Race Weekend Central

2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: A Record-Tying 19 Race Winners

Remember 2021, when the NASCAR Cup Series had nine different winners in the first 10 races and it looked like we’d have 18, 19, maybe even 20 individual drivers visiting victory lane?

Remember how Kyle Larson quickly took charge after that and blew everyone away once that No. 5 team got in a groove?

Throw all that out the window.

2022 didn’t even come close to that. With the debut of the Next Gen car, a moderately revamped schedule and several other factors blanketing the season, 2022 produced a whopping 19 different Cup winners over its 36 races — 21 if you count non-points events. That’s the most in any season since 2001, which 2022 tied in the aforementioned category.

And we thought last year’s 17 winners was wild.

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

It’s easy to forget there’s been years of myriad winners, though since 2010 those have been defined more by the first-time or part-time cars rolling into victory lane. Most notably, 2011 had Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, David Ragan, Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose all scoring their maiden triumph. 2021 wasn’t an exception either, with Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace all making their first visit to a Cup winner’s circle while AJ Allmendinger scored what was just his second overall win at the premier level and first for Kaulig Racing.

But as a whole, most seasons have their dominant drivers and things shake out to where a number of drivers are at the front week in and week out. Not so for 2022, when 19 individuals visited victory lane and a few others had chances to push the overall number of winners on the season into the low-to-mid-20s. We very easily could’ve had two dozen drivers with at least a one in the stats page’s win column.

See also
2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Kyle Busch Out, Ty Gibbs In at JGR

I would say that Austin Cindric‘s win in the Daytona 500 to open the season should’ve been an indicator, but McDowell winning last year’s event had similarly significant storylines tied to it and Larson’s dominance quickly took over the season.

Instead, 2022 resulted in more than half the races being won by varying names. Five first-time winners were among them: Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick, all within the first half of the season.

Bell, Wallace and Chris Buescher (plus Chastain and Reddick) tacked on their second wins — and, in the cases of Bell and Reddick, then some.

For these drivers and others, the 2022 season allowed them to cement their place in the series even further than they already had and prove even further that they belonged.

Sure, Bell came close to a couple NASCAR Xfinity Series titles, but he’d only won the one Cup race. After 2022, he has four to his name — two in must-win, clutch-as-hell situations.

And yes, Reddick won back-to-back Xfinity championships and had run well in Cup. But going into his third year he had yet to win a single premier-series event. Heading into 2023 with a new team, he has three wins that came within less than a three-month span and compiled an impressive season overall despite some bad luck befalling the No. 8 team.

Add in Wallace, Buescher and a number of others. Despite running well prior to 2022, Wallace had plenty of doubters and was yet to win a flag-to-flag Cup race … and then did it in straight-up dominating fashion at Kansas Speedway.

Buescher’s only triumph was a fog-shortened Pocono Raceway win in 2016 that he played strategy to win, but nearly chased down Kevin Harvick at Richmond Raceway in August and five weeks later led 169 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway en route to a trophy. He also solidified himself as a threat on road courses, though a win on that kind of layout will have to wait until 2023.

Others worth noting include Erik Jones, winless since 2019 and in his second year with Petty GMS, which came out of absolutely nowhere to win at Darlington Raceway as non-playoff drivers swept the postseason’s opening round. Jones was no stranger to success at the racetrack, his last points win having come there three years ago, but he made his No. 43 a factor when it mattered most and became one of the numerous upset winners of 2022.

Even the older veterans got in on the action. Kyle Busch, who spent about half the year — a time span probably five seasons long to him — under the awning of rumor and speculation regarding whether he’d stay with Joe Gibbs Racing or leave managed a win on the dirt at Bristol, although it helped that Reddick and Briscoe’s battle ended with both cars spinning in the final corner.

The no-longer-Candyman’s brother Kurt Busch grabbed a trophy of his own at Kansas in the spring, outdueling his sibling and defending champ Larson to begin a Sunflower State sweep by 23XI Racing’s No. 45 team. Harvick nabbed back-to-back wins, a couple more triumphs for the old guard, at Michigan International Speedway and Richmond Raceway, and fellow veteran Denny Hamlin won the first Richmond race and added a victory in the Coca-Cola 600.

