NASCAR Power Rankings: Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott join top 10 after Brickyard battle

McDowell scored his second career victory on Sunday, while Elliott matched his season-best finish

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Michael McDowell just shook up the NASCAR playoffs.

The 38-year-old Arizona native won his second career race on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and he did it in convincing fashion by holding off Chase Elliott. McDowell, driving for Front Row Motorsports, led 54 of 82 laps to give the organization just its fourth victory since it debuted in 2004.

Entering the Brickyard, McDowell was the first driver outside of the playoff field based on points. But now that he has a victory, he’s locked himself in for the second time in three years.

With McDowell officially joining the playoff picture, there are just three spots unclaimed with two regular season races remaining at Watkins Glen and Daytona. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace currently hold those spots based on points, but a new winner like Elliott, Daniel Suarez or Alex Bowman would bump them out.

Who’s the driver to beat after the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard? Here’s our latest NASCAR power rankings heading into Watkins Glen (Sunday, Aug. 20, 3 p.m. ET, USA,

1. Martin Truex Jr.

Last week: 1

It was a quiet race for Truex as he closes in on the regular season championship. He finished seventh after starting 12th, with the lack of cautions making it tough for him to catch up to the leaders. MTJ can clinch the regular season title (and 15 playoff points) at Watkins Glen, where he has a win and four top-fives in his last five starts.

2. Kyle Larson

Last week: 3

One spot behind Truex on the track and one spot behind Truex in the power rankings. Larson was steady in fourth for the early portion of the race before missing a turn and serving a penalty. He never regained that track position and had to settle for eighth. On the bright side, Larson now heads to a track where he’s won two straight races.

3. Denny Hamlin

Last week: 2

Good news: Hamlin won Stage 2 and gained an extra playoff point. Bad news: Hamlin only won it based on straight, and he was nowhere near the leaders based on pure speed. The No. 11 finished 19th after a poor qualifying effort, but at least they salvaged something out of the day.

4. Chris Buescher

Last week: 4

Buescher could’ve used more than one caution in Sunday’s race. Fresh off consecutive wins, he qualified 17th and steadily worked his way up to finish 11th. But without any cautions to bunch up the field, he was left to battle back in traffic. Being disappointed in an 11th-place finish shows how much RFK Racing has improved, though.

5. William Byron

Last week: 8

On the other end of things, Byron’s 15th-place finish seems like a miracle. After failing pre-race car inspection three times, the No. 24 had to start last and serve a pass-through penalty on the first lap. The only caution came at the perfect time for Byron early in the race, as he was able to battle past nearly 25 cars.

6. Ryan Blaney

Last week: 7

Sunday’s run had to feel good for Blaney. Sure, it was just a 13th-place finish – nothing special, right? Well, consider his first three road course finishes this season – 21st, 31st and 33rd. A solid result was badly needed for this team, and that’s exactly what it got. The only downside is that Blaney appears to have made an enemy in A.J. Allmendinger.

7. Kyle Busch

Last week: 6

Busch was a clear fourth behind the lead trio of McDowell, Elliott and Suarez before an engine issue spoiled his race. He limped home in 36th, one lap down. After a stellar start to his first season with Richard Childress Racing, Busch is beginning to struggle. He has a 26.6 average finish over the last five races with three finishes outside the top-35 (!).

8. Michael McDowell

Last week: unranked

McDowell now has victories at the Brickyard and the Daytona 500, two of the most iconic venues in racing. It’s a shocking rise for a driver who has a 27.5 career average finish and was forced to start-and-park for lesser funded teams early in his career. Now, he’s a legitimate threat to win again on the road course at Watkins Glen, where he finished sixth last year.

9. Christopher Bell

Last week: first four out

The No. 20 team needed a clean race and that’s exactly what it got. Bell finished ninth and retained the fourth position in the points standings. Somehow, he hasn’t scored a top-five finish since his win at Bristol in April. Bell needs to keep building solid performances like this heading into the playoffs.

10. Chase Elliott

Last week: first four out

Facing a must-win situation to make the playoffs, Elliott came up one spot short at Indy. He was just behind McDowell all day despite a late charge, but it was the most speed the No. 9 has shown all season. Elliott should be confident at Watkins Glen, where he has two wins and four straight top-fives. If he’s going to win his way in, this is the place to do it.

First four out: Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez

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