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).

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.