From a rookie winning the Daytona 500 to a record-tying 14 different winners in the first 20 races, calling the 2022 NASCAR season unpredictable would be an understatement.
Well, things went from unpredictable to unprecedented on Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch crossed the finish line first and second, but they were stripped of their finishing positions after their Toyotas failed post-race inspection. That handed the victory to third-place Chase Elliott, who now has three wins in his last five starts.
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It was the first time since 1960 that a Cup Series winner was stripped of his victory, and the first time since 1955 that the top two finishers were disqualified.
After the unexpected twist on Sunday night switched up the finishing order, here’s our power rankings with just five races to go before the playoffs:
1. Chase Elliott
Last week: 1
When you’re hot, you’re hot. Elliott seemed satisfied to finish third at Pocono, a track he’s described as one of his worst. But now he’s a Pocono winner, giving him five straight top-two finishes and four wins on the year. He has a commanding 105-point lead in the standings and the regular-season championship trophy will almost surely be in his case in a few weeks.
2. Ross Chastain
Last week: 2
Chastain’s reckless driving finally came back to bite him at Pocono, where he had a car capable of winning. He led 16 laps and restarted alongside Hamlin late in the race, but the veteran exacted his revenge by running Chastain out of the groove and eventually causing a wreck. Chastain was gracious after the race, admitting that Hamlin owed him that after the way he’s raced him this season. Still, it hurts to see a potential victory turn into a wrecked car.
3. Kyle Larson
Last week: 4
After winning Stage 1, it looked like the defending champion was back. He’s been off by his standards this year, with his only win coming back in February. Instead, Larson faded over the final two stages before finishing fifth. Not a bad run considering he earned his ninth top-five finish and a playoff point, but we’re still waiting for Larson to flash his 2021 brilliance.
4. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: 3
While his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates initially finished first and second, Truex was nowhere near as fast. He had a fine run, finishing seventh and scoring five stage points. The best part of the day for Truex was that there was no new winner, keeping him in the final playoff spot.
5. Christopher Bell
Last week: 8
Bell followed up his New Hampshire win with a strong fourth-place run at Pocono. He now has six top-fives this season, just one off his career-high set last year. The 27-year-old Oklahoman has top-10 finishes in eight of his last 11 starts as he continues to peak at a good time, just five weeks before the playoffs begin.
6. Kyle Busch
Last week: 7
Busch’s disqualification comes at a terrible time, as he’s now gone six straight races without a top-10 finish. That’s the longest streak since he began his career with eight straight races outside the top-10. The good news for Busch is that he led the most laps (63) and looked competitive, but it’s fair to debate how much the illegal car helped him to that run.
7. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 5
Once thought to be a challenger for the regular-season title, Blaney has faded in recent weeks. Pocono was his most discouraging result, finishing 33rd after cutting a tire while running top-five and then crashing hard later in the race. He’s still in the playoffs as of now, but like Truex he desperately needs a win to secure his spot.
8. Denny Hamlin
Last week: 10
Hamlin still moves up in the power rankings after his DQ, because Pocono showed just how dangerous this team can be. Sitting 21st in the standings with his worst average finish since 2013 (20.3), Hamlin is still capable of winning any week. He’s locked into the playoffs by virtue of his two victories, it’s just about finding consistency as the regular-season winds down.
9. Kevin Harvick
Last week: 6
Harvick was a victim to Hamlin and Chastain’s incident, and it couldn’t have come at a worse moment. The 46-year-old veteran was running in third at the time of the crash, ever so close to snapping his 64-race winless streak. He needs a victory to make the playoffs.
10. Joey Logano
Last week: 9
Logano’s two wins are the only thing keeping him in these power rankings, because his on-track performance has been brutal over the summer. He was 20th at Pocono, giving him four straight finishes of 20th or worse. In his last 12 races, Logano has two wins and nine finishes outside the top-15.
First four out: William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman