Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the third at the 1.5-mile track since it was revamped in 2021.

Hendrick Motorsports drivers William Byron and Chase Elliott won last year’s Cup races there.

The track changes — most notably higher banking in the turns — made drafting much more important. The racing there now leans more toward Daytona-Talladega competition than the typical 1.5-mile track.

MORE: NBC Sports Power Rankings: William Byron is No. 1

Chevrolet drivers have won all four Cup races this season.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Atlanta:


William Byron

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at Atlanta: Won last March and has led 154 laps over the past four AMS races

Byron’s early-season burst has made him the driver to beat. He put together back-to-back wins (at Las Vegas and Phoenix) for the first time in his Cup career and has three stage wins this season. He and other Hendrick Motorsports drivers will be racing at Atlanta under the shadow of severe penalties issued to the team Wednesday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at Atlanta: Runner-up finishes in both races last season

Chastain’s run at Phoenix Sunday was marred by another altercation with Denny Hamlin, this time on the last lap. He figures to be a contender at AMS with 74 laps led at the track last year.

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Atlanta: Finishes of 4th and 6th last year

Suarez finished outside the top 10 for the first time this season at Phoenix, his run hampered by a pair of pit-road speeding penalties. He has led laps in two of the past four races at Atlanta.


Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 1st
  • Best seasonal finish: 5th (Auto Club, Phoenix I)
  • Past at Atlanta: 3 career wins

Harvick owns three wins at Atlanta but finished 12th and 21st in the races at the “new” AMS last year. He enters Atlanta with three straight top-nine runs this year. Can he finally close out a win?

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 9th
  • Best seasonal finish: 7th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Atlanta: 2 career wins

Keselowski and Chris Buescher, his teammate at RFK Racing, have shown early-season improvement in Keselowski’s second year of operating as an owner of the team. Keselowski finished 12th and 18th in the first two races on the repaved Atlanta track last year.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Auto Club)
  • Past at Atlanta: 2 career wins

Busch’s worst finish in his first season at Richard Childress Racing is a 19th in the season opener at Daytona. He won the following week at Auto Club Speedway. He has won twice at AMS but was 33rd and 20th on the new surface last year.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Two-time winner William Byron is No. 1


Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron is a winner 50% of the time.

Byron added his second victory of the season Sunday with an overtime win at Phoenix Raceway, boosting him to first place in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings. Hendrick Motorsports drivers occupy three of the top five spots in this week’s rankings.

MORE: Denny Hamlin’s comments about Ross Chastain incident on NASCAR’s “radar”

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. William Byron (fifth last week) — Byron was the top dog at the beginning and at the end of Sunday’s race. He led 59 of the first 60 laps and then rebounded with the benefit of a late-race caution to notch his second win.

2. Kyle Busch (second last week) — Busch bounced back from a tough afternoon and rallied for an eighth-place finish Sunday.

3. Alex Bowman (fourth last week) — Bowman was a strong ninth at Phoenix, and he stood atop the point standings until Wednesday’s penalties by NASCAR dropped him to 23rd. Among full-time drivers, he has the season’s best average finish — 6.25.

4. Ross Chastain (first last week) — Chastain falls from the rankings’ top spot after crashing with old foe Denny Hamlin on the last lap at Phoenix, ruining what could have been a strong finish.

5. Kyle Larson (eighth last week) — Larson led 201 laps at Phoenix to again illustrate the strength of the No. 5 Chevrolets this season. A fourth-place finish boosts him three spots in the rankings. Larson is one of only five drivers with two top-five finishes this season.

6. Christopher Bell (sixth last week) — The Toyota contingent failed to lead a lap at Phoenix, but Bell had another steady race and came home sixth.

7. Kevin Harvick (ninth last week) — The Closer had the door slammed in his face Sunday as a late-race caution and pit stop strategy damaged his shot at the win. He led 36 laps.

8. Denny Hamlin (third last week) — While William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick and Kyle Larson were wrestling for the win Sunday, Hamlin was jousting with Ross Chastain back in the shadows. Their incident dropped Hamlin to a 23rd-place finish.

9. Joey Logano (10th last week) — Logano was quiet most of the afternoon at Phoenix but came home 11th with a less-than-excellent car.

