It’s February, which means the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season is finally upon us. Cars will take to the track later this week at Daytona International Speedway for the 65th running of the Great American Race.
With a wide array of driver and team changes from Silly Season alongside more minor personnel tweaks — or even a few lineups that stayed exactly the same — there’s a lot to discuss as the Cup Series moves into the sophomore season of the Next Gen era.
For 2023, the Frontstretch staff each voted on a top-30 ranking, taking into account each driver’s 2022 season as well as their outlook for 2023.
Below is where we landed. Check Monday’s (Feb. 13) article for positions Nos. 30-21 and Tuesday’s (Feb. 14) for Nos. 20-11.
10. Kevin Harvick
In a career that felt like it could go as long as possible, 2023 will be the last time Kevin Harvick competes as a full-time driver. It will be a surreal moment throughout the NASCAR garage, as Harvick is one of the last dominoes from the early 2000s to call it a career.
2022 saw “The Closer” re-emerge to live up to that moniker, snapping a 65-year winless streak at Michigan International Speedway. He then became the first driver to win back-to-back races in the Next Gen car at Richmond Raceway.
With seemingly all of the momentum in the world, Harvick’s playoffs took a sharp, downward spiral. He was eliminated in the Round of 16 after two finishes outside the top 30. While he did get back in the win column, the 47-year-old did not reach 20 top 10s for the first time since 2012 with 17.
With Harvick set to join the FOX Sports in 2024 and nothing to lose in his swan song season, expect Happy to go out swinging. Stewart-Haas Racing has taken a dip in performance over the past couple of seasons, but is still strong enough to compete for a title.
2023 will be a season of reflection and the cementing of a legacy for the shoe-in Hall of Famer. However, anyone who is familiar with Harvick knows that he will not be satisfied until the checkered flag drops on his career. Expect the No. 4 driver to compete for several wins and maybe even a championship. -Luken Glover
9. William Byron
William Byron had a his best year to date in 2022, winning twice and establishing himself as a dark horse championship threat. It was the first time since Jeff Gordon was last behind the wheel that the No. 24 could be considered a championship favorite. 2023 leaves hope for more of the same.
While the win column could always improve, Byron could easily elevate himself even further into the championship conversation with more consistency. Despite his sixth-place points finish, he had seven finishes outside the top-30 in 2022, mostly due to incidents outside of his control. Byron finished 16 races of the 36-race season between positions 11-20. If he can turn those into top 10s, look out.
In his fourth year with Hendrick Motorsports, Byron has found himself long-term teammates in Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson, all of whom won at least once in 2022 as well. The team as a whole is going to be one to watch this season, but Byron is on the verge of a breakout year, and 2023 might be the year that it happens. -Anthony Damcott
8. Tyler Reddick
At the start of 2022, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick was answering questions about why he hadn’t yet won in the Cup Series. Three wins, a bidding war and one trip to Medieval Times later, and Reddick must field questions about a possible championship challenge at the start of 2023.
Making the switch from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing and trading in his Camaro for a Camry a year earlier than initially planned, the Corning, Calif., native will hope to rise to the top of the pile in a post-Kyle Busch Toyota Racing lineup.
But there are two sides to every story, and the other half of Reddick’s 2022 was defined by the races he could have won, but didn’t: a transaxle failure from the lead at the LA Coliseum, tire failures while leading at Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway and, most heartbreakingly, a last-corner wipeout courtesy of Chase Briscoe at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race. It was once again at Bristol that his championship challenge came to a close. Reddick was eliminated in the Round of 16 and finished the season in 14th, one spot worse than in 2021.
The 27-year-old Reddick may have put the youthful excesses of his driving style behind him. If 23XI can put a car under him that regularly lasts a full race distance, he’ll certainly be one to watch in 2023 and beyond. -Jack Swansey
7. Christopher Bell
Looking back on Christopher Bell’s 2022 season, it’s remarkable how quickly things changed once he scored a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Before that, Bell was trying to fight his way back from a miserable start to the season. Yet when the postseason began, Bell came alive. After sweeping the top five in all three round one races, Bell took the checkered flag in the next two cutoff races, advancing to the championship race in only his second playoff appearance.
The No. 20 team could climb to even greater heights in 2023 if they follow the roadmap from last year. Bell showed great resiliency and the ability to bounce back from poor finishes. He also has an accomplished crew chief in Adam Stevens and others on his team who have considerable experience battling for wins and championships.
Bell is poised to keep the breakout rolling and should earn multiple wins this season. Another year like 2022 will elevate Bell from a work in progress to Joe Gibbs Racing’s next star driver. -Bryan Gable
6. Ryan Blaney
The Next Gen car certainly brought parity in several ways, and Ryan Blaney ended up on an odd side of it.
In his seventh full-time season, Blaney had a strong season, recording 12 top fives, 17 top 10s and an eighth-place points finish. He reached the Round of 8 for the third time in his career, yet came up short of competing for a title once again.
