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With the Daytona 500 and races on two intermediate tracks — Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway — in the history books, the NASCAR Cup Series drivers who figure to be contenders in 2023 are starting to  come into focus.

Let’s take a look at three drivers who are currently red hot and three who, beyond a shadow of any doubt, are not.

Hot: William Byron

Talk about a quick turnaround. William Byron went from being 29th in points after two races — thanks to finishes of 34th and 25th — to dominating Race No. 3 by capturing all three stages and leading 176 of 271 laps.

Byron led a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the top three finishing positions at Las Vegas Motor Speedway over teammates Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman but needed a late caution that set up a green-white-checkered-finish to reel in Larson and have a shot at the win that appeared to be his for the taking almost the entire afternoon.

With his first victory in almost a year, Byron moved all the way to 13th in the standings but, more importantly, earned automatic entry into the 2023 Cup Series playoffs.

Hot: Alex Bowman

One of only two drivers to finish in the top 10 in all three races this season, Alex Bowman continues to impress with first-year crew chief Blake Harris calling the shots on his No. 48 Chevrolet.

After missing five of last year’s final six races while battling a concussion, Bowman has returned with a vengeance this season by quickly establishing himself as the Cup Series’ most consistent frontrunner.

With three races in the books, the recently re-signed Hendrick Motorsports driver has finishes of fifth, eighth, and third for an average outcome of 5.3. That’s on top of his Daytona 500 pole.

Unsurprisingly, based on his strong results, Bowman is second in the Cup Series standings — just three points behind leader Ross Chastain and 18 ahead of third-place Kevin Harvick.

Hot: Christopher Bell

After starting on the pole at Auto Club Speedway when rain washed out qualifying for the season’s second race, Christopher Bell led just one lap and crashed out of the race before the halfway mark on the way to a 32nd-place finish.

But on the front end and back end of those highly disappointing results, Bell has been nothing less than impressive in 2023 — much like he ended 2022. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished third and led 20 laps in the Daytona 500 and came home fifth this past weekend at Las Vegas, where he was the second-highest finishing Toyota.

Bell now ranks seventh in the standings, only 35 points out of first, a season after going to Victory Lane a career-high three times, qualifying for the Championship 4 and placing third among the quartet of championship finalists.

Not: Chase Briscoe

Regardless of how you slice the proverbial pie, 2023 hasn’t tasted very good to Chase Briscoe. At least so far.

The second-year Stewart-Haas Racing driver is a dreadful 32nd in the standings after posting finishes of 35th, 20th, and 28th. That’s a pretty big letdown for a driver who enjoyed a breakout 2022 season that featured not only his maiden Cup Series victory but also a deep playoff run that ended in the Round of 8.

If there’s any good news for Briscoe, it’s that the next track on the schedule — Phoenix Raceway — is the place where last spring he secured his first and only Cup Series triumph to date.

Not: Tyler Reddick

Just about everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong for Tyler Reddick in his first season with the 23XI Racing organization, co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

After winning three races, including two as a lame-duck driver, last year at Richard Childress Racing, Reddick seemed poised for a promising start at 23XI.

But his first three outings with the organization have been anything but, yielding two finishes outside of the top 30 and a best finish of 15th recorded this past weekend in Las Vegas.

Reddick certainly has time to turn his season around — and he may just do it — but virtually nothing has gone right so far for the two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and his No. 45 Toyota team.

Not: Aric Almirola

After originally planning to retire from full-time driving at the end of 2022, Aric Almirola had a change of heart late last season and decided to return to the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford this year and give it another go.

But unfortunately for Almirola, 2023 hasn’t gone the least bit to his liking. After three races, the veteran driver sits 21st in the standings, and the main reason couldn’t be any more obvious: He’s still searching for his first top-15 finish.

If Almirola wants to be able to justify in his own mind his revised plan to race on when he clearly had his reasons for wanting to hang it up, he’ll undoubtedly need to start putting some positive results on the board in the near future.


Commercial Tracker: 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway