NASCAR Power Rankings: Kyle Larson rises after winning coveted Southern 500

There's a new No. 1 in the power rankings after an eventful Southern 500 at Darlington

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Kyle Larson is already in playoff form.

The 2021 Cup Series champion won the Cook Out Southern 500 on Sunday night at Darlington Raceway, opening the 2023 playoffs by making a clear statement. Larson, who has three wins this season, is the first driver to advance to the Round of 12.

Behind Larson, plenty of playoff competitors had trouble throughout the eventful race. Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell – half of the 16-driver playoff field! – were either involved in accidents or penalized on pit road.

With so many miscues at Darlington, the final two races in the Round of 16 are sure to be tense. Here’s our latest NASCAR power rankings heading into the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (Sunday, Sept. 10, 3 p.m. ET, USA Network,

1. Denny Hamlin

Last week: 2

A fourth Southern 500 win for Hamlin felt inevitable after the first two stages, which he won convincingly. Everything fell apart in Stage 3, though, when Hamlin had to pit under green with a loose wheel. Later, he was involved in an accident and limped home in 25th-place. Regardless of the finish, Hamlin’s 177 laps led showed that his team has speed at the right time of year.

2. Kyle Larson

Last week: 5

Larson had come so close to winning the Southern 500, with runner-up finishes in 2019 and 2021. So, even though he didn’t have the best car on Sunday, this victory was well-earned. Larson can now simply focus on adding more playoff points over the next two weeks with his Round of 12 trip already booked.

3. William Byron

Last week: 3

Entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, Byron didn’t need to do anything spectacular on Sunday. The Round of 16 is more about not making mistakes than it is about taking chances when you have a points advantage. Well, Byron handled his business perfectly at Darlington – finishing fourth and building a 45-point cushion on the elimination line.

4. Chris Buescher

Last week: 4

A disappointing third-place finish? That’s life when you’ve won three straight oval races. In all seriousness, it’s impressive how quickly the expectations have risen for Buescher and RFK Racing. He’s a legitimate championship threat who is capable of winning at any track.

5. Martin Truex Jr.

Last week: 1

Truex is the biggest faller this week after a lackluster 18th-place finish. He ran outside the top-20 for much of the race after a loose wheel early, but he struggled even before that. It was strange to see Truex not running up front with his teammate Hamlin, as they’ve done for much of the year.

6. Joey Logano

Last week: 6

Sunday was an adventure for Logano. He started well, but hit the wall and damaged his car in Stage 1 before more contact with Wallace on lap 117. The team took extended time on the ensuing pit stops to repair his car, but it was never the same. Still, the defending champion battled back to finish 12th and remain just three points above the elimination line.

7. Kyle Busch

Last week: 8

Like Logano, Busch went through it all at Darlington. He started at the rear, earned five stage points and finished 11th – solid yet unspectacular. Busch recovered well after triggering the big crash with Hamlin, Bell and McDowell on lap 332.

8. Brad Keselowski

Last week: 10

The No. 6 car finished sixth on Sunday after a late charge on fresh tires. Keselowski continues to display championship-level consistency, as he hasn’t finished worse than 16th on an oval since June. Now, it’s about proving he can still win races and challenge the true title favorites.

9. Ryan Blaney

Last week: 9

Blaney finished fifth and seventh in the first two stages, respectively. He faded in the final stage but gradually worked his way back up to finish ninth. After entering the playoffs just one point above the elimination line, he’s now 16 points ahead – making it a productive night for the No. 12 team.

10. Tyler Reddick

Last week: first four out

Reddick’s Jordan Brand Toyota was capable of winning on Sunday. He led 90 laps and scored 16 stage points, which were both the second-most in the race behind Hamlin. But after exiting pit road in second on the final stop, he couldn’t get around Larson and had to settle for a runner-up finish.

First four out: Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace

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