Rather than 600 miles, the 2022 Coca-Cola 600 felt more like 600 minutes – and every minute of it was a thrill.
OK, the race didn’t actually last 10 hours. But it was five hours and 13 minutes, and its 619.5 miles run (due to two overtime restarts) made it the longest race by distance in NASCAR history. Denny Hamlin prevailed in the end after 17 of 37 starters did not finish the race, giving the 41-year-old his 48th career victory.
Next week, the Cup Series heads to World Wide Technology Raceway for the first Cup race at the 1.25-mile track formerly known as Gateway. Several drivers have competed there in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series, but bringing Cup cars to this track is a complete unknown.
So, who is the driver to beat through 14 weeks? Here’s our power rankings with 12 races to go before the playoffs:
1. Ross Chastain
Last week: 2
The Melon Man regains the top spot after his 15th-place finish at Charlotte. While his top-five finish was spoiled when he was collected in the final crash, Chastain had a productive day. He led a career-high 153 laps, winning a stage and moving up to second in the points standings. Trackhouse Racing remains a threat to win every week at any type of track.
2. Chase Elliott
Last week: 1
Before the sun went down, Elliott had the car to beat. He cruised to the Stage 1 victory, leading 86 of the first 170 laps. But at the end of Stage 2, Elliott’s day ended when he hit the wall and spun. He still leads the points standings, but Elliott’s last two finishes of 29th and 33rd won’t get it done if he wants to stay there.
3. Kyle Larson
Last week: 4
Larson was laps away from winning his second straight Coke 600 after a crazy evening. He started in the rear after a practice crash, then spun out on lap 167, had four pit road penalties throughout the race and still led on the first overtime restart before falling victim to the final crash. This team could be on the verge of a hot streak if it can put a full race together.
4. Kyle Busch
Last week: 6
Another week, another great result for Rowdy. Despite an early spin, Busch rallied to finish second at Charlotte – and he certainly had a chance to win after leading at the white flag. He now has seven top-10s in his last eight starts while climbing to third in the standings. Oh, and Busch is one of the few drivers with experience at Gateway, winning the 2009 Xfinity Series race there.
5. William Byron
Last week: 3
Byron was collected in the big crash on lap 193 after running near the front in the early going. The No. 24 ended up finishing 32nd, which dropped Byron from fourth to seventh in the standings. Since his win at Martinsville, Byron has six straight finishes outside of the top-10. He does still lead the series with 570 laps led, though, which keeps him this high in our rankings.
6. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 4
After winning the non-points-paying All-Star Race, Blaney had momentum entering Charlotte. Instead, he was the catalyst for the big wreck that collected Byron and many others.
Blaney has five straight finishes outside the top-10, as he continues to hold the crown for the highest-ranked winless driver. He’s not in danger of missing the playoffs right now, but a few new winners could quickly change that.
7. Christopher Bell
Last week: 9
Bell continues to creep up the power rankings after rattling off finishes of fourth, sixth, fifth and, at Charlotte, fifth again. Part of Bell’s recent success has been his qualifying prowess. His average starting position of 8.1 is the best in the series. A win this season feels inevitable and it could come at Gateway, where Bell won the Truck Series race in 2016.
8. Alex Bowman
Last week: 7
A non-contender throughout the night, Bowman came home with a solid 10th-place finish at Charlotte. He never challenged out front like his teammates, only collecting two stage points. But this marathon race was about survival, and that’s exactly what Bowman did. He’s finished in the top-15 in 12 of 14 races this season, boasting an 11.7 average finish.
9. Joey Logano
Last week: 8
Outside of his win at Darlington, Logano is in a total funk. He’s finished 17th or worse in four of five races, including 20th after his crash at Charlotte. Along with his teammate Blaney, the Team Penske cars don’t seem to have the speed like Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.
10. Denny Hamlin
Last week: unranked
This has been a brutal season by Hamlin’s standards, and yet he has two wins despite sitting 17th in the standings. With his Coke 600 victory, Hamlin added another crown jewel race to his growing trophy case that already includes three Daytona 500 wins, three Southern 500 wins and two Bristol Night Race wins. Now at 48 career wins (tied for 16th all-time), the only thing Hamlin lacks is a Cup Series championship.
First four out: Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch