NASCAR Power Rankings: Ryan Blaney climbs to No. 1 after Richmond

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The first short track points race of 2022 added another shuffle to the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Denny Hamlin snagged his first win in the Next Gen car at Richmond Raceway, but a rocky start without a single top-10 finish in the prior six races holds him out of this top 10 for the time being. Christopher Bell and Kevin Harvick remain on the verge of breaking into this list as well but haven’t cracked through quite yet.

Meanwhile, as drivers rise up, that means others must fall. Take a look at who falls where after seven Cup races:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Ryan Blaney (Last week: No. 2) Tied with Chase Elliott for the points lead, Blaney also becomes the new leader of the Power Rankings. Blaney leads the series in average running position at 9.25, according to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, as well as in laps led (334), poles (three) and fastest laps run (110). The obvious knock so far is that the No. 12 Ford has yet to win a race and perhaps puts his top spot in question. However, Blaney has led laps in every race this season and has been a consistent threat to win despite myriad new faces at the front of the field. That consistency earns him the No. 1 position for now — but he has to capitalize on that potential soon to keep it.

2. Ross Chastain (Last week: No. 1) Chastain never quite showed the same speed at Richmond that he and his Trackhouse Racing team showed in the prior four races. His four-race streak of top-three finishes came to an end with a 19th-place effort in Virginia. The No. 1 Chevrolet wasn’t a factor Sunday and particularly fell off in the final run. Yet Chastain still posted the sixth-best average running position at Richmond (7.72) and sits seventh in that category overall (13.054). The performances Chastain have shown lately anchor him toward the top of this week’s list despite the poor showing last weekend.

3. Kyle Larson (Last week: No. 6) Larson jumps back up the rankings this week after a good showing at Richmond, notching a fifth-place finish for his third top five of the year. His season has been hit-or-miss, but Sunday marked the first time in the last four races he finished better than 29th. The defending champion will need more consistency, but he and crew chief Cliff Daniels have earned the benefit of the doubt to expect the No. 5 Chevrolet up front.

4. Tyler Reddick (Last week: No. 3) Reddick was surprisingly not a factor at Richmond Raceway on Sunday. The No. 8 car posted the 14th-best average running position and finished 12th, his first result outside the top 10 without an on-track incident to blame. Like Blaney, Reddick has shown enormous potential with the Next Gen car and can easily be a factor for wins down the road. But Reddick’s search for his first career win continues. And while that pursuit is by no means easy, Reddick and his crew have to pounce on those opportunities before their momentum vanishes.

5. William Byron (Last week: No. 8) Speaking of momentum, the No. 24 team has finally found some. After a shaky start to the season, Byron led a career-high 122 laps at Richmond and seemed destined for a win until Hamlin and Harvick charged through on fresher tires to send Byron back to third. That is Byron’s second straight top five on an oval and third of the season. There remains a need for better consistency — his last five weeks show finishes of fifth, 18th, first, 12th and third — but Byron is trending upward this week.

6. Chase Elliott (Last week: No. 4) Elliott left Richmond tied with Blaney for the points lead and was a top-10 car through much of the race, but Richmond wasn’t a particularly inspiring day for the 2020 champion. Elliott came home 14th after notching sixth-place finishes in both stages Sunday. But Elliott remains the series leader in average finish (10.9) and sits second to Blaney in the season-long average running position (11.014), so there should be some optimism for him and his fans entering Martinsville, where he won in the fall of 2020.

7. Alex Bowman (Last week: No. 7) Bowman sits second behind Elliott, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, in average finish this year (11.7). Bowman placed eighth at Richmond after posting the 15th-best average running position of the day. Crew chief Greg Ives was “not happy” with the result though, believing the car had more speed. But the truth is that the No. 48 team is finally finding the consistency it has lacked. Bowman earned his fifth straight finish inside the top 15, backing up his Las Vegas victory and runner-up result at Circuit of the Americas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week: No. 5) Joey Logano found himself out of the hunt for the win at Richmond. He boasted the ninth-best average running position at 9.18, but the No. 22 team had trouble jacking the car on pit road during the final caution with roughly 140 laps to go. Logano had entered pit road second and restarted 20th. He never recovered and finished 17th. Logano, the 2018 champion, has led laps in all but one race this season (Las Vegas), but two straight finishes outside the top 15 sink Logano’s ranking this week.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: Unranked) The No. 19 team is back in the rankings. Truex looked to have the car to beat at times Sunday, leading a season-high 80 laps before finishing fourth. Pit strategy caught the 2017 champion behind Byron though, even before Hamlin and Harvick bolted through the field. His lone finish outside the top 13 this season was a 35th-place result at Phoenix after a late-race incident. Like Harvick, Truex has largely flown under the radar. But Truex put his Toyota out front and was a legitimate threat for the win all day at Richmond. With more short tracks ahead, Truex may be at the start of a significant run.

10. Kyle Busch (Last week: No. 9) Busch rallied to a ninth-place finish at Richmond despite a late-race stop-and-go penalty that was assessed for tape placed on the nose of his No. 18 Toyota. Sunday marked another what-could-have-been moment for Busch, who was running sixth at the time of his penalty. Busch had the fourth-best average running position of the day at 6.35. If the two-time champion can have a clean race, he’ll likely finish inside the top five. That was proven at Las Vegas where he nearly won before an overtime restart relegated him to fourth. Until then, Busch will have to keep digging out of holes.

Dropped out: Chase Briscoe (Last week: No. 10).

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.