10. Ryan Blaney (unranked last week) — Blaney roared into the picture late in the race Sunday and almost stole the win. His second-place run gives him two top 10s for the season.

Dropped out: Daniel Suarez (seventh last week).


Josh Berry answers critics with Phoenix run


AVONDALE, Ariz. — Josh Berry heard the noise about if he belonged in the No. 9 car for Chase Elliott. 

After Hendrick Motorsports went 1-2-3 with William Byron, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman earlier this month at Las Vegas and Berry finished 29th, doubters questioned the team keeping Berry in the car for the oval races until Elliott returns from his broken leg.

MORE: Phoenix winners and losers

Of course, it was easy to criticize Berry without looking at the fact that he had not driven a Next Gen car until the Las Vegas weekend and that a throttle issue in that race also made his day more difficult.

With that hanging over him, finishing 10th Sunday at Phoenix felt special to Berry.

“I kind of feel like I received some unnecessary criticism last week for getting thrown into a really tough situation filling in for Chase, my first start in the Next Gen car, no preparation at all,” Berry told NBC Sports after the Phoenix race. 

“I feel like I kind of got held to the fire. We worked hard this week to remove doubt that we can do this, and I feel like we did that.”

Berry took advantage of four fresh tires on the final pit stop. He gained five spots over the last two cautions to help put all four Hendrick cars in the top 10.

Berry’s performance earned praise from Jeff Gordon, vice chairman at Hendrick Motorsports.

“I’m really impressed with (Sunday’s) effort,” Gordon said after the race. “I was on the 9 box most of the race. It didn’t start off so great. To see them just continue to work through changes on the car, changes of the track conditions, just continue to push forward.

“Then he was mixing it up, man. On those restarts, he was right in the middle, three- and four-wide. I was a little bit nervous because they’re pretty deep in points and needed a solid finish.

“It was great to see Josh get that. That’s going to build his confidence. I don’t think anybody can explain how difficult a situation this is. I mean, an Xfinity car today could not be more opposite than what the Cup car is throughout the history that I can recall of those things being so different than they are today.

“To get out of an Xfinity car and hop into a Cup car that’s so different I think is a big, tall task. We put him in a bad situation last week. This week I saw him putting in the effort and the time, the sim, getting fitted in the seat, doing his homework. It really showed up.”


Phoenix marked the end of the West Coast swing of Cup races at Auto Club Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.

Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman were the only drivers to score top 10s in all three races. William Byron won twice (Las Vegas and Phoenix) and Kyle Busch won at Auto Club Speedway.

Here’s a look at the top 10 in points scored in the three West Coast races:

136 — William Byron

114 — Kevin Harvick

113 — Alex Bowman

113 — Kyle Larson

110 — Ross Chastain

104 — Kyle Busch

103 — Denny Hamlin

93 — Christopher Bell

90 — Martin Truex Jr.

89 — Daniel Suarez

Here’s a look at the top 10 in stage points scored in those three races:

44 — William Byron

38 — Ross Chastain

37 — Kyle Larson

32 — Denny Hamlin 

26 — Ryan Blaney

25 — Christopher Bell  

22 — Kevin Harvick

22 — Alex Bowman 

14 — Daniel Suarez

14 — Brad Keselowski

14 — Martin Truex Jr. 

Here is a look at top 10s by organizations in the West Coast races:

9 — Hendrick Motorsports (2 wins)

4 — Stewart-Haas Racing

4 — Joe Gibbs Racing

3 — Richard Childress Racing (1 win)

3 — Trackhouse Racing

3 — Team Penske

2 — 23XI Racing

1 — RFK Racing

1 — Kaulig Racing


Chase Briscoe’s seventh-place finish marked the first time he’s placed better than 20th this season.

“That’s a little bit of a relief,” crew chief John Klausmeier told NBC Sports. “We ended last year with some momentum and expected to pick up there at the start of the season and it has not been the case at all. We kind of had this (race) circled on the calendar.”

Briscoe started 24th. He was the only driver outside the top 20 to finish in the top 10. 

