After a Daytona Beach weekend that practically everyone with the exceptions of Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney might like to forget, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are scheduled to begin Sunday at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on USA Network).
Chase Elliott, a four-time winner this season (and the only driver with more than two wins), took the regular season championship and will start the playoffs as top dog.
Elliott was among numerous drivers who became involved in one or more accidents on a wet and wild Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. Dillon emerged from the mess with the race win, earning a spot in the playoffs. Blaney nabbed the final playoff spot on points, edging Martin Truex Jr.
The finish order of the Daytona race was so zany that only one member of last week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings — Truex, who was eighth — finished in the top 10.
Elliott remains in first place in the rankings entering the first of 10 races that will decide the 2022 champion.
NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings
1. Chase Elliott (No. 1 last week) — Elliott has been the season’s consistent strongman, doubling every other winner’s victory total with four. He starts the playoffs with a very comfortable points edge.
2. Joey Logano (No. 3 last week) — Logano led 14 laps at Daytona and likely will be Ford’s biggest threat in the playoffs.
3. Kevin Harvick (No. 4 last week) — Harvick was one of 16 drivers (43% of the field) sidelined by accidents at Daytona.
4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Larson falls two spots in the rankings after a quick exit at Daytona. Engine problems only 14 laps into the race left him with a last-place finish. He has failed to finish six races this season, three by engine failures.
6. Ryan Blaney (No. 7 last week) — Blaney has flirted with victory lane all season but never drove in (except the non-points All-Star Race). He slid into the playoffs in the last position via points.
7. Christopher Bell (No. 5 last week) — Bell, another accident victim, finished next-to-last at Daytona.
8. Ross Chastain (No. 8 last week) — Chastain, also parked by an accident at Daytona (seems to be a trend here), has six straight finishes of 18th or worse.
9. Martin Truex (No. 9 last week) — Truex must be saluted as the only member of last week’s rankings to finish in the top 10 at Daytona. He missed the playoffs, however, and won’t be eligible for the championship for the first time since 2014.
10. Kyle Busch (unranked last week) — Still without a contract for next season, Busch figures to make some playoff noise in search of his third Cup championship.
Dropped out: Chris Buescher (No. 10 last week)