There are certain weekends that a driver has in a given season -- when they're high in the points but the deck is stacked against them -- that determine whether or not they're championship material. Chase Elliott may have had that moment on Sunday.
After a cut tire led to him crashing his primary car in practice, Elliott was forced to start from the rear of the field at Darlington with a backup car. And sure enough, he drove his second option through the field more than once, coming home fifth at the checkered flag and capitalizing on a day where his challengers for the regular season crown faltered. While William Byron and Ryan Blaney are now tied for second in the points standings, Elliott has built a 65-point lead .
He's also taken the top spot in the CBS Sports Power Rankings for the first time this year.
While Elliott swapped spots with Ross Chastain at the top of the standings, Byron headlined the big movers by jumping up three spots to move into third. Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano each gained four spots, while Michael McDowell matched Byron with three spots gained. There were several big losers this week as well, including Kyle Larson (-5), Chase Briscoe and Martin Truex Jr. (-4), and Cole Custer (-3).
Since this was Throwback Weekend, it's interesting to think of what these Power Rankings would have looked like in years' past: If we match car numbers and go back 20 years, Bill Elliott would be leading the power rankings followed by Steve Park, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Mike Skinner, and Ward Burton. Feel free to use your imagination for the rest of the rankings as well.
Here's a look at our updated rankings in their entirety:
|1||Chase Elliott||Chase Elliott gave Jimmy Means' old car a ride like it's never had before. In 455 career Cup Series starts, Means' best finish ever was a 7th at Talladega in 1983.|
|2||Ross Chastain||If things kept up the way they'd been going through the first two stages, Ross Chastain would probably still have the top spot. Alas, a spin off Turn 2 changed that. That's just racin'|
|3||William Byron||William Byron was just two laps away from staking his claim to being the dominant driver of the 2022 season. Byron leads the Cup Series in laps led, and that mark now stands at 544.|
|4||Ryan Blaney||"Technically" Ryan Blaney was a non-participant in Throwback Weekend, but his paint scheme Sunday was inspired by Rusty Wallace's old "Midnight" Miller Genuine Draft Ford. I guess we can grandfather that one in.|
|5||Kyle Busch||Kyle Busch caught flak (justifiably so) for not entering the garage safely at Darlington last fall. So he stopped at garage entry and got flak again. Can't please anybody.|
|6||Alex Bowman||Alex Bowman's tribute to Mark Martin's 1993 Southern 500 win could have gone a lot better. For one thing, Martin's Valvoline Ford Thunderbird looked a lot cleaner at the end and wasn't on fire.|
|7||Tyler Reddick||One day when Tyler Reddick has a bunch of wins, we'll talk about how many runner-ups he's had like we talk about how many Harry Gant, Bill Elliott and Chase Elliott had. His time is coming.|
|8||Christopher Bell||In the category of "Wait, that wasn't two years ago?", Christopher Bell's throwback was based off a paint scheme he drove in the Truck Series in 2017. He drove it to a solid sixth-place finish.|
|9||Kevin Harvick||Kevin Harvick has been a frontrunner for so long that you normally don't think anything of him getting a top five, but Sunday marked just his second top 5 finish this season.|
|10||Joey Logano||When he was coming up through the ranks, Joey Logano was nicknamed "Sliced Bread." The Logano family should have pointed to the "Smoking Joe" on his old quarter-midget, because it's way cooler and more on-brand.|
|11||Chase Briscoe||Chase Briscoe's hot start to 2022 has fizzled out. Since his last top 10 at Martinsville, Briscoe's best finish is 13th and he's finished 20th or worse three times.|
|12||Austin Dillon||--||If things keep going the way they are, 2022 might end up being one of Austin Dillon's best statistical seasons. His 15.2 average finish is just off the career-high 14.4 he set last year.|
|13||Kyle Larson||Kyle Larson ended up finishing last after motor problems, but his Tim Richmond throwback gets major points for the open-chest photo he posted on Twitter Sunday morning.|
|14||Martin Truex Jr.||Martin Truex Jr. had been looking for back-to-back spring Darlington wins, and led 28 laps before triggering a major crash down the backstretch. He was left with his second DNF of the season.|
|15||Daniel Suarez||Do it for 'Dale': Daniel Suarez led the Trackhouse contingent after Ross Chastain's accident, finishing 10th in a Dale Earnhardt throwback. In Spanish, you'd say ¡Hazlo por Dale!|
|16||Erik Jones||Although the results didn't show it after the crash on the backstretch, Erik Jones had Richard Petty's No. 43 up as high as the top five in a strong showing for Petty GMS. It was the best Petty's '57 Oldsmobile has looked in a long time.|
|17||Justin Haley||After hovering just below the top 10 for weeks, Justin Haley scored his first top 10 of the year with feeling. His third-place finish is the best of his young career, not including his strategy-fueled win at Daytona in 2019.|
|18||Aric Almirola||Aric Almirola's grandfather, "Slammin' Sammy" Rodriguez, is a legend in the Tampa Bay dirt racing scene. Rodriguez was atop the pit box Sunday and got to see his grandson drive his tribute scheme to an 11th-place finish.|
|19||Chris Buescher||The paint scheme that Chris Buescher drove to a 16th place finish on Sunday finished 16th twice in 2004, with Matt Kenseth getting that result at Texas and Martinsville. "I looked it up so you don't have to."|
|20||Kurt Busch||Kurt Busch's hit into the backstretch wall wasn't the hardest that '96 McDonald's Ford ever took. Bill Elliott went up in the air and landed hard at Talladega that season, suffering a hip injury that caused him to miss seven races that season.|
|21||Michael McDowell||By his standards, Michael McDowell has been on a hot streak as of late. Not only does seventh match his season-best, but he now has three top 10 finishes in the last four races.|
|22||Bubba Wallace||--||Bubba Wallace just can't check out of the Hard Luck Hotel. Wallace had a top 10 run going before getting caught in the wreck on the backstretch, continuing a season of misfortune late in races.|
|23||Brad Keselowski||The Mark Martin throwback that Brad Keselowski was driving when he blew a tire was usually around at the finish in 2004. Martin had just two DNFs that season, both due to blown engines in the Daytona 500 and at Pocono.|
|24||Austin Cindric||Although Austin Cindric's paint scheme was not a strict throwback, it used the exact same base that all of Rusty Wallace's paint schemes did in 2005. Points for creativity.|
|25||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||What a difference seven days has made for Ricky Stenhouse's season. With an eighth place finish at Darlington, Stenhouse now has two-straight top 10s and three overall, more than he had in all of 2021.|
|26||Denny Hamlin||--||For a driver who's having a horrible season, Denny Hamlin's led 158 laps on the year and 109 in the past two weeks. If Hamlin's luck turns, results will likely follow.|
|27||Ty Dillon||Driving a throwback to Lee Petty's 1959 Daytona 500-winning car, Ty Dillon earned a 12th place finish. And with electronic timing and scoring, NASCAR won't have to take three days to determine if he finished there.|
|28||Cole Custer||Speaking of terrible luck, Cole Custer ended up in another problem not of his own making. It was an unfortunate throwback to the old NetZero Pontiac, which crashed out of four races in 2003 and went through four different drivers.|
|29||Harrison Burton||Harrison Burton earned a career-best 14th driving the same paint scheme that his father had his very best season in Cup in. Burton drove his lightning bolt Exide Batteries paint job to a career-best third in points in 2000.|
|30||Todd Gilliland||Todd Gilliland makes his way back into the Power Rankings after scoring the first top 15 finish of his career. It was a nice bounceback for Gilliland, who entered Sunday with two-straight finishes of 27th or worse.|