NASCAR Power Rankings: Who is No. 1?


A schedule full of changes will have an impact on this Cup season. Already, it has made an impact on the preseason NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings before cars get on track at Daytona International Speedway.

Sunday’s Daytona 500 begins a journey for Cup teams that includes a record seven road course events, a race on a dirt track and other changes in a season that will end in November at Phoenix Raceway.

Here’s a look at the top 10:


1. Ryan Blaney It’s easy to overlook what Blaney has done on road courses because of Chase Elliott’s success. But don’t. Blaney has four top-five finishes, including a win, in the last six road courses races. He’s strong elsewhere. Blaney was one of only three drivers who scored top 10s in at least three of the four superspeedway races last year. Key for a championship season will be execution, something that the team didn’t always do well last year. Blaney told NBC Sports: “I thought we had crazy speed all year. We just didn’t quite execute, whether it was on my side or other things that happened that we’ve talked a lot about cleaning up.” 

2. Chase Elliott — No champion has won consecutive titles since the championship race format debuted in 2014. It’s easy to expect Elliott to return to the title race in Phoenix and give himself a chance to do so this year. He says of this season: “We need to be on offense. We need to keep pushing. I think if you’re back on your heels and trying to protect something, I don’t think your mind is in the right place. We want more.”

3. Brad Keselowski One of the top drivers on superspeedways, his luck, particularly in recent Daytona 500s has been tough. It’s about time that turns for the better. Watch Team Penske on the 750 horsepower tracks. The Penske cars were strong. Keselowski won three races and had six top-fives finishes in 10 races on tracks 1 mile or less last year. Said Keselowski: “If you want to win races, it’s pretty clear there are only about six drivers that can consistently win multiple races in Cup. It’s nice to be on that list.”

4. Joey Logano The Team Penske theme continues with Logano making the third Team Penske driver in the top four.  He had six top-five finishes at tracks 1 mile or less, including a win at Phoenix early last season. Team stumbled in the middle of the season before scoring 14 top 10s in the last 19 races. Logano told NBC Sports: “We want to be great and to me great is winning five or six races a year and it’s putting yourself in position to win a championship. We’ve done a good job of putting ourselves in position to win the championship without having a bunch of playoff points or a bunch of wins in the bank. … We want to win more races.”

5. Denny Hamlin Few drivers have been better the past two seasons. Hamlin seems poised to continue his strong runs. He’s focused on the early portion of the schedule. Hamlin told NBC Sports: “I think, within our race team, winning multiple races in the first seven, eight races is a goal we set out to say this sets the tone for the rest of the year.” He’s won at Daytona, Miami and Phoenix within the last two seasons. All three races are among the first eight of the season.

6. Kevin Harvick It could be argued that no team is impacted more by NASCAR’s schedule changes for 2021 than Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team. He won on the oval at Indianapolis last year. That race moves to the road course. He swept both Michigan races. That track lost a race. He won at Darlington, which went from three races last year to two this year. He won at Dover, which went from two races last year to one. Said Harvick: “I think as you look at last year that’s one of those that you check off as a career year and you obviously want to do that again, but I’ve been around this long enough to understand that those types of seasons don’t come around all the time. But, look, it’s not to say that it’s not possible because that’s surely the goal – to try to repeat that.”

7. Martin Truex Jr.Other than Chase Elliott, Truex likely is the most excited to see seven road course races on the schedule. He’s finished in the top three in three of the last five road course events. Team looks to clean up issues that kept it from winning more than once last year. He had 11 finishes of second or third. Had some of those been results been wins, he might have built up enough playoff points to have gone deeper into the postseason. Said Truex: “There were a lot of opportunities for us last year to have a great season and we came up short on a lot of those little key areas and decisions or little mistakes along the way, and things like that. We’re all looking at trying to get better.”

8. Kyle Busch Coming off a disappointing season with one win, he and crew chief Adam Stevens parted ways. Busch has former team engineer Ben Beshore as crew chief. They also worked together in the Xfinity Series, which should help speed the communication between them. Busch told NBC Sports: “He kind of knows my little quirks.” The challenge is that most of the crew is new to Busch. 

9. Kyle Larson He’s back after missing the final 32 races of last season and with a new team in Hendrick Motorsports. What he’ll do is a bit of a mystery but the early portion of the season could provide key clues. The third race of the season is at Miami, a track Larson excels. He admits that doing well there will show how far the team has come and a poor finish will show how far they have to go.

10.  Alex Bowman He changes numbers to the No. 48, but his crew remains the same. The challenge for Bowman is that with Auto Club Speedway off the schedule this year, gone is the track he won at last year. His only other Cup win came at Chicagoland Speedway and it also is not on the schedule. He finished last year by placing in the top 10 in nine of the last 12 races. We’ll see if the momentum continues.

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)