every week during the NASCAR Cup Series season, the athlete It will evaluate how the full-time drivers stack up against each other. The evaluation will not take into account the results of the just finished race, but the entire season.

Drivers will be divided into classes, and depending on their performance, they can move up or down in a given week. While just one good or bad week won’t necessarily greatly affect a driver’s rating, there will be occasions when a driver might jump dramatically – for example, someone unexpectedly wins a race, as we saw in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Here’s where things stand after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Level 1: Favorite Tournament

1. Ross Chastain
2. Kyle Bush
3. Kyle Larson
4. Joey Logano
5. Denny Hamlin
6. Christopher Bell

As at Daytona and Fontana, Chastain has been a fixture in Las Vegas. The difference was that he was replaced again on the crucial restart, which saw him score his first goal outside the top ten this season. However, a respectable 12th place kept Chastain at the top of the points standings.

Busch and the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing team missed out on setup. Nor did Bush bounce his car off the wall. Add it up, and for the first time in 2023, Busch wasn’t competitive. It is noteworthy that he is still battling for 14th place, which speaks to what this team is capable of on the days when they are not at their best.

Sunday was Larsson’s best result so far in the season. And had it not been for the caution with four laps to go, the Hendrick Motorsports driver would have been celebrating in victory lane. As it is, Larson and the No. 5 team have shown a similarity to the 2021 level, which should be worrisome for the competition.

When Logano captured pole position in qualifying at the track he won last fall, he felt like he’d take into account the result on Sunday. did not happen. Like the majority of Ford drivers, Logano struggled throughout the afternoon and fell down the running order. His day was unofficially ended when contact with Brad Keselowski sent him into the Turn 4 wall and spun him across the field. Soon after, he entered the garage with a car too damaged to continue. A disappointing day, to be sure, but not one that raises any concerns about his title hopes.

What do we take away from the feud between Toyota teammates Bill and Bubba Wallace? There is much ado about nothing. The two talked on pit road afterwards about unnecessary racing side by side for several laps at a time. While it was Wallace who raised the issue, his objection was valid given that Bell did not concede the spot to the faster Wallace, he allowed Daniel Suarez to close the gap and pass them both in a race where track position was everything.


Go deeper

TOP 5: NASCAR in Las Vegas reveals new directions, Chase Elliott injury, Phoenix rules package

Level 2: On the cusp

7. William Byron
8. Alex Bowman
9. Martin Truex Jr.
10. Kevin Harvick
11. Ryan Blaney

After a performance like the one Byron put on in Las Vegas, it would be easy to jump it two notches. that’s fair. For now, though, his placement in that group feels right, as we’ve seen that from him and Hendrick’s former No. 24 – last year he won two of the first eight races, including a dominant win at Martinsville – only then to backing down. What we haven’t seen is that it maintains this level for a long time. If he can do that, he should be considered a serious contender for the title.

With his third-place finish on Sunday, Bowman is now in the top ten in all three races this season. This distinction is something only he and Suarez can claim.

Crew chief James Small’s gamble to forgo pitting Truex when the race went into overtime wasn’t a bad decision, though Truex did end up on a virtual island as the only driver left out of old tyres. It’s easy to guess, but Small took the swing to put his driver in position to steal the win – something more crew chiefs should do.

It sounded ominous when Harvick came on the radio early on to say that it was “a bad day to be a Ford.” But as he often does, the 2014 champion found a way to finish ninth. That’s the kind of mentality Stewart-Haas Racing will be missing when Harvick retires at the end of the season, and it’s a mentality that can’t be easily replaced.

Level 3: Playoff contenders

12. Chase Elliott
13. Daniel Suarez
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
15. Bubba Wallace
16. Tyler Reddick
17. Brad Keselowski

It’s not that Elliott is no longer a favorite championship driver, it’s just that we don’t know when he’ll be back from injury and how many races he’ll miss. This changes expectations for him. If he missed a large number of races, his window to qualify for the playoffs by winning a regular season race would be much smaller, with no guarantees he would be able to do so and little margin for error. If he misses a few races, he clearly has a much better chance of earning a playoff berth. But for now, it’s all up in the air.

It was a frustrating start to the season for Reddick, who had speed every week but little to show in the way of actual results. Las Vegas was an indication of this. The No. 45 23XI Racing car was among the fastest on the track, but an engine change on Saturday meant Reddick had to skip qualifying and start the race in the back. He was never able to fully regain the lost track position and finished 15th – somewhat encouraging but of little help as he climbed out of the points gap. He is currently ranked 34th, and is the third worst of drivers who have started all three races.

Similar to Reddick, Keselowski did better than his results indicated. For much of Sunday, he was one of the highest racing Fords but lost track position when he was kept out through a succession of green flag pit stops. He later got swept up in the multi-car accident that occurred in overtime and finished 17th. The positive is that Keselowski sits 11th in points, with reasons to believe that RFK Racing has begun to turn a corner by finding the consistency he so lacked. significant in recent years.

Level 4: Outside

18. Chris Bucher
19. Austin Cendrick
20. AJ Allmendinger
21. Austin Dillon
22. Ty Gibbs
23. Eric Jones
24. Corey LaJoie
25. I show you Almirola
26. Justin Haley
27. Chase Briscoe

Another week, another crash for Allmendinger through no fault of his. Although undeniably frustrating, his path to the playoffs is unchanged: He will likely need to win one of five races on a road course or one of five races on a fast track during the regular season. The confidence is that he will achieve this goal, with the caveat that if the number of incidents continues, it will put a strain on Kaulig Racing and ultimately affect Allmendinger’s playoff hopes.

If you’re an SHR, there should be growing concern about the team performances of Almirola, Briscoe, and Ryan Preece (listed a level below). No one from this trio has posted a top 10 finish, and what’s even more disturbing is how far behind they are compared to teammate Harvick’s performance. Especially Briscoe, who was bafflingly slow for the second week in a row in what was supposed to be the 2023 season.

Similar to last week, LaJoie again deserves a nod. He has now finished 20th or better in three straight races, giving him the best start to the season in his sixth year of running the full schedule.

Level 5: the rest

28. Michael McDowell
29. Harrison Burton
30. Todd Gilliland
31. Noah Gragson
32. Ryan Preece
33. Ty Dillon
34. Cody Ware

(Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)


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