“To be in contention today, everyone’s confidence is a little bit better than the last two weeks,” Klausmeier said. “You get beat down and you start questioning yourself and second-guessing things. … Obviously, we didn’t qualify good, so we had to battle track position all day, but we stayed in the game and it’s a shot in the arm for everybody. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”

Said Briscoe after the race: “I think we overall had a pretty strong and solid day. Starting that far back in the pack, it just takes forever to get up there. I thought my car was good enough – if you would have put it in the lead, I would have been fine staying there. But, it was just a matter of getting up there – it takes a long time.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Ross Chastain rolls into No. 1 spot


Ross Chastain, starting what appears to be another strong season with Trackhouse Racing, has moved into first place in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Chastain has finishes of ninth (Daytona), third (Auto Club) and 12th (Las Vegas) to start the season. He has led 97 laps.

MORE: NASCAR official cites precedent for Chase Elliott to receive waiver

Kyle Busch dropped from first to second after a 14th-place finish Sunday at Las Vegas.

New to the rankings this week are Vegas winner William Byron, whose standout day in the desert pushed him to fifth in the rankings, and Kyle Larson, who was a strong second Sunday.

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Ross Chastain  (second last week) — Chastain faded near the end at Las Vegas on Sunday but continued to show that he’ll probably be a weekly win threat.

2. Kyle Busch (first last week) — Busch’s 14th-place finish at Vegas isn’t a good indication of how well he ran there.

3. Denny Hamlin (fifth last week) — Hamlin led 10 laps at Las Vegas and was in the mix at the end.

4. Alex Bowman (sixth last week) — Bowman was third in line in the one-two-three Hendrick Motorsports finish at Vegas. He has finishes of fifth, eighth and third this year and has led all three races.

5. William Byron (unranked last week)Byron was embarrassingly dominant at Vegas, leading 176 laps and outrunning teammate Kyle Larson in overtime for the win.

6. Christopher Bell (seventh last week) — Bell bounced back with a fifth at Vegas after an accident slapped him with a 32nd-place run at Auto Club. He’ll be looking for improvement at Phoenix, a track where he has never led a lap.

7. Daniel Suarez (ninth last week) — Suarez has had top-10 runs in all three races and, along with teammate Ross Chastain, has kept Trackhouse Racing in the spotlight.

8. Kyle Larson (unranked last week) — Barring a late-race caution, Larson probably would have won at Vegas despite William Byron’s powerful run.

9. Kevin Harvick (eighth last week) — Harvick finished ninth at Vegas a week before his magic track — Phoenix.

10. Joey Logano (third last week) — After a tough race at Vegas and a last-place finish, Logano drops in the rankings.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (fourth last week), Brad Keselowski (10th last week).


Winners and losers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway


A look at the winners and losers in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:


William Byron — Byron zapped the rest of the field in Vegas. His Chevrolet ran like the wind most of the day, leading 176 of the race’s 271 laps. Despite the strong run, he had to rally in overtime to grab the win.

Kyle Larson — Larson raced in the shadow of William Byron much of the way, then took first place in the final stage. Chances are good he would have won the race without the late-race caution that bunched the field for overtime.

Alex Bowman — He placed third, giving Hendrick Motorsports a 1-2-3 finish. Bowman’s 85 points in the first two races of the West Coast swing is second in the series to Ross Chastain‘s 91 points.

Daniel Suarez — Suarez didn’t lead a lap, but his 10th-place run gives him top-10 finishes in all three Cup races to date and puts him fourth in points.

Justin Haley — Haley drove a steady race and was in the wake of the lead group at the end, finishing eighth, easily his best run of the year. The finish boosted him seven places in points to 23rd.

Corey LaJoie – LaJoie finished 20th and has top-20 runs (16th at Daytona, 14th at Auto Club) in all three races to date.


Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece — Although Kevin Harvick finished ninth and was in the jumble at the front late in the race, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates stumbled. Briscoe finished two laps down in 28th. Preece was a lap behind the leaders in 23rd.

Noah Gragson — Gragson had a rough afternoon with three pit road speeding penalties and came home 30th, two laps off the lead pace.

Joey Logano — Logano won the pole but struggled through the race, slapping the wall and later hitting the fence harder during a three-wide battle with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski and sliding across the track. He parked his Ford and finished last.