Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: The 2022 Cup Series Champion Will be Decided by Talent, Luck … and Off-Track Rulings

1. Kyle Larson had his chance to race for a championship taken away by an appeals panel

When Kyle Larson took the checkered flag this past weekend in Miami, it could have been one of the biggest victories of his career, one that assured him of competing for a second straight Cup Series championship a few weeks from now.

Instead, it was relatively meaningless.

To be sure, wins are always welcome at the top level of stock car racing, and Larson more than deserved one at Homestead as he clearly had the car to beat. It just rang hollow since he was already out of contention to make this year’s Championship 4.

You may recall it took a series of unfortunate events, to borrow a phrase from a famous book series, for Larson to be eliminated in Charlotte, almost all of which were out of the No. 5 team’s control. But the most crucial, in terms of the championship picture, took place before engines ever fired at the ROVAL.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Cole Custer Is the Teammate Everyone Wants

The off-track action that helped seal Larson’s fate took place on Oct. 6, when the National Motorsports Panel of Appeals decided to give William Byron back the 25 points he was originally docked for retaliating against Denny Hamlin at Texas. Without that ruling, Larson would have been in the Round of 8 even with all his other misfortune — and now in the Championship 4 thanks to his Homestead triumph.

Instead, he’s going to have to content himself with another trophy while Byron, as of today, will get a chance to go for the title in his stead. Was the appeal ruling the right one? Perhaps, but it’s hard to imagine a more significant off-track event that could help decide a NASCAR champion.

And that’s not the only one that’s relevant as the last few races play out …

2. The Cole Custer decision could loom large as well

Another factor in the perfect storm of misery that sunk Larson now has taken on increased significance too. Cole Custer slowed enough at the ROVAL to hinder other cars on the final lap and allow teammate Chase Briscoe to race his way into the Round of 8 on points.

Custer was fined, and his crew chief was suspended indefinitely. But those punishments didn’t really do much to change the fact that he affected the playoff race, as Briscoe advanced and Larson was knocked out.

A week ago, that didn’t feel all that bad. It definitely does now in the wake of Larson’s victory. And heaven forbid Briscoe wins Martinsville and Byron moves up one spot in points, because that would mean two drivers in the Championship 4 that wouldn’t be there if not for rulings of some sort.

Can we consider hypothetical rules decisions as well? Sure, let’s do it …

3. What happens if one of Ross Chastain’s many aggrieved parties look for payback at Martinsville?

Ross Chastain has had a heck of a season. After winning several races in the first half of the campaign, he cooled off a bit during the summer. But he’s found his form again at the best possible time, with consecutive runner-up finishes helping him to second in the playoff standings heading into Martinsville. It would likely take a winner from the other drivers still alive (save for Joey Logano, who already has one this round) and a rotten points day for Chastain to not make the Championship 4.

You know what could easily create that rotten points day? If one of the drivers who feel Chastain wronged them earlier this season decide to take matters into their own hands and get some retribution. What better way to prove your point than to ensure someone who wrecked you gets wrecked at the worst possible time?

In other words, we’re not saying Denny Hamlin would do something like that, but we’re also not not saying it, if you follow.

It doesn’t have to be Hamlin since there were multiple drivers who felt Chastain might have raced them too rough during the regular season. If one of them spins Chastain on purpose, what happens then?

Considering the Stewart-Haas Racing precedent, probably nothing of consequence. The driver will lose points and money in the form of a fine, and the team’s crew chief will likely pay a heavy price. But if NASCAR shows any consistency, if there’s an intentional incident that costs Chastain a spot in the Championship 4, it isn’t likely to change results in a way that would make him whole.

Put another way, why wouldn’t a driver who isn’t still alive for the championship wreck Chastain? They don’t really have much to lose, relatively speaking (though the crew chief might feel differently), while the Melon Man has everything at stake.

Here’s hoping we don’t have to find out, because that would bring on the most critical discipline decision of 2022.

4. It feels inevitable that an off-track ruling is going to shape this championship

The common thread between the first three points this week is that there are now more chances for the champion to be at least partially decided by what’s gone down off the track than there are for someone to simply win their way to the title.

It’s not even clear what would count as “chalk” now, or an outcome completely unaffected by any kind of ruling or appeal. Maybe Logano winning the final race, or Chase Elliott, though he feels like he’s fading at the worst possible time.

