Week 16 NASCAR power rankings: Kyle Larson reclaims frontrunner status with Sonoma win

    Prior to missing the Coca-Cola 600 due to weather complications while additionally running the Indianapolis 500 the same day, Kyle Larson was the power rankings leader.

    By default, he dropped out of the top spot that week, but it felt like only a matter of time before he climbed back on his throne. After winning his third race of the season in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, he has done just that while cementing himself as the runaway favorite for the 2024 Cup Series title.

    Meanwhile, let’s take a look at where the rest of the field stands as NASCAR gets set to head to corn country for next Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350, set to be the inaugural Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway.

    1. Kyle Larson (Last week: 3)

    This was an easy call. Despite running one fewer race than the rest of the field, Larson is the Cup Series points leader while also holding at least a share of the lead in wins, top-fives and laps led after his Sonoma victory. He was mired back in traffic due to pit strategy at the start of the final stage on Sunday, yet raced his way all the way to the front despite having no help from cautions. It was a performance that perhaps only Larson could have put on, and that’s why he’s back on top of this week’s rankings.

    2. Tyler Reddick (Last week: 6)

    Figuring out who would take “best of the rest” honors this week was a bit harder, as both of last week’s top two — Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski — had less-than-stellar races, while William Byron and Christopher Bell, who were respectively fourth and fifth, didn’t do much to stand out either. So Reddick vaults all the way up to P2 after leading 35 laps and finishing eighth for his third consecutive top-10.

    3. Denny Hamlin (Last week: 1)

    Hamlin’s day in wine country came to an end after only two laps with a blown motor, and that may have been a blessing in disguise, as he seemed poised for a long afternoon after qualifying back in 25th. Iowa next week should go better for him — though it’s hard to say given the Cup Series has never raced there before — as it’s a similar track to Richmond Raceway, where Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing have been dominant over the years.

    4. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: 7)

    It’s unclear who Truex angered at the luck bank this season, but his No. 19 team seems to find a new way to lose every week. At Sonoma, he battled for the lead late in the going with Larson and Chris Buescher and appeared set to finish in the runner-up spot, but ran out of fuel on the final lap and crawled to the finish line in 27th. Still, the speed continues to be there.

    5. Chase Elliott (Last week: 8)

    Yet another solid, consistent run for Elliott, who ended up fourth on Sunday after taking advantage of Truex and Kyle Busch’s last-lap issues. He continues to lead the field in average finish (9.5) and yet remains having only led the 10th-most laps in the series (136), so while it feels like some regression is due, he just keeps on plugging away.

    6. Brad Keselowski (Last week: 2)

    It was an expected drop for Keselowski this week, who has never excelled on road courses and has particularly struggled on them in recent years. Still, despite never factoring near the front, his 13th-place finish was among his better showings at Sonoma, as he stayed out of trouble and gained some positions with smart pit strategy.

    7. Ryan Blaney (Last week: 10)

    A week after his heartbreaking loss in Gateway, Blaney had another strong run and this time got the finish he deserved in Sonoma with a seventh-place effort, his first top-10 in more than a month. Blaney ran inside the top five for much of the first two stages on Sunday but had to drive his way back through traffic after pit strategy dropped him through the field later on.

    8. William Byron (Last week: 4)

    Byron, the winner of the 2024 season’s only previous road course race at Circuit of the Americas, didn’t have the day he was hoping for in Northern California after he was caught up in one of the several early accidents. With a damaged car, Byron limped around to finish two laps down in 30th and will simply have to put this one behind him.

    9. Christopher Bell (Last week: 5)

    Another victim of the same wreck that took out Byron, Bell was able to escape with slightly less damage and rebound for a ninth-place finish. It was a bit of a comedown from his past two weeks in which he was a sour engine at Gateway away from winning back-to-back races, but Bell’s third top-10 in a row has him rolling as the season approaches its midway point.

    10. Ross Chastain (Last week: 11)

    Chastain made more noise than he has in a while, both with contending speed as well as a bit of vintage controversy when he got into Kyle Busch on the final lap. He finished fifth, earning only his second top-five of 2024, but there’s sure to be more to come if he can keep up the momentum. Perhaps re-establishing his villain role is what he needs to get himself going again.

    11. Chris Buescher (Last week: 13)

    Add yet another race to the list of near-wins for Buescher in 2024, as he led for much of the closing stages in Sonoma before Truex and Larson were both able to chase him down. On the plus side, many of Buescher’s competitors on the playoff bubble had races to forget, allowing him to put some distance between himself and 17th place in the standings as he now sits 32 markers ahead of Kyle Busch. Speaking of whom…

    12. Kyle Busch (Last week: 15)

    As mentioned above, Busch was on track for a top-five finish before his contact with Chastain, although he still ended up finishing a solid 12th. He’ll need more than that to re-enter the playoff picture, though, as he’s currently eight points back of Bubba Wallace for the final spot in the 16-man field with ten regular season races to go.

    13. Michael McDowell (Last week: not ranked)

    McDowell enters the power rankings for the first time this year after Truex’s fuel issues allowed the road racing ace to charge to a runner-up finish in Sonoma. He’s up to the top-20 in points after being as low as 29th in recent weeks, but at nearly 100 points out of the playoffs, he’ll probably need a win to get in. The street race in Chicago next month may be his best chance.

    14. Ty Gibbs (Last week: 9)

    Much like his JGR teammates, Gibbs had a Sunday to forget as a blown tire ended his afternoon only a handful of laps into the going and he finished 37th. One would think he’s safe points-wise when it comes to the playoff race as he remains tied for seventh, but things can change fast, especially if there are additional winners from outside the field. He may need to get the “first career win” monkey off his back to be safe.

    15. Joey Logano (Last week: 14)

    Logano won the pole this past weekend, continuing his reign of terror on new or repaved surfaces, but his luck ran out on race day as he was involved in a crash after being mired back in traffic on pit strategy and finished 21st. He remains outside the playoffs, 16 points in arrears of Wallace, but on the bright side, Iowa — another one of those new surfaces — feels like it could be one of his best opportunities to win his way in.

    16. Austin Cindric (Last week: 12)

    Cindric, known for his road racing experience, probably would like to have followed up his surprising Gateway win with a better performance than he had at Sonoma, as he spun multiple times and finished 22nd. Still, the rest of the regular season is virtually meaningless for him as he’s locked into the playoffs, so he’ll just look to move onto the next one.

    Dropped out: Alex Bowman

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