NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott rises after Chris Buescher wins at Bristol

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Elliott rises after Buescher wins at Bristol originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The most unpredictable season in NASCAR history continued at Bristol on Saturday night.

For the third straight race, a driver outside of the playoffs won – the first time in history that that has happened. This time it was Chris Buescher, snapping a 222-race winless streak for his second career victory.

The Bristol Night Race was defined by playoff contenders struggling, as just seven of the 16 playoff participants finished on the lead lap. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon were officially eliminated from championship contention, with the Round of 12 set to begin this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

So, who’s the driver to beat entering the Round of 12? Here’s our latest power rankings:

1. Chase Elliott

Last week: 2

For the second straight year, Elliott came up just short of winning the famed Bristol Night Race. He crossed the line in second, less than half a second behind Buescher. It was a clean and quiet race for Elliott, which most playoff drivers couldn’t say. He enters the Round of 12 back atop the points standings (and power rankings).

2. Denny Hamlin

Last week: 1

Hamlin avoided steering and engine issues that plagued many of his Toyota teammates to finish ninth. It looked like it was going to be worse when a flat tire sent him into the wall midway through the race, but he recovered nicely. Hamlin has rattled off three straight top-10s to start the playoffs, which is his best stretch of the season.

3. Christopher Bell

Last week: 4

The most consistent driver of the playoffs, Bell has finished fifth (Darlington), third (Kansas) and fourth (Bristol) so far. Saturday night was a missed opportunity though, as Bell led 143 laps and won Stage 2 before suffering a tire problem while leading with 65 laps to go. Still, he’s running better than any driver right now and should be confident heading to Texas.

4. Kyle Larson

Last week: 5

With an 8.3 average finish through three playoff races, Larson easily moved on to the Round of 12. He’s still not winning races at last year’s clip, but Texas could be the place to change that. He won in Fort Worth last year, leading 256 of 334 laps for an easy victory.

5. Joey Logano

Last week: 3

A suspension issue as a result of a flat tire ended Logano’s race early, subjecting him to a 27th-place finish. Even before that, though, he seemed off the pace. Logano is second in the standings entering the Round of 12, but he has to be better after consecutive finishes outside the top 15.

6. William Byron

Last week: 6

Byron, Bell and Hamlin were the only playoff drivers with three top-10s in the Round of 16. That was especially impressive for Byron, considering he had just five top-10s in the 26-race regular season. The No. 24 was strong at Bristol, finishing third as contenders faltered around him.

7. Ross Chastain

Last week: 9

Bristol was a solid result for Chastain, finishing sixth after placing seventh the week before at Kansas. The Round of 12 will present a whole new challenge though as Chastain navigates through his first career playoff run. He’s already up to 16 top-10 finishes this season, doubling his total from last year.

8. Ryan Blaney

Last week: 7

Blaney took an unorthodox road to advance to the Round of 12. He led early in the race before a flat tire caused major damage to the car, as he had to spend over 150 laps behind the wall for repairs. Blaney ultimately returned to the race and finished 162 laps down in 30th, but it was enough to advance to the next round by 26 points.

9. Alex Bowman

Last week: first four out

Like many others, Bowman’s night didn’t go as planned. He finished 32nd after getting caught up in a big crash:

Bowman’s strong runs at Darlington and Kansas gave him enough of a buffer to advance in the playoffs. He enters the Round of 12 tied for 10th in the standings, so he’ll need some more magic in the next three races.

10. Kevin Harvick

Last week: 10

Saturday was a heartbreaker for Harvick, who needed a win to advance in the playoffs after bad luck at Darlington and Kansas. He nearly pulled it off, but a loose wheel on pit road during the final stop ended his chances. The No. 4 still finished 10th, but Harvick’s dreams of a second championship are over for this year. It’s the first time Harvick has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in his career.

First four out: Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Busch, Chris Buescher