NASCAR Power Rankings: Kyle Busch makes early statement at Fontana originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
If you had any doubts about how Kyle Busch would fare away from the powerhouse of Joe Gibbs Racing, you can quickly erase them.
The 37-year-old veteran, in just his second race for Richard Childress Racing after 15 seasons and 56 wins with JGR, visited victory lane on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. He led 27 laps en route to his 61st career victory.
Busch will look to continue his revenge tour at his home track this weekend, as the series continues its “West Coast Swing” at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. While the two-time champion looked impressive in Southern California, there are plenty of other competitors making a strong early impression this season.
So, who’s the driver to beat as the series heads to Sin City? Here’s our latest power rankings:
1. Joey Logano
Last week: 1
The defending champion retains his spot atop the power rankings after a steady 10th-place result. Logano earned 12 stage points and led 19 laps before fading in the final half of the race. Logano will be itching to get to Las Vegas after a solid day in California. He has three career wins at this track, including the latest race there in October.
2. Kyle Busch
Last week: 10
Nobody has doubted Busch’s talent – he’s a first-ballot Hall of Fame lock – but there were definitely questions after he switched teams this season. His only win last year came on a dirt track when the top two crashed on the final lap, so those questions were warranted. But drivers can find an extra gear (no pun intended) when they have something to prove. Busch will be a contender all season long as he goes for a third championship.
3. Ross Chastain
Last week: 4
Despite leading a race-high 91 laps and winning the first two stages, Chastain had to settle for third place. He leads the points standings and already has three stage wins in two races, but there could be doubts about his ability to finish races. During his 28-race winless streak, he has led at least 25 laps nine times (including twice at Las Vegas). The Trackhouse Racing cars are quick enough to win, he just has to seal the deal.
4. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 3
Speaking of winless streaks, look no further than Blaney and his 48-race skid. He led 16 laps in Stage 1 and finished second, but was caught up in a big wreck in Stage 2 and finished 26th.
The 29-year-old driver has to return to victory lane at some point. Las Vegas, where Blaney led 39 laps last fall, could be that place.
5. Chase Elliott
Last week: 8
After wrecking out early at Daytona, Elliott got back on track with a second place finish at Fontana. He started in the back and gradually improved throughout the race, earning five stage points and finishing just under three seconds behind Busch. In 12 career starts at Las Vegas, Elliott has led 178 laps – most among drivers without a win there.
6. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 6
Eleven was the magic number for Hamlin on Sunday. Driving the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin scored 11 stage points and led 11 laps. He finished sixth and jumped up to ninth in the points standings. In his last five Las Vegas starts, the 42-year-old veteran has led 341 laps with a win and four top-five finishes.
7. Christopher Bell
Last week: 2
The most puzzling result from Fontana was Bell. He started on the pole, led the first lap and then faded into oblivion. Bell was well off the pace, running toward the back of the pack when he was involved in the big accident with Blaney and others before finishing 32nd.
8. Alex Bowman
Last week: 9
Consistency has evaded Bowman throughout his career, but this year has been different through two races. Bowman was fifth at Daytona and eighth at Fontana, making him one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in each race. He won at Las Vegas last spring.
9. Kyle Larson
Last week: 7
Larson didn’t even have a chance to defend his 2021 Fontana win after a mechanical issue. He eventually returned to the race and showed competitive speed, but he finished 15 laps down in 29th. Larson has a win, three top-10 finishes and 225 laps led in his last four Las Vegas starts.
10. Kevin Harvick
Last week: first four out
Harvick’s retirement tour is off to a strong start. The 47-year-old California native finished fifth at Auto Club after running 11th at Daytona. He led five laps and scored 10 stage points. Looking ahead, Harvick has two victories and 679 laps led in 27 career Las Vegas starts.
First four out: Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.