1. That was the wildest Cup Series season in recent memory
In team sports, particularly the NFL, it’s become comical how often about midway through a season, the pundits bust out the “oh my goodness, can you believe how crazy this season is?” gimmick. In truth, it usually isn’t all that wild, but merely a combination of some teams underperforming, some surprising contenders rising up, and some unforgettable plays. Fun, yes, but something that actually happens annually.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season was not like that.
Or to be more precise, it did include some of those same facets. Drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski didn’t win, while Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez did, turning Trackhouse Racing Team into an immediate contender. Chastain also pulled off the “Hail Melon” at Martinsville, a move destined to be discussed in and outside of motorsports fandom for years to come.
But there was so much more. The Next Gen car made its debut, and it flipped the top level of stock car racing on its head. Intermediate tracks were now … fun? And with short tracks and road course circuits correspondingly and nearly universally duller, it made for a bit of a Bizarro Cup season in many ways.
The new car also became the center of attention in a more decidedly negative way as the year went on, raising questions about whether it was less safe in certain kinds of crashes than what preceded it (not to mention disturbingly prone to burst into flames). Though it’s unclear whether it was the Next Gen’s fault, Kurt Busch qualified for the playoffs but could not race in them after suffering a concussion in a hard crash this summer, then called it quits from full time competition.
A series rookie, Austin Cindric, won the Daytona 500. The Texas race in September turned into a debacle. A successful appeal of a NASCAR penalty changed the course of the playoffs for Hendrick Motorsports.
That’s a lot for one calendar year. So much so that the 2023 season is almost certain to look tamer in comparison. Then again, Jimmie Johnson already announced that he’s returning to NASCAR as a part-owner and occasional driver, so …
Anyway, with respect to all the sportswriters out there who keep the “craziest season ever” trope alive, this was one where it actually applied.
2. Joey Logano, all-time great?
Once the Cup Series Championship 4 was set, it just felt like Joey Logano was going to win. Sure, you could make a case for any of the other three drivers: Chase Elliott had done it before, Ross Chastain had momentum, and Christopher Bell had shown he could come up with clutch wins when needed.
Yet Logano has proven himself to be consistently able to deliver when it matters as well, and is arguably the most adaptable racer in the Cup Series. New tracks or layouts? He’s almost always one of the top threats to win. New car? He handled that with gusto this season as well.
The question now is whether Logano’s second championship has made you reconsider how you view him. Maybe it should; he’s now one of only 17 drivers in the history of the sport to win multiple Cup Series titles, and one of only two who still race full-time.
Logano’s 31 race wins may not sound that impressive, tying him for 28th all time, but they’re more than at least 10 Hall of Famers. At age 32, he figures to grab more unless he decides to step away at a relatively young age. If he manages, say, 10 more victories, he’s in the top 20 on the career list.
All this is to say everyone knows Logano is good. What he did in 2022 cements the idea that he’s great.
3. Who is the 2023 Cup Series favorite as things stand today?
Sportsbooks and oddsmakers post futures odds on title favorites in some sports almost the moment one championship is over. Not so much for NASCAR, where you generally have to wait until the Daytona 500 gets closer.
Part of that may be due to how much changes behind the scenes with race teams from season to season. That means big moves like Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick switching organizations, but also smaller things like crew chief changes.
That said, speculating on who the favorites are way too far ahead of time is fun, whether you can place money on such things or not. Logano would definitely be a strong pick to be the favorite, but it’s extremely difficult to defend the Cup Series crown — no one has done it since Johnson in 2010.
So if not him, then who? How about Elliott? Consider:
- He’s the only driver to make the Championship 4 each of the last three seasons.
- He’s also had 20+ top-10 finishes from 2020-2022, proving he and his team have a rare level of consistency.
- He led the Cup Series in wins in 2022, even though it felt like a down year at times for him.
Sure, there seem to be issues within Hendrick Motorsports about the pecking order and things of that nature, and the organization wasn’t exactly shining brightest down the stretch run of the playoffs. But Elliott still feels like the most likely driver to both reach the Championship 4 and make a run at winning the final race once he gets there. He should be the driver with the best futures odds once they start getting set for 2023.
4. Maybe NASCAR should get Big E to do driver intros for every big race
WWE fans already know Big E is an absolute treasure. The 36-year-old wrestler (real name: Ettore Ewen) and fan favorite member of The New Day is currently out of action due to a serious neck injury and may not be able to return to the ring.
Fortunately, he has a natural ability to excite and entertain crowds even when all he has is a microphone, and he proved it again at Phoenix ahead of the Cup Series championship race. Check it out if you missed it:
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) November 6, 2022
Someone please consider getting Big E to do the intros ahead of every crown jewel race and championship event, because you can’t help but get fired up when he does his thing.
5. A World Cup of racing would be a lot of fun
OK, IROC was sort of like this and if it was popular, would still be a thing. But the impending arrival of the world’s most popular sporting event reminded this writer that one thing drivers don’t really get to do on any significant scale is race for their country.
So let’s dream for a second. Like the soccer World Cup, the World Cup of Racing could be held just once every four years to minimize the disruption on NASCAR, IndyCar, F1 and wherever else drivers would come from. There could be national organizing bodies of some sort that would select the teams, which would make for fun debates about who would make the cut.
As for the races themselves, let’s say they’d be a mix of track layouts and disciplines: ovals and road courses, stock car events and open-wheel races. None would be endurance races, but they’d be long enough so that each team would be required to use multiple drivers. The thought would be the U.S. would likely have the advantage in stock car racing but other countries would have the edge in open-wheel, probably.
Logistically, this would probably never happen, but it’s fun to dream, right? Something to think about when you’re watching soccer over the next few months.
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