after clutch Charlotte win


Walk-off hits, buzzer-beaters and late scores are thrilling aspects of traditional sports. On Sunday, Christopher Bell delivered the racing equivalent.

Facing a must-win situation to avoid elimination from the playoffs, Bell got the job done at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course. He led the final two laps, taking the lead on the final restart, to score his third – and undoubtedly biggest – career win.

With four more drivers cut from the playoffs, there are just eight contenders left as the penultimate round begins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway will host the final two races in the Round of 8 before the championship event at Phoenix Raceway.

So, who’s the driver to beat with just four weeks left? Here’s our latest power rankings:

1. Chase Elliott

Last week: 1

Elliott was on his way to consecutive wins before a late caution, and subsequent chaotic restart, sent him spinning through the grass. He led a race-high 30 laps and finished 20th. Nobody is in a better spot than Elliott for the Round of 8, as he holds a 31-point lead on the cut line – plus a 20-point cushion to second place. It would likely take two bad races in this round to keep him out of the Championship 4.

2. Denny Hamlin

Last week: 2

Charlotte was Hamlin’s worst playoff result… and he finished 13th. That shows how consistent he’s been, and it’s likely to continue in this round. Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville are three of Hamlin’s best tracks. He enters five points below the cut line, so if he doesn’t win a race, he’ll at least need three good finishes to advance to the Championship 4 for the fourth straight year.

3. Christopher Bell

Last week: 8

While Bell didn’t have the best car at Charlotte, his crew chief Adam Stevens made the perfect pit call to get him fresh tires in the final laps. The walk-off win was just the sixth in the elimination-style playoff era (2014-present), with two of the first five going on to win the championship. Bell and the Toyotas are expected to be quick at Las Vegas and Homestead, giving him two prime chances to lock himself into the Championship 4.

4. Joey Logano

Last week: 5

In six playoff races, Logano has two top-fives and four finishes outside the top-15 – including 18th at Charlotte. He did win Stage 1, and he sits second in the standings, but Logano hasn’t had race-winning speed in a while. With an 11-point lead on the cut line, Logano needs some solid, consistent finishes in this round.

5. Ryan Blaney

Last week: 4

Blaney skated through another round without a win, as he remains the only winless driver still alive. He finished 26th at Charlotte, staying out of the picture all afternoon. No winless driver has ever won the Cup Series championship, so it’s paramount that Blaney finds victory lane in the final four races if he hopes to claim his first title.

6. William Byron

Last week: 7

Byron advanced to the Round of 8 despite finishing 16th at Charlotte, thanks in large part to his 25-point penalty getting rescinded last week. This is the furthest he’s ever gone in the playoffs, but the round sets up nicely for Byron. He’s won the most recent race at both Homestead (February 2021) and Martinsville (April 2022).

7. Ross Chastain

Last week: 6

Thanks to his points cushion, Chastain survived a 37th-place finish at Charlotte to advance. He suffered a broken toe link after hitting the wall, which forced him to finish nine laps down. But with the points reset for the Round of 8, he sits in third place with a six-point cushion. Not a bad spot for a driver making his playoff debut.

8. Kyle Larson

Last week: 3

The 2021 champion won’t defend his crown, as Bell’s win eliminated Larson from the playoffs. He had the same toe link issue as Chastain after hitting the wall, a rare driver mistake from Larson that cost him his season. The No. 5 team just never found its stride in 2022 after a dominant 2021 campaign – Larson led 2,581 laps last year compared to 368 so far this year.

9. Tyler Reddick

Last week: 8

Charlotte could’ve been better for Reddick, who finished eighth after leading 21 laps. Along with Larson, Reddick is clearly among the best drivers who have been eliminated from the playoffs. He’ll be a threat to win every race the rest of the season, even if he’s not competing for a title.

10. Chase Briscoe

Last week: first four out

Somehow, someway, Briscoe is still in the playoffs. He is the longest of longshots, but the No. 14 keeps putting together decent finishes (fifth, 10th and ninth in the Round of 12). It took a few last-lap passes to get to the Round of 8, where Briscoe will likely need a win to move on to Phoenix.

First four out: Daniel Suarez, Austin Cindric, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch

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