The NASCAR Cup Series proved to be highly competitive in 2022 with a total of 19 different drivers making a trip to victory lane at some point during the season and that’s not including a driver who won the NASCAR All-Star Race but won no points-paying events. The competition was so evenly spread out that four drivers(including the injured Kurt Busch) who won a race did not make the NASCAR Playoffs. Whether it was because the teams are becoming more evenly matched or the Next Gen car brought an element of equality, there was a record-tying number of individual victors.
As the start of the 2023 season approaches, one has to wonder if a similar number of different drivers could win again. After all, the car hasn’t changed and the schedule still contains 36 points races albeit with a bit of reshuffling.
It would seem logical to think that most if not all of the drivers and teams who won last year will be heading into 2023 thinking they can do it again. While there has been a retirement(Kurt Busch) and some shifting of drivers to new teams, the ability to win has proven to be there for those 19 who accomplished the feat last season. So why wouldn’t they be able to do it again?
It isn’t as if this is something that is completely unprecedented. After all, there were 19 different winners in 2001. And for the sake of comparison, that season was followed up with 18 separate victors in 2002. So history indicates to us that a repeat of such victory lane variety is absolutely within the realm of possibility.
Based on that comparison and with all the other factors in place, it might very well be that last season was not some sort of anomaly but rather a representation of a new norm. With the factors mentioned above in place, this might be something we should be getting used to.
What drivers would be consider as virtually certain winners in 2023?
It wouldn’t be at all surprising to anyone if the likes of Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and William Byron took at least one checkered flag ahead of the pack this season. Each of these drivers won multiple races in 2022 and have won races across several seasons during the course of their careers. Each of those stars also pilots a car fielded by organizations with track records of success.
I think it’s safe to say that everyone mentioned above WILL win in 2023.
Still, that’s only six drivers who would seem to be locks for a victory lane at a track near you at some point in the season. Where will the others come from? That leaves us 13 short of last year’s totals.
Another five drivers can be added to the mix as drivers who are highly likely to win this year. The only reason these are not listed among those considered locks is that there is some sort of circumstance that might cast the smallest of doubts into the equation.
Kyle Busch is one of the most proven winners in NASCAR history, but he is with a new team in Richard Childress Racing after parting ways with Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season. We know the talent is there in the driver’s seat and RCR did win multiple races last year so the question of how well the new pairing will mesh is the key. While I wouldn’t rate Busch as a certain winner, I would label him as highly likely to end at least one day in victory lane.
Ross Chastain and Trackhouse Racing proved they could win in 2022, but as we have seen in the past, it can sometimes be difficult to follow that up. At times during 2022, there was more focus on how many feathers he ruffled than on how well he ran but he clearly showed that he can get the job done. The only reason I would not put him in the certain winners group is the fact that his team has not yet shown longevity.
Alex Bowman and his Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 crew definitely know how to get to the winner’s circle. The only reason I did not initially list him alongside his HMS teammates as a certain winner was his uncertain contract status. But that has now been addressed with a three-year extension announced on Wednesday. It is very likely that Bowman will win this season.
Tyler Reddick broke through with three wins in 2022 so we now know he can do that. The only thing that keeps this young talent from being a certain victor is the fact that he switched from RCR and Chevrolet to 23XI Racing and Toyota. That creates just enough of an unknown to knock him back into the highly likely category.
Kevin Harvick has been a steady winner for years and it would seem logical to think that will continue in 2023. However, he has announced his retirement from full-time competition at the end of the season so it remains to be seen what impact that will have on him and his team going forward but I would still rank him as highly likely to win at least one race.
The six drivers who were consider sure bets along with the five highly likely winners get our total up to eleven probable trophy collectors. So where will the other eight come from?
Seven racers won in 2022 who could be considered candidates to get another win in the upcoming season. These drivers may not be sure bets but a repeat win in 2023 would not be a shock considering that they have won and drive for organizations that have the capability. Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon fit into this category.
If everyone listed so far does in fact do what they did last year, that would bring the total of 2023 winners to 18. So we are getting close to that 19 number. To achieve that number of 18 would equal the follow-up year of 2002.
And more, there are several drivers who may not have won last year but they and their teams have the capability of doing so. Martin Truex Jr. has already won the Busch Light Clash exhibition race in the L.A. Coliseum. Ryan Blaney remained well up in the NASCAR Cup Series standings in 2022 and won the 2022 NASCAR All-Star Race as well. A.J. Allmendinger will be a full-time driver this year and he has won a Cup race with the same Kaulig Racing team he will be driving for.
Brad Keselowski was showing strength near the end of last season in his Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing ride. Justin Haley and Aric Almirola have shown the ability to have their moments. And, Ty Gibbs has had great success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and will be driving for powerful Joe Gibbs Racing this season. And two previous Cup winners, Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have the ability on certain tracks.
Those are a lot of names and each one mentioned has demonstrated in the past that they can win, most of them as recently as last year. The Next Gen is still somewhat of an unknown entity with the ability to produce surprises. No one showed last year that they could pile up large numbers of wins and thus take opportunities away from others. History and the current competitive nature of this sport tells us that not only is another 19 winner season possible but it would not even really be surprising.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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