Kim O'Reilly, CBS Sports

As his post-race winner's press conference continued into the night, a reporter asked Denny Hamlin what he was doing with the gladiator sword he earned for winning the Night Race at Bristol.

"Fighting off all the haters," Hamlin said cheekily. "Jam 'em in the gut if they come close to me. ... Anybody talks s--t, come bring it."

What was clear long before and definitely after Hamlin celebrated his win amid the deafening roar of boos from the crowd was that Hamlin not only accepts the fact that he's become NASCAR's biggest villain, but he also actively embraces and enjoys it. "I beat your favorite driver! All of them!" was a next level taunt. Putting his sword in his mouth like the unhinged boss of a video game was downright diabolical -- and if you'll forgive me for editorializing, I loved every bit of it having been at the track to see it for myself.

Hamlin's Bristol victory combined with the way he's started the playoffs overall has made him the new top driver in the CBS Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, and he'll lead the way for all drivers that have now advanced to the Round of 12 in this year's playoffs.

Here's a look at our updated Power Rankings:

1Denny Hamlin
When he won the Bristol Night Race in 2019, Denny Hamlin actually apologized for being the bad guy and denying Matt DiBenedetto a Cinderella-style upset victory. Remembering that illustrates just how much Hamlin's tone has changed as he's embraced being NASCAR's heel.
2Kyle Larson--Kyle Larson is rounding into form at exactly the right time in the season, and he now gets his shot at Round of 12 redemption. The second round is where Larson's playoff run came to an end last year.
3Tyler Reddick
Tyler Reddick had a special guest at Bristol on Saturday, as he was accompanied to the race by J Balvin. Driving for 23XI Racing sure has some nice perks.
4Chris Buescher
Advancing to the Round of 12 should ensure that Chris Buescher has his best finish ever in the Cup championship standings. His previous best had been 16th as a rookie in 2016 and a first-round exit in that year's playoffs.
5Brad Keselowski
It's perfectly possible that Brad Keselowski easily advances to the Round of 12, but he needs a few more playoff points to aid his effort to make the Round of 8. Keselowski enters the Round of 12 three points below the cut line by virtue of having yet to win a race this year.
6William Byron
Last year's Texas race saw a controversial accident where William Byron hit Denny Hamlin and spun him out under caution. One year later, Byron enters Texas tied for the No. 1 seed while Hamlin appears poised to challenge him for the Cup championship.
7Chase Elliott
Kyle Larson said Friday that Chase Elliott sideswiping him at Kansas got a little overblown in the media, and it probably was. Elliott did what he needed to in order to move on from that, starting and finishing seventh at Bristol.
8Christopher Bell
After three poles in a row to start the Round of 16, Bell matching or exceeding the Cup Series all-time record of five consecutive poles is now in play. Bell was self-deprecating about his chances of winning the pole in two races at Talladega, but he did win both Talladega poles in 2022.
9Bubba Wallace
When I was on pit road for post-race media availabilities, someone in the grandstands was trying to heckle Bubba Wallace and say he hadn't actually accomplished anything. But Wallace is on to the Round of 12 in the playoffs and maintains a rent-free residence in his haters' heads.
10Erik Jones
A strong Round of 16 for Erik Jones ended with a letdown in Bristol. Jones had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to a loose wheel and ended up finishing three laps down in 24th.
11Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch has something very useful in his hip pocket as he begins the Round of 12 at Texas. Busch's No. 8 team won the playoff race at Texas last year with Tyler Reddick in the driver's seat.
12Ross Chastain--It feels like every time I've been at a racetrack this season, Trackhouse Racing has had some sort of press conference or announcement to make. Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez will have a new teammate in 2024, as Zane Smith has joined the team and will move to Cup in partnership with Spire Motorsports.
13Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. shouldn't hang his head about not advancing to the next round of the playoffs. A Daytona 500 win already makes this the best season of his career, and another top 10 like he had on Saturday night will tie his career-high mark in that category.
14Kevin Harvick
