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


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).

NASCAR weekend schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series head to Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the 1.99-mile road course.

The Cup and Xfinity Series will take the following weekend off before the season resumes at Nashville Superspeedway. NBC and USA will broadcast each series the rest of the year, beginning at Nashville.

Sonoma Raceway

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 73 degrees. Forecast is for a high of 70 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Sunday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 67 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)

Saturday, June 10

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 11

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles; Fox, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


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: 27th
  • 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.