Week 2 NASCAR power rankings

Auto racing fans are buzzing about Sunday’s thrilling conclusion to the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a race that was packed with action from the drop of the green flag.

The NASCAR world must now put Atlanta in the rearview mirror as the series heads to Las Vegas for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400. After races at two superspeedways to open 2024, here’s who has momentum before the season’s first event on a non-drafting track:

1. Ryan Blaney (Last week: 3)

Blaney may have lost Sunday’s race by 0.003 seconds to Daniel Suarez, but he performed well enough to earn back the top spot after losing it to William Byron last week. The reigning series champion was near the front all race in Atlanta. Team Penske struggled on the intermediates last season. Can Blaney change those fortunes?

2. Kyle Busch (Last week: 6)

The final finisher of Sunday’s three-man drag race was Busch (0.007 seconds behind Suarez), who is barely edged by Blaney at the top of the rankings. Where he is atop the charts, though, is in the points standings, thanks to his solid stage finishes and consistent results in 2024. Now he’ll head to his home track, where he is looking to earn his first Cup win there since 2009.

3. Ross Chastain (Last week: 4)

Chastain battled for the win in the Daytona 500 and then finished seventh at Atlanta after being a lap down at one point. His race wasn’t without some paint-trading action as he spun Chase Elliott early on in Stage 3, and yet it seems as if Chastain has flown under the radar to start 2024. Throughout his career, too, and that’s when he’s most dangerous.

4. William Byron (Last week: 1)

Byron’s hopes of back-to-back wins to start 2024 were dashed when Michael McDowell spun into him entering pit road late in Stage 2. He spent the remainder of the race fighting an uphill battle just to finish on the lead lap. Still, there was nothing he could’ve done differently, and now he’ll head to a track where he led 176 laps and won the spring race in 2023.

5. Kyle Larson (Last week: 9)

Larson’s pass differential of +33 was higher than any other driver Sunday, and yet he only had a wrecked car to show for it after Brad Keselowski spun and collected him late in the race. He’ll be happy to get the season-opening pair of superspeedways behind him and head to a track where he should be considered a favorite to win — Larson won at Las Vegas last fall after leading 133 laps. He also would’ve won the spring race were it not for a late caution.

6. Joey Logano (Last week: 2)

Logano had quite the day in Atlanta. He went from being penalized before the green flag for wearing improperly altered racing gloves to leading 27 laps with one of the strongest cars throughout the early going. Then he crashed in the final laps of Stage 2 and finished 28th, dropping Logano to 33rd in points despite the excellent speed he’s shown in 2024. Ouch.

7. Denny Hamlin (Last week: 5)

Hamlin was either involved in or right in the vicinity of roughly a half-dozen incidents (only a slight exaggeration) on Sunday before he and Chase Briscoe made contact in the middle of a four-wide sandwich, taking him out of contention. Even that didn’t stop Hamlin from limping to a 23rd-place finish, but he’ll be hoping for a much cleaner afternoon in Vegas.

8. Bubba Wallace (Last week: 13)

Wallace is the only driver who has finished in the top five in both points races in 2024 (two fifth-place finishes). Slow starts have plagued him throughout his career, but he has a great opportunity to establish himself as one of the early weekly contenders in 2024 if he can put together a strong showing in Vegas.

9. Austin Cindric (Last week: 15)

After wrecking on the last lap while battling for the win in the Daytona 500, Cindric bounced back at Atlanta by getting the top-five finish he missed out on the week before — and he also made this awesome four-wide pass for the lead earlier in the race. He has proved to be a good superspeedway racer, but can his hot start last?

10. Daniel Suarez (Last week: not ranked)

This may feel low for Sunday’s winner, but Suarez sort of swooped in and stole Sunday’s race. He led only nine laps (all in the final 13) and had an average running position of 14th. Several other drivers were more noteworthy contenders. Maybe this could be a momentum-booster for Suarez, though, after many had him outside the playoff picture to begin the season.

11. Chase Elliott (Last week: 7)

Elliott’s day at his home track got off to a rough start when he had to drop to the rear of the field before the green flag due to an unapproved adjustment. Then, after receiving damage in the big pileup on the second lap, the rest of his afternoon was an uphill battle that involved multiple additional spins. Still, he finished on the lead lap in 15th and will look to have a much less eventful race at Las Vegas.

12. Todd Gilliland (Last week: NR)

If you had “Gilliland leads the NASCAR Cup Series in laps led after two races” on your 2024 bingo card, raise your hand. OK, put it down, you’re lying. The third-year driver unfortunately has been swept up in accidents not of his making in both races, but the speed is there. Now we’ll see if it can translate to the non-drafting tracks.

13. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: NR)

It was probably unfair to drop Truex all the way out of the rankings after Daytona. He was a factor up front late at Atlanta before dropping to 12th, showing that even if this turns out to be his farewell tour in NASCAR, he’s not going out without a fight.

14. Christopher Bell (Last week: 8)

Bell didn’t have much of a chance to back up his third-place result in Daytona, as his race only lasted one lap before he was heavily damaged when Austin Dillon got turned around in front of most of the field. It’s onto the next one for Bell, who came up just short of winning at Vegas last fall.

15. Brad Keselowski (Last week: 11)

Keselowski got a mulligan after Daytona despite being one of the most reckless drivers there and ultimately crashing out. (The wreck that took him out wasn’t his fault, though.) That can’t be said after Atlanta, though, when the 2012 series champion simply lost it by himself and hit the wall. Now sitting 36th in points, Keselowski will need to string good finishes together to match his speed.

16. Michael McDowell (Last week: NR)

After starting on the front row at Daytona, McDowell looked poised for one of the best race weekends of his career by winning his first pole and leading 27 laps early. But then he spun into William Byron while entering pit road, and though he nursed his wounded No. 34 machine to an eighth-place finish, it’s probably not the result he hoped for with perhaps the fastest car all weekend.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher, Corey LaJoie

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