Compared to other drivers who get knocked out of the playoffs, there's a real tangible sense of finality to Kevin Harvick's playoff run coming to an end. Harvick will finish his career having won a lone Cup championship in 2014.
15Ty Gibbs
As Ty Gibbs led midway through the Bristol Night Race, it looked like he had a very real chance of becoming the first driver to get their first win in the Night Race since Ernie Irvan did so in 1990. He had to settle for fifth with a career-high 102 laps led.
16Michael McDowell
The big takeaway from Michael McDowell's 2023 season should be that he's no longer an underdog. It isn't a surprise anymore when he qualifies in the top 10, nor when McDowell has the sort of sixth-place run he had at Bristol when he absolutely had to have it.
17Alex Bowman
This coming weekend at Texas will surely see Alex Bowman try to settle the score with that racetrack. Bowman suffered a concussion in a crash during last year's race at Texas that ultimately ended his 2022 playoff pursuit.
18Ryan Blaney
In a video taken from pit road on Saturday night, Ryan Blaney was seen pushing Fox Sports reporter Bob Pockrass. It created quite a stir, but Blaney said that the two talked immediately afterward and apologized, as Pockrass inadvertently walked into him.
19Martin Truex Jr.
When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, Sherry Pollex, Martin Truex Jr.'s longtime girlfriend, could have given up on life. Instead, she made a terrific and inspiring impact on those suffering from ovarian and pediatric cancers as she bravely battled her own illness for nine years. Our condolences to her friends and family.
20Joey Logano
Having been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, Joey Logano is in jeopardy of going from winning a Cup championship to finishing outside the top 10 in next year's standings. That hasn't happened since 2014, when Jimmie Johnson followed up his sixth championship with an 11th-place finish in the standings.
21Corey LaJoie
Strangely, Corey LaJoie ended up getting away from the biggest accident of the night the cleanest despite sliding back up into traffic and getting clobbered. LaJoie remains the only driver to have been running at the finish in every race this season, and he also added a career-high 48 laps led during his night at Bristol.
22Aric Almirola
Something to make note of: During a media availability on Friday, 2020 Cup Rookie of the Year Cole Custer was asked about potentially being a candidate to drive the No. 10 car next year should Aric Almirola retire.
23Daniel Suarez
Since the NASCAR Cup Series doesn't have a race south of the border, trips to Texas are as close as Daniel Suarez gets to a home race. It's a little over 500 miles from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Suarez's native Monterrey, Mexico.
24Austin Dillon
In his last six starts at Texas, Austin Dillon has five top-15 finishes but only one inside the top 10. That top-10 finish, however, was his third career win back in July 2020.
25Ryan Preece
Ryan Preece is as good as they come in the Cup Series when it comes to being a pure short-track racer. Preece had one of his best runs of the season at Bristol, finishing 12th.
26Todd Gilliland
Texas offers some pretty bitter memories for Todd Gilliland. He was driving off into the night and about to win his first Craftsman Truck Series race there in 2018, but ran out of fuel on the final lap and lost to Justin Haley.
27Chase Briscoe
Chase Briscoe has to be counting down the days until his miserable 2023 season comes to an end. A 27th-place finish at Bristol was Briscoe's third finish of 27th or worse in his last five races.
28AJ Allmendinger
Two years ago, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric collided off Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag, spinning and crashing across the finish line as Allmendinger prevailed in an Xfinity Series race. Two years later, the two came together almost identically in the same section of the track -- in virtually the exact same paint schemes -- but this time it was early in the race and neither ended up with good finishes at all.
29Justin Haley
Weeks after he announced his move to Rick Ware Racing in 2023, Haley's No. 31 team now knows what they'll be doing next year as well. On Friday, the team announced that Daniel Hemric will be promoted back to the Cup Series as the new driver of the No. 31.
30Harrison Burton
Harrison Burton makes his way back into this week's Power Rankings, and I bet he's looking forward to a return trip to Texas. Burton led 15 laps at Texas last year, which remains the most he's ever led in a Cup race.