Race Weekend Central

2022 Cup Series Awards: Celebrating the Best Parts of NASCAR’s Craziest Year

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season was unprecedented in so many ways that the annual NASCAR post-season awards ceremony being held this weekend in Nashville simply won’t do this year justice alone.

Therefore, Frontstretch has come to award some the greatest and even the downright craziest parts of the 2022 season for your reading and viewing pleasure.

So straighten those bowties, order some champagne and put on that weird fedora that Chase Elliott wears. It’s our time to give out awards for the craziest season in NASCAR history.

The Richard Petty Most Dominant Driver Award

Since we’re on the topic of Elliott … .

While it’s true that Joey Logano ended the year as the Cup champion, there’s no denying that if the series was still under the pre-2004 points system, the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports crew would have had everyone beat by a lot.

In fact, the Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet would have second place beat by a massive 53 points — almost a full race ahead.

There’s no doubt Elliott had a lot of those stage points to thank, too, as he also earned the most of those over every other driver with 213. Additionally, he had the highest average finish over the rest of the field by almost a full position with 12.5. The second-most was 13.3.

Elliott’s dominance in 2022 doesn’t stop there, either. The Georgian also led the most laps over everyone else with 857 over Logano’s 784 and has arguably the most important stat of all: the most wins.

In a year when competition seemed tighter than ever in the modern era of NASCAR, wins were hard to come by for all drivers in the field, yet the No. 9 had earned the most with five and, for a couple weeks, seemed to be emerging as the team to beat in 2022.

Read all of Frontstretch‘s content looking back on 2022 here

While Elliott walked away with only the regular-season championship rather than the full title, he also won his fifth consecutive Most Popular Driver award, so we can add that to the list, too.

The Jimmy Spencer “Mr. Excitement” Award

Logano may have won the championship, and Elliott may have won the races, but Ross Chastain stole the show.

It was never in question if the watermelon farmer was an aggressive racecar driver or not going into 2022, and based on his track record of controversial moments this year, it likely will never be.

Even his first win didn’t come without some flared feathers from the likes of the usually joyous AJ Allmendinger. At Circuit of the Americas, Chastain punted the Californian road racer into the dirt heading into the penultimate corner of the circuit to claim his first win of his career and first for Trackhouse Racing Team.

It wasn’t the most popular move, and anybody who can make even Allmendinger a little ticked off deserves some notice.

But hey, some controversy is kind of fun to watch, right?

Well, Chastain brought plenty of that and more. While he only went on to win one other race in 2022 coming at Talladega Superspeedway, the Floridian earned more top 10s and top fives than anyone else all while appearing in the headlines for many weekends throughout the year, and it was often at the expense of Denny Hamlin.

The veteran Toyota racer may not have approved of Chastain’s antics for most of the year and more often than once vowed revenge on the Chevrolet driver. Still, it made for some interesting weekends complete with terse comments from the Joe Gibbs Racing competitor, and while that rivalry seemingly fizzled off by the end of the season, Chastain was one to watch – for better or for worse – the whole year.

And after that move in Martinsville Speedway, could it really go to anyone else?

The Dale Earnhardt Best Racing Moment of the Year Award

Speaking of which.

When Chastain found himself at the lower end of the playoff cut line near the waning moments of the championship elimination race at Martinsville Speedway, it appeared to many as though all hope was lost.

Hamlin so happened to be the No. 1 team’s playoff rival regarding the last Championship 4 transfer spot and had the faster car along with the track position he needed to transfer. Chastain needed just a couple positions to overtake the No. 11 in the standings, but with a struggling car, lack of speed and no time left to catch those in front of him, there was nothing short of a miracle that could help them make the ground up.

Or so we thought, until the last lap.

There are a few examples of drivers doing crazy things to advance their position for the sake of points or for a win. A lot of them were performed by somebody named Dale Earnhardt, and a lot of them were moments fans will never forget.

This is one of those moments.

The Hail Melon could be considered among one of the best moments of the decade, and it’ll likely be something that won’t be forgetten until the end of racing itself.

The Darrell Waltrip Best Soundbite Award

There are times when crew chiefs will need to rouse their driver when things look bad during a race that’s not going well. Oftentimes, these rousing speeches are referred to as cheerleading.

As amusing as it would be to picture Cliff Daniels dancing with pom-poms on top of a pit box, there was no cheerleading when he gave a motivational speech to his driver Kyle Larson during this year’s Coca-Cola 600. Instead, Daniels spoke with the demeanor of a military general that Memorial Day weekend.

Larson had just about everything save the kitchen sink thrown at him in the first half of the grueling endurance race. After multiple penalties, wall scrapes and even being on fire at one point, the 2021 champion was understandably doubting himself as the race neared halfway.

But Daniels reminded him to never give up in one of the best crew chief speeches ever.

