Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: 2023 NASCAR Storylines You Might Have Missed

Did You Notice? … The NASCAR Cup Series postseason sometimes swallows up some of the other storylines throughout the garage?

Ryan Blaney earned a hard-fought, deserving championship in 2023, prevailing in one of the more competitive playoffs in recent memory.

But as the Championship 4 battled out front, it’s easy to miss the accomplishments of some of the other drivers fighting for their own definition of success. So here’s a closer look at what others achieved behind Blaney in a year filled with personal victories up and down the garage area.

See also
Thinkin’ Out Loud: Despite Its Flaws, NASCAR Needs to Stick With the Playoff Format

Corey LaJoie

LaJoie became the first driver since Denny Hamlin two years ago to run all 36 races without a DNF. It was part of a career year in which the Spire Motorsports driver notched eight top-15 finishes, briefly flirting with a playoff bid before finishing a respectable 25th in the final standings.

“Just being smarter,” LaJoie said of his marked improvement. “Better communication between [crew chief] Ryan Sparks and I, and me just maturing behind the wheel.”

What makes the feat even more incredible is LaJoie piled up eight DNFs with Spire in 2022, including two engine failures, a total eclipsed by just two other drivers. The way in which LaJoie learned to stay out of trouble and take care of equipment bodes well for his future as Spire gets an infusion of new driver talent (rookies Zane Smith and Carson Hocevar) along with additional support.

Kyle Busch

Busch was quickly forgotten during these playoffs, leading just eight laps while plummeting to a Round of 12 playoff exit. But with three victories this year, his first with Richard Childress Racing, Busch still set a record by winning a Cup race in 19 consecutive seasons.

No one, not even the King Richard Petty, has ever accomplished that. Busch broke a tie with Petty’s 18 straight from 1960-77 and remains well-positioned to extend it for several more years. Where he won’t catch Petty? Total Cup wins (63 to 200) but don’t be surprised if Busch makes a run at the top five all-time (85 would get him to fifth) with several years of competitive racing left to go.

P.S. While Busch’s Craftsman Truck Series future is unknown after selling off Kyle Busch Motorsports (he will drive for Spire in the series next year, but beyond that?), he’s now won a race in that division for 11 years in a row. Busch is a remarkable 34 wins-in-66 starts since the 2013 Truck season, a winning percentage of .515.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: As the Sun Sets on NASCAR 2023, Savor the Moment

Ty Gibbs

No, Gibbs didn’t win a race this year or even make the playoffs. He also had this weird rivalry with Joey Logano exposed when the two tangled at Martinsville Speedway on NASCAR’s penultimate weekend.

But Gibbs still won Rookie of the Year in a runaway over lone competitor Noah Gragson. 18th in the standings, he piled up 10 top-10 finishes, the most of any freshman driver since Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez in 2017.

Most importantly, Gibbs showed marked improvement in the season’s second half, leading 102 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway in September before finishing fifth. He also had a year of healing after the loss of his dad, Coy, which clouded an otherwise stellar 2022 which ended with Ty winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

Gibbs left NXS with a reputation for ruffling feathers and being overly aggressive. But he dialed back a bit in 2023, allowing others like Ross Chastain to steal that spotlight. We’ll see if that translates into more consistency and a trip to both the playoffs and Cup victory lane in 2024.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The 2023 Daytona 500 winner started his season off with a bang and kept it up most of the year before wilting a bit in the playoffs (Stenhouse finished 16th of 16 drivers, failing to notch a top-five finish in the final 10 races).

But overall, Stenhouse had a career year driving for one of the few single-car organizations left in the sport. His nine top-10 finishes tied his best over a single season (2017). A driver who’s struggled to finish races, he kept his nose clean with only three DNFs, his fewest since 2015.

The improvement came after a nine-DNF 2022, tying for the worst in Cup, in which Stenhouse’s future was in question for a bit before signing a long-term extension with JTG Daugherty Racing. He rebounded from that by navigating a successful reunion with crew chief Mike Kelley; 17.8 ties the best average finish for this organization since it moved to the Cup level in 2009.

Shane van Gisbergen

Let’s not forget perhaps the most unforgettable moment in NASCAR this season outside the playoffs. SVG’s win on the Chicago Street Course was the first by a “road course ringer” in 50 years (Mark Donohue) and capped a learning curve of epic proportions.

The upset after a rain-soaked weekend provided a path for SVG to sign a deal that moves him from Australia to the United States, running limited schedules in the sport’s top three series for Trackhouse Racing and affiliates. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, but the record-setting moment — SVG is the first to win in his Cup debut since Johnny Rutherford in 1963 — and the high TV ratings that paired with it cemented a risky experiment between NASCAR and street racing for years to come.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …

  • This time, there’s only one. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart, not only to my staff, but to our dedicated readers. Frontstretch is filled with hard-working journalists who do their best every week to provide quality reporting and info to you, the fans, who make our jobs possible. Our little family puts in maximum effort, driven by our passion for the best sport the world has to offer.
  • One of my longtime philosophies surrounding journalism is simple: it’s not a story if no one reads it. Well, you read us in record numbers this year, and we’re so thankful for your trust. We may not respond to every comment but we read them, both positive and negative, and are always receptive to your feedback in whatever form you want to give it. It’s your dedication to us that helps keep us going, covering motorsports during a nine-month zigzag all across the country. As our content slows down for the offseason, it gives us a chance to step back and be grateful for the opportunities provided to us. Thanks for giving us that chance, and we look forward to a bigger and better 2024.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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Johnny Cuda

Thank YOU Tom and your entire Frontstretch team that keep us up to date on everything. Have safe and joyous Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

Bill B

I agree, THANK YOU ALL.
Frontstretch and Jayski are the only two NASCAR websites I still visit regularly.
I get hours of enjoyment (and aggravation LOL) visiting and, as a result, am kept very updated on the latest news in motorsports.

BTW nice update on the things that didn’t get the attention they should have during the final race. Ricky Stenhouse only had 3 DNFs,,,,and LaJoie had none!!! who would have guessed?
Still say SVGs success was a fluke. A combination of the entire field never running on a street course and record rainfall and NASCAR’s inability to run the race on Monday because it was in downtown Chicago. Take anyone of those factors away and he probably doesn’t win.

Last edited 5 months ago by Bill B
wildcats2016

I’ll join in with my thanks to Tom and all of the Frontstretch writers. While I may not always agree with the point of view, I enjoy reading and sharing comments on the articles. Wishing you all a nice Thanksgiving and happy holiday season. Look forward to 2024 when we can do it all again.

Kevin in SoCal

You’re welcome, and thank you as well, Tom, for a great website and content here.

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