Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: An Insanely Wild, Record-Tying 2022 Cup Season

I can’t think of much sports-wise that’s happening this weekend.

Right? Nothing super notable … wait, what’s that? Oh, right.

Fully kidding. This weekend is huge. Four — that’s right, four — championships will be decided this weekend (including Friday, Nov. 4) in the Southwest (five counting the ARCA Menards Series West). Games 6 and (if necessary) 7 of the Houston Astros-Philadelphia Phillies World Series will be played in Houston, on the heels of the first no-hitter in MLB’s title fight since 1956.

A little over 1,000 miles to the west, Phoenix Raceway hosts its third annual NASCAR title weekend, where the NASCAR Camping World Truck, NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Cup series will all see their champions crowned.

It’s been one hell of a year, and we’re coming off a weekend in which one teammate was wrecked by another and then Ross Chastain pulled off a video-game move for the ages to salvage his chances at a title.

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We’ll focus on Cup competition here, but Trucks and Xfinity have had their own quirks this year: at one point, the number of part-time or one-off drivers who scored Truck Series wins surpassed full-timers (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in July with Parker Kligerman‘s victory, for example), whereas in Xfinity we’ve had Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs combining to win 14 races, while the regular season points champion AJ Allmendinger has been knocked out of the postseason. Gibbs dominated early in the season, while Gragson just reeled off four straight wins in September.

There’s plenty of silly season speculation and news to go around in the weeks after Phoenix, but how in the world did we get here? Nineteen different winners, two unprecedented Championship 4 contenders … let’s just look back.

We headed into 2022 with Kyle Larson as the reigning champion, having won 10 races — more than a quarter of the season — in 2021 and some expecting further dominance from the No. 5.

Oh, how wrong that was.

The aforementioned 19 different winners span well over half of the 32 slated full-time drivers to start the season, no one particularly dominant at a specific type or length of track and only one instance of a driver winning two weeks in a row (that is, unless Christopher Bell ends up the race winner and champion this weekend to go back-to-back to end the season).

Newly anointed owner-driver Brad Keselowski and newly named RFK Racing had a fantastic Speedweeks, the 2012 champion and his teammate Chris Buescher sweeping the Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona International Speedway. But after a top-10 finish at Daytona, Keselowski didn’t score another such finish for nearly four months, and Buescher had some solid runs but also some bad luck, including a wild tumble at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

Buescher’s victory at Bristol Motor Speedway falls into a large category of drivers scoring their first or second wins this year.

The first six races featured three first-time winners in Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Chastain, the latter of whom also grabbed his second career triumph a few races later. They were later joined by Daniel Suarez at Sonoma Raceway and Tyler Reddick at Road America in the maiden-win category in 2022, and Reddick, Buescher, Bell and Bubba Wallace all hit the second-career-win milestones this year as well.

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Did You Notice?: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin Crumble As Christopher Bell Rises At Joe Gibbs Racing

We’ve had instant-classic finishes, like Reddick and Briscoe colliding on the last lap on the dirt at Bristol and allowing Kyle Busch to scoot by and secure the victory.

Chastain’s win at Circuit of the Americas was similarly dramatic, as he, Allmendinger and Alex Bowman bounced off one another and the No. 1 ended up ahead of the other two competitors for his first career triumph.

Drama has followed Chastain nearly all season, from joining Trackhouse Racing Team to scoring his first win to scoring his second win … and then, eventually, pissing off what seemed to be the entire Cup field. His quiet second half led him to Martinsville and the aforementioned video-game move, which may have topped the list of last-lap moments in 2022.

Teammate drama hasn’t been nonexistent this year — Elliott vs. Larson at both Auto Club Speedway and Watkins Glen International come to mind — and on-track incidents have been, as usual, a part of the action.

We haven’t even mentioned the Next Gen car yet! That’s been the biggest equalizer this year and has led to what’s become a season for the ages, though plenty of issues need to be addressed in the offseason with multiple drivers sitting out races (or, in Reddick’s case, parking early at Martinsville) due to effects of crashes in this new machine.

As for these playoffs overall, things started out with the first round being swept by non-playoff drivers, all shock victories, in one of the most bizarre Rounds of 16 we’ve had since the postseason era began and threw a huge wrench into who made it out of that gauntlet.

All of this mayhem aside, to touch on the Championship 4 as well — the quartet with a chance at a title doesn’t feel out of place. Sure, Denny Hamlin and Larson probably have the best cases to be there outside of the current four, but Chastain, Bell, Elliott and Joey Logano all have more than one win, 16 or more top 10s and double-digit top fives in 2022. Even with all the unpredictability, it somehow feels just right.

Weird how that worked, huh?

It’s been a pretty chaotic season. I doubt this weekend of series finales will be any different … and can’t wait.

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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Carl D.

I hope Ross wins Sunday, but I suspect Elliott will prevail.

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