Blaney will certainly have the motivation to reach victory lane again. After a three-win 2021 season, the Team Penske driver went winless in 2022, his first winless season since 2016. Between that, teammate Austin Cindric winning the Daytona 500 and his other teammate Joey Logano winning his second title, the 29-year-old will certainly be hungry.
Both driver and crew mistakes cost Blaney several times in 2022. If they can clean those areas up and put a full-race together, Blaney becomes an instant favorite to win the championship. He will be one to watch right off the bat in the Daytona 500, while speedways and flat tracks have become his bread and butter.
2023 will be a defining year for the No. 12 driver. While he has seven career wins, he easily could have more and the NASCAR world is waiting for him to cash in on a title chance. Anything short of a Championship 4 appearance and some victories will muddy the water. Expect Blaney to tackle it head-on. -Luken Glover
5. Denny Hamlin
Anything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong for Denny Hamlin in the first half of 2022. Sure, he scored two wins and showed speed in a handful of others, but he sat 20th in points with just four top-10 finishes at the halfway point of the season. Quite a shock for a driver that had reached the Championship 4 in three straight seasons.
Although he failed to win another race, the difference between Hamlin’s first half and second half of 2022 was night-and-day. He finished the season with 11 top-10 finishes in the final 14 races, and he was two turns away from reaching his fourth straight Championship 4 at Martinsville Speedway until he was on the losing end of the most viral NASCAR moment in years.
Even in a down year, Hamlin still managed to finish fifth in points. His championship window is closing by the year, and he’s knocking on the door of 50 wins, so Hamlin will have plenty of motivation heading into the new year. And if the 2022 playoffs were any indication, the No. 11 will be back in the mix for 2023. -Stephen Stumpf
4. Kyle Larson
The fact that a three-win season and a seventh-place points finish could be considered disappointing is a testament to how dominant Kyle Larson was in his 2021 championship season.
He wasn’t able to reach the heights of 10 wins and 2,581 laps led in 2022, but Larson still had a solid season, as he was locked in a tight battle for second place in the regular season points standings and had scored two wins at Auto Club Speedway and Watkins Glen International.
The playoffs ended in disappointment, however, as Larson was eliminated in the Round of 12 and had led just 368 laps in the first 33 races.
But it was the 34th race at Homestead-Miami Speedway where Larson reminded everyone of his 2021 domination, as he scored his third victory of the season after leading 199 of the 267 laps. Larson then followed it up with a runner-up at Martinsville Speedway before finishing ninth in the season finale.
The Next Gen has been an adjustment for everyone, but Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels were finally able to hit their stride with a perfect race at Homestead. If the No. 5 team has its ’21 mojo back, the rest of the field needs to be put on notice. – Stephen Stumpf
3. Ross Chastain
2023 marks the first season in which Ross Chastain will run for points in the same series with the same team in back-to-back seasons. It has been a remarkable journey for Chastain, who made headlines with two wins and the famous “Hail Melon” move at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the Championship 4.
Now Chastain and his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Team enter year two together and the second year of the Next Gen car, aiming for another Championship 4 appearance. Anything shy of that achievement would be a disappointment for the organization.
In 2022, Chastain led all NASCAR Cup Series drivers in top fives (15) and top 10s (21). Coming up second in the 2022 standings, what can Chastain do to sustain his success? His marvelous season lacked any poles, plus he failed to finish on the lead lap 11 times, most of any Championship 4 driver.
Chastain’s driving style riled Denny Hamlin, but Trackhouse team owner Justin Marks encouraged Chastain to continue his aggression. If Chastain employs the same passion, he certainly will be a heavy favorite to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship. – Mark Kristl
2. Joey Logano
Joey Logano called it last year after he won the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum: the No. 22 driver eventually became the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series champion, dominating the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Yet even though the Team Penske driver earned his second Cup title, Logano can still improve upon last season’s performance. He had four wins, 11 top fives and 17 top-10 finishes. Though he had more wins in 2022 than he did the previous six years, he had the lowest number of top 10s since 2017. Additionally, Logano’s average finish of 13.5 was also the worst he’s had since ’17. What’s perhaps even more peculiar is he only failed to finish four races in 2022.
Still, Logano’s only 32 years old and should be able to find victory lane multiple times in 2023 with Paul Wolfe remaining as crew chief. Some of his stronger races were at short courses in 2022, but he also won at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. He’ll build on last year’s championship-winning season and finish up front in more races. – Joy Tomlinson
1. Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott sits atop of the power rankings as the Great American Race approaches. One could argue that 2022 Cup Series champion Logano should be in the top spot, but the Dawsonville native did score the most wins in 2022. You can also add that Elliott won twice with the superspeedway package last season, hence essentially being the favorite for the Daytona 500. Is he?
I can’t see why not. Elliott’s last three seasons have nearly mirrored each other statistically: in 2022, Elliott had five wins, 12 top fives and 20 top-10 finishes, winning the regular-season championship. The only downfall for him was the playoffs.
Going back to Elliott’s Pocono Raceway win on July 24, he had just four top fives and five top 10s the rest of the season. 2023 is a new year, and with veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson on the pit box once again, Elliott not only should be a championship favorite, but a favorite to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 19. – Chris Skala
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