For a moment, the newfound spirit was working. Larson eventually made up his lost time and even challenged for the lead in the final few laps of the race. He went on to lead 51 laps and was out front when Chase Briscoe wrecked himself while attempting to catch Larson for the lead.

The ensuing restart saw the No. 5 involved in a crash and cost the Californian the win, but had it not been for it, there’s very little doubt that Daniels’ speech would have been a massive part of Larson earning his second Coca-Cola 600 victory.

The Tim Richmond Comeback Driver of the Year Award

For two-and-a-half years, Christopher Bell had one Cup win to his name, and it came in early 2021.

Bell is driving what many refer to as a revolving door car for JGR. The No. 20 team has had four different drivers in the last 10 years, with each being seemingly booted for poor performance. Unfortunately for the Toyota driver, one win in three years doesn’t cut it. Just ask Logano. With team owner Joe Gibbs’ grandson Ty Gibbs rising quickly in the ranks, some eyes were on Bell to start performing to a JGR standard.

See also
Ty Gibbs Driving No. 54 in Cup Series in 2023

In the second half of the season, he did.

The Oklahoman not only won his second career race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he also earned not one but two walk-off wins during the playoffs at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL and Martinsville, elevating his win count of the year to three and punching his ticket into the Championship 4 in only his third full-time year in Cup.

In a team that has a game of musical racecars on its hands for the next couple of years, Bell’s comeback performance may have solidified the No. 20 as the best team at JGR. With it, he may have also bought some job security for a while.

The Trevor Bayne Biggest Upset of the Year Award

Some folks may have been shocked that a Team Penske driver went on to win the championship this year, but how soon we forget that they started off 2022 with one of the biggest upsets in the last few years.

While Penske is considered as one of the top teams in the Cup Series at the moment, incoming Cup rookies usually have some difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings no matter what team they are racing for.

Regardless, Austin Cindric, in only his second Daytona 500 and eighth Cup start, earned his first victory in the best way a rookie possibly could.

He’s often been considered as a road-course racer rather than somebody who would do well on superspeedways, but often times drivers will mostly need a combination of luck and survival to make it to the end of one of these perilous events. Cindric happened to stay out of trouble enough that February day to earn his first win at the age of 23, only three years off from the record-holding Trevor Bayne.

The Alan Kulwicki Underdog of the Year Award

It doesn’t seem right to put a team owned by Richard Petty in the underdog category. It also doesn’t seem right to put a former JGR driver in the underdog category.

Yet here we are. Petty GMS had been winless since Aric Almirola earned his first career win with the team at a rained-out Daytona International Speedway in July 2014.

Meanwhile, Erik Jones had been winless since his Darlington Raceway Southern 500 win in 2019. It was a time the Michigan native was still racing for JGR in the No. 20, but after only earning two wins in his three years with the team, he was let go at the end of the 2020 season.

However, the two entities have enjoyed some newfound life together since joining forces in 2021, and in 2022, the No. 43 team seemed just on the verge of being playoff worthy. In fact, it was one week shy of racing for a championship.

Jones earned three top fives and 13 top 10s in 2022 — the same amount he earned in 2020 with JGR.

To put the cherry on the Petty GMS sundae, Jones went on to earn the team’s first Cup race win under green-flag conditions since 2012 when he won at Darlington again in September.

The 2022 season was a year of awakening for the Richard Petty’s race team, and with 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender Noah Gragson joining full time and NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson returning part time in 2023 as a co-owner of the organization, it may not be much longer that we can consider it as part of the underdog category.

See also
Friday Faceoff: Where Should Jimmie Johnson Race in 2023?

And it’s mostly thanks to that Jones boy.

Best Race of the Year

It’s really difficult to pick just one.

However, if one looks at what the 2022 year was truly about, you’ll find that it was a year that saw the beginning of a new era for NASCAR. It had a new car, a couple new tracks and even a few new winners to boot.

That said, one race seemingly truly encapsulated this year in its weekend, and it wasn’t even a points race.

It almost seems like a scene out of a movie. How fitting considering it took place in Los Angeles.

The 2022 Busch Light Clash may not have been the absolute barnburner that many other races were on the track, but off of it, it was a spectacle NASCAR has not seen in a very long time.

With concerts from musicians such as Ice Cube and Pitbull, a nearly packed Coliseum and all in the heart of one of the most famous cities in the world, this year’s Clash attracted more eyes to NASCAR than any other Clash before it.

For the first time in NASCAR’s history, the Clash helped the sport by transcending it.

Not to mention, it did it all in a short track-style race on a quarter-mile racing surface featuring hot tempers and trading paint for 150 laps, which is the same kind of racing with which NASCAR was born.

Its winner ended up being the season champion in Logano as well, perfectly bookending the season from start to finish. It’s almost poetic.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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