The Next Gen car brought forth a ton of parity in the sport this year. Yes, that’s the buzz word uttered all season long by drivers, teams, media, fans and casual observers alike, but it’s true.

These wins weren’t just a proving ground for drivers, either. Teams made their presence known and solidified their spot in the sport with them, something absolutely crucial to any stable’s development — even if it didn’t take as long for them as it has for others in the past.

Trackhouse Racing Team scored three wins in the first half of the year, two of them its respective drivers’ first, and Chastain’s victories were within the first 10 races of 2022. Though Chastain dealt with criticism as the year went on, he continued a few years’ worth of proving his place in the sport and made it all the way to the Championship 4.

See also
2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Tyler Reddick Proves Timing Is Everything in Breakout Season

Suarez, meanwhile, had bounced all around NASCAR for the past five years; he went from winning an Xfinity title with JGR to driving for it in Cup, and eventually those parties split and he spent time with Stewart-Haas Racing and Gaunt Brothers Racing before landing at Trackhouse in 2021. A few solid runs that season and a team acquirement of Chip Ganassi Racing’s assets later, Suarez found himself in the thick of battles for the win and, eventually, victory lane at Sonoma Raceway.

Briscoe and Alex Bowman’s victories further proved their mettle behind the wheel: Briscoe’s first win wasn’t his only shot at a victory in 2022, but the No. 14 emerged from a vicious battle at the end of Phoenix Raceway’s spring event for his maiden triumph, and Bowman outdueled Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson in a two-lap, side-by-side dogfight at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Speaking of 23XI, both Wallace and Kurt Busch put together good seasons derailed at opposite ends. Wallace had a horrendous first half, with bad luck and racing situations always seeming to involve the No. 23, and Busch’s concussion at Pocono forced him to sit out the rest of the year and potentially ended his full-time tenure in NASCAR. Both managed to get at least one for the win column, though, and after a year where some doubt was directed at Michael Jordan and his Toyota stable, the team continued to win races.

Eventual champion Joey Logano — how the hell have we not mentioned him yet? — might’ve had one of the quietest title-winning seasons in recent memory. He had four wins (five including the Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Coliseum), but was he a name dueling for the win week in and week out? No.

His 17 top 10s didn’t clear the 20 mark that fellow final-round contenders Chastain, Bell and Chase Elliott did, and he didn’t have the flashy moments that other drivers did — no wall-ride, no clutch win — but he didn’t needthem. He let points do some of the work in the playoffs, then took to a tried-and-true track for the No. 22 and did what he’d done so many times there: went to victory lane and, in doing so, took home his second championship.

I’d be remiss if Elliott wasn’t shouted out for his series-leading five wins over the course of the 2022 campaign, too, plus Austin Dillon, whose last-ditch effort in a Daytona International Speedway wreckfest landed him a playoff spot.

Let’s also not forget some of the drivers who came close and could’ve made this a truly record-setting season: Ryan Blaney, who scored a couple of runner-up finishes along with multiple what-ifs, good runs for the No. 12 team derailed by something or other (even if he did win the All-Star Race), and Martin Truex Jr., who had several great performances but ultimately fell short of a win for the first time since 2014.

Add to that list Brad Keselowski, who failed to visit victory lane for the first time since 2010 in a lackluster, but not entirely unsuccessful, first year driving for and co-owning RFK Racing. Also Corey LaJoie, who in many ways put together his best statistical season to date, finished top five at the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway and had a shot to win the second race there. And then there’s McDowell, who was also in the mix at times. He finished third twice and posed a threat at multiple racetracks and on different layouts, including the new-to-Cup World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, where he finished 18th but led 34 laps.

I don’t know if 2023 will bring as many different winners, especially with a season’s worth of racing under these drivers’ and teams’ belts and a lot figured out that was uncertain when 2022 began, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least 16 drivers rolling into victory lane next season.

This level of competition won’t just go away in a few months’ worth of offseason, but the experience in 2022 means these stables will hit the ground running in 2023, and things might be even more chaotic than the last 36-race slate.

Throw in some new tracks, a la the Chicago street course, and 2023 might be the most unpredictable season yet.

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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