NASCAR Power Rankings: Larson holds steady, Almirola rises after Vegas

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The NASCAR Cup Series season is quickly through three races, providing a little more clarity for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Three different drivers have found their way to Victory Lane, with Alex Bowman adding his name to the list after a superb pit call by crew chief Greg Ives put him in position to capitalize in overtime at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But another week of racing produced another week of unparalleled parity as teams build their Next Gen notebooks. How much does that change this week’s rankings? Let’s find out:

NASCAR Power Rankings after Las Vegas

1. Kyle Larson (Last week: No. 1) — It should come as no surprise that Larson is figuring out the new vehicle so quickly. The 2021 Cup champ has posted eight top-two finishes in the last 13 Cup races — a staggering 61.5% rate. Yes, the No. 5 team was running sixth before the caution fell with two laps to go. But he and his team took advantage on a two-tire pit stop and finished second. He retains the top spot.

2. Tyler Reddick (Last week: No. 2) — Reddick scored his first top 10 of the season at Las Vegas, which feels like a surprise given how frequently the No. 8 team has been in contention for wins through the first three races. Of course, he seemed poised to win a week ago at Auto Club before a flat tire ruined his day after leading 90 laps. Nonetheless, despite a spin through the grass Sunday in Vegas, Reddick rallied for a seventh-place finish and seems to be improving on a weekly basis. Still expecting big things from the No. 8 Chevrolet this season.

3. Aric Almirola (Last week: No. 5) — Almirola’s continued consistency can’t be ignored. The No. 10 team hasn’t shown speed early in races, earning just three stage points through the season’s first three races. But Almirola and new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer have tweaked their cars well enough mid-race to earn three top 10s, the only team perfect on top 10s so far with a series-best average finish of 5.7. How long can they keep the streak alive? Time will tell, but a strong start to 2022 for Stewart-Haas Racing’s only winning team a season ago.

4. Kyle Busch (Last week: No. 9) — The No. 18 Toyota has bounced around these rankings for the past couple weeks, but Busch is back in the top five. The two-time champion overcome adversity in each of the first three races for finishes sixth, 15th and fourth. There’s no question Busch would have won at Las Vegas if not for that final caution. But finishing fourth was a feat in itself after an early-race spin and wall contact in a backup car. He now holds the second-best average finish in the series (8.0), only behind Almirola.

5. Austin Cindric (Last week: No. 3) — Cindric became the first rookie in Cup history to hold the points lead for more than one race last week but fell to fourth in standings after a 19th-place finish in Vegas. Not the day the Daytona 500 winner was hoping for after qualifying third, but not every week can go as well as his first two went.

6. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: Unranked) — Dropping Truex from the rankings after one week at No. 3 was perhaps short-sighted. Two 13th-place finishes didn’t seem to signify much. That’s corrected this week after an eighth-place finish that was bound to be a runner-up effort without Sunday’s late yellow. His 11.3 average finish is fourth-best among full-time Cup drivers this season and now sits second in points, bolstered by two stage wins in Daytona.

7. Joey Logano (Last week: No. 8): Logano sits third in points, thanks in large part to the 33 stage points he’s collected through the first three races. He wasn’t in contention for the win like we’ve come to expect in Las Vegas and finished 14th, but finishes of fifth and 14th the past two weeks keep him in the mix.

8. Ryan Blaney (Last week: No. 4): The No. 12 team’s pit crew seemed to alleviate its woes from Auto Club with performances in Vegas that kept Blaney inside the top 10 for the first 100 laps Sunday. However, Blaney was still in the wrong place at the wrong time when former teammate Brad Keselowski spun in front of him, leaving Blaney nowhere to go but Keselowski’s door. Blaney finished 36th, but still showed competitive speed, earning his keep in this week’s rankings.

9. Chase Elliott (Last week: No. 10) — Chase Elliott has had a relatively quiet start to the season — well, aside from getting walled by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson for the lead at Auto Club. Regardless, the 2020 title winner sits seventh in points with two top-10 finishes, including a ninth-place effort in Vegas. Elliott’s last win on an oval came in the championship race in Phoenix 16 months ago, but maybe the four-time Most Popular Driver will soon overcome that.

10. Alex Bowman (Last week: Unranked): The latest Cup winner cracks the top 10 this week, finally capitalizing on some of the best average running position this season. To date, Bowman holds the 10th-best average running position (14.875) according to NASCAR’s loop data and the seventh-most laps in the top 15 (451). Finishes of 24th at Daytona and 25th at Auto Club didn’t reflected that. But he maximized the third-best average running position in Vegas (6.55) to leave with his playoff spot secured.

Dropped out: Erik Jones (Last week: No. 6), Chase Briscoe (No. 7).