This season has had plenty of talking points on its own thanks to the Next Gen car, which has nearly flipped the dynamic of the racing on different types of tracks 180 degrees (intermediates somehow now exciting, short tracks and road courses in need of possible help). There have been downsides as well, led by the potential safety issues.

But if the season ends with everyone talking about how NASCAR or people who handle appeals helped decide the champion, that’s as unfortunate as it gets. Root for Logano? For the good of the sport, you might have to.

5. Can Christopher Bell come up clutch again?

Lest we spend the entire column on doom and gloom, let’s consider one energizing possibility that still remains. Christopher Bell was in a win or go home situation in the Round of 12 and pulled off a clutch victory to advance to the Round of 8. Guess what? He’s in the same place now, essentially needing a win to make the Championship 4.

There’s at least some reason to think he could pull it off. Bell has no career victories at Martinsville, though he has a top-10 finish in Cup and raced well there when he was a Truck Series regular. He certainly proved he could find ways to victory lane at short tracks during his two very successful Xfinity Series seasons.

All of which is to say Bell won’t be a favorite, but we know he has a flair for the dramatic. And if he wins his way into the Championship 4, he would be a thrilling addition to the group racing for a title at Phoenix.

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Well, the stands are packed/overflowing at every venue and the TV ratings are through the roof! Apparently this is what the fans want!

Nope. They’re not – I’m pretty sure reality is just the opposite, but NASCAR can’t see it.

Kurt Smith

Packed grandstands and soaring ratings were definitely the case in 2003.

Bill B

The NASCAR Cup championship has become arbitrary from the drop of the green flag at Daytona to the checkered flag at Phoenix (or wherever they decide to hold the final race). Too many ways for the drivers with the most wins/top 5s/top 10s to be eliminated along the way and too many ways for drivers with subpar stats to advance. Then in the end it comes down to whoever has the fastest pit stop on the last stop of the season. Might as well draw numbers.


I’m disappointed in this article, there were a number of positive story lines that came out of Homestead. Instead this article chooses to focus on negatives, or perceived negatives. Larson’s win was “relatively meaningless.” Perhaps the writer should have checked with the other drivers, & teams who won races after the start of the playoffs & see if their wins were relatively meaningless as well.

The Media seems to be working hard to keep the hard feelings towards Chastain alive, probably to give them an easy story line. He’s learned from past mistakes, changed & dialed back the aggression. It’s time for the media to stop flogging this.

As for Byron’s punishment being adjusted by the appeals panel. Wasn’t the original punishment also manipulating the outcome as well? Compared to Wallace’s deal, his was something just a little more serious than flipping the bird. I never thought it rose to the level of killing the teams playoff chances. Now I feel the punishment fits the crime.

And no, I don’t think that the media needs to be cheerleaders for the sport. There are things that need to be called out, but I don’t see these instances rising to that level.


As far as the Custer penalty, slowing down to help the team has been going on for years. Whether its for the win or to let someone get their lap back. Dale Sr was doing the same thing when he wrecked in 2001. Kurt Busch won earlier when his teammate helped ‘Shake and Back’ for him. When they could race back to the caution flag, teammates would slow down to let them get their lap back. That’s one of the benefits of having a muti-car team. Remember when a championship was on the line and teams would have a start/park car to make sure that points were eliminated from being collected? I remember RCR running someone when Dale Sr needed to protect his lead.


Exactly. My opinion; So long as the team does not purposely wreck another car or purposely wreck themselves to bring out a caution – if they simply slow down and give up a few spots on track – so be it. If they want to pull a car behind the wall and park it, fine (sponsors probably wouldn’t be happy, but that is between the parking team and the sponsors). If a team mate wants to race a competitor hard (but clean) for a position to help another team mate, that is fair game as well even if they are multiple laps down. While I don’t like “team orders” in racing, they are a reality.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy
Bill B

My biggest gripe is that teams haven’t been more inventive in coming up with code words and proactive in discussing strategies before the race. It isn’t rocket science to figure out a way to tell a guy to let cars pass him without saying “slow down” or “let some guys pass you”.


I’d love to see that as a reason on the penalty report: “Actions so obvious even NASCAR couldn’t look the other way and pretend not to see it.” lol

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