NASCAR Power Rankings: Austin Dillon crashes playoffs after Daytona win

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Austin Dillon crashes playoffs after Daytona win originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The 2022 NASCAR regular season is in the books, and it ended with a bang.

The race at Daytona was pushed from Saturday night to Sunday morning due to rain. Then, rain nearly ended the event early after a wet track caused a massive crash. But after a lengthy delay, Austin Dillon survived to win his fourth career race and punch his playoff ticket.

Next week, the playoffs begin at Darlington for the iconic Southern 500. Sixteen drivers are eligible for the championship, and there would be no better way to begin the playoffs than to win this crowned jewel event.

So, who’s the driver to beat entering the postseason? Here’s our latest power rankings:

1. Chase Elliott

Last week: 1

The wrecks at Daytona claimed plenty of victims, and Elliott was no exception. He led a race-high 31 laps before being collected in the rain crash at lap 138. Elliott finished 29th, but it didn’t matter for him in the grand scheme of things. He won the regular season championship and will enter the playoffs atop the standings.

2. Joey Logano

Last week: 6

Logano finished two laps down in 12th at Daytona after being involved in an accident. But it was still a productive race, as he won the first stage and moved up to second in the standings. He’ll enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed behind Elliott. He also won at Darlington back in May.

3. Kevin Harvick

Last week: 4

For a second, it looked like Harvick would be leading after the rain crash. Instead, he left the wreck in second, and once the race restarted he was unable to continue due to damage. He still finished 20th as he heads to Darlington, where he’s scored 13 consecutive top-10 finishes and three wins since 2013.

4. Kyle Larson

Last week: 3

After winning at Watkins Glen, Larson didn’t really get a chance to compete at Daytona. He exited the race after 14 laps due to engine issues, which dropped him to fifth in the standings – in turn, costing him four playoff points. Larson finished second at Darlington twice last year.

5. Denny Hamlin

Last week: 5

Another innocent driver that was doomed by the rain, Hamlin took a nasty hit in the crash that ended his day. He had one of the better cars, leading 13 laps before the crash. Hamlin will be looking forward to Darlington, though, where he has four wins and 15 top-10s in 20 starts.

6. Christopher Bell

Last week: 2

Bell was collected in the first crash of the race on lap 31 and that was it. He finished 36th, only ahead of Larson. Darlington is notoriously a tough track for young drivers, but Bell finished sixth there in May after qualifying third. He should be in the mix throughout the playoff opener, as he enters as the No. 10 seed.

7. Ryan Blaney

Last week: 8

If the race was called due to rain, Blaney would’ve been eliminated from the playoffs. Instead, he survived with a torn up car and made the playoffs by three points over Martin Truex Jr. thanks to his 15th-place run. It was an incredible effort by Blaney’s crew to make the car drivable after the crash.

8. Tyler Reddick

Last week: 9

Reddick helped his teammate Dillon win at Daytona, serving as the perfect blocker before finishing second. Even though Reddick had a car capable of winning, it was clearly best for the team to get both cars in the playoffs. Now, thanks to Reddick, both Richard Childress Racing cars are set to compete for the title.

9. Ross Chastain

Last week: 7

Chastain’s summer slump continued at Daytona when he – you guessed it – got caught in a wreck. He finished 33rd, marking six straight finishes of 18th or worse. That’s not exactly how you want to be running before the playoffs. The good news is that he’s still the No. 3 seed with 20 playoff points.

10. Kyle Busch

Last week: first four out

Busch finished 10th at Daytona in a badly-damaged car, plus he won the second stage. That makes for a productive weekend, especially after the bad luck he’s had this season. Busch has just two top-10s in his last 11 races, but he’s one of the most experienced playoff drivers.

First four out: Martin Truex Jr., William Byron, Austin Dillon, Austin Cindric