NASCAR Power Rankings: Chris Buescher builds momentum with another win at Daytona

RFK Racing continues to rise as the most important races of the 2023 season approach

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Chris Buescher can’t stop winning.

The RFK Racing driver scored his third victory in the last five races on Saturday night at Daytona after a push from his teammate (and boss) Brad Keselowski. The 30-year-old Texan led the final two laps after passing Kevin Harvick in overtime.

The 2023 regular season is now complete as Bubba Wallace clinched the 16th and final playoff spot with his 12th-place finish. With that, the battle for the championship is officially on.

Who’s the driver to beat after the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona? Here’s our latest NASCAR power rankings heading into the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway (Sunday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET, USA Network):

1. Martin Truex Jr.

Last week: 1

The best 24th-place finish ever? It probably felt that way for Truex, who won Stage 1 and sealed the regular season championship on Saturday night. MTJ enters the playoffs tied for the points lead with William Byron and he led 145 laps at Darlington in May.

2. Denny Hamlin

Last week: 2

Hamlin nearly won Stage 1, but as aforementioned, he was passed by Truex. Later, he sped on pit road and was involved in the big wreck on lap 96. Off the pace and a lap down, he came home 26th. Expect a quick turnaround next week though – Darlington is historically one of Hamlin’s best tracks (four wins, 16 top-10s in 22 starts).

3. William Byron

Last week: 4

Despite running outside the top-10 throughout the race, Byron finished eighth at Daytona. He avoided trouble all night to score his 13th top-10 of the season. Byron, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with five regular-season victories, won at Darlington in May.

4. Chris Buescher

Last week: 5

One month ago, Buescher had two career wins. Now, he’s up to five victories and should be considered a legitimate title contender. Buescher has won at a variety of track types, which will serve him well in the diverse playoffs. He’s the defending winner at Bristol, the final race in the Round of 16.

5. Kyle Larson

Last week: 3

Larson, like so many others, was collected in the wreck on lap 96. He remained on the track and in the lead pack throughout the race, but was two laps down and never made that up. While finishing 27th isn’t what Larson wanted, it was his first superspeedway finish in five starts this season.

6. Joey Logano

Last week: 9

A subpar regular season ended on a high note, with the defending champion finishing fifth at Daytona. Logano is slowly starting to find his form and could be a darkhorse threat in the playoffs, where he’s the No. 11 seed and just one point above the initial elimination line.

7. Christopher Bell

Last week: 7

Bell triggered the lap 96 wreck after tapping his teammate Ty Gibbs. He recovered to finish 16th, though that was disappointing considering the No. 20 was quick enough to win. Even though Bell hasn’t been flawless this season, he’s the No. 7 seed as he seeks a second straight Championship 4 appearance.

8. Kyle Busch

Last week: 8

Busch’s eighth-place run at Daytona was critical, as he gained two spots in the points standings to add two additional playoff points. He’s the No. 5 seed entering the playoffs. While Busch hasn’t been as consistent over the summer, the two-time champion remains in the title mix.

9. Ryan Blaney

Last week: 6

The first heart-stopping moment of the race came when Blaney was spun directly into the outside wall in turn four. Luckily, the SAFER barrier walls worked to perfection and limited the damage, but there’s no doubt that one hurt. Blaney will have to turn things around quickly, as he’ll begin the playoffs as the No. 12 seed (right on the elimination line).

10. Brad Keselowski

Last week: first four out

Instead of bailing on his teammate and potentially ruining both of their results, Keselowski played the wingman role to secure a 1-2 finish for RFK Racing. The driver and owner has yet to win this season, but he’s been even more consistent than Buesche – finishing seven points ahead of him at fifth in the regular season standings. The 2012 champion knows how to get it done in the playoffs, too.

First four out: Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Kevin Harvick

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