NASCAR 2022: What we’ve learned this season and what to expect for the rest of the way

This season, the NASCAR Cup Series has been more of a marathon than any other. The Cup Series has now been non-stop from the Daytona 500 in February as Saturday and Sunday are the only free weekend of the 2022 season. After that, there will be non-stop action from Nashville in late June through to the championship race in Phoenix in November.

This lonely respite means it’s the only chance for riders and crews to reset and revitalize themselves. There are still ten races to be completed before the end of the regular season, after which the season will be decided by the 10-race playoffs in the fall. With that in mind, let’s revisit the season so far, including some of its main themes and how they can help define the rest of the season ahead.

parity prevails

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Normally, a select rider or group of riders would have stood out from the rest of the field and started accumulating wins at that point. But in 2022 there was not only a break from that trend, but also from the well-known cast of Victory Lane frequenters.

  • In 16 races so far, a total of 12 different drivers have won a race.
  • Of the repeat winners – William Byron, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano – none have won more than twice.

The season so far has felt like the natural result of a shift from an emphasis on scoring to an emphasis on winning. Earning a win and earning a place in the playoffs is more important to the Cup Series championship than accumulating top-five or top-10 finishes, and drivers and teams have adapted accordingly over the course of nine seasons , since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014.

Admittedly, last season was also very competitive at this point – 11 drivers had won in 16 races in 2021 – but what makes this year different is the drivers who won a race… and an even greater variance in the drivers who won fought for a win.

Displacing familiar faces like Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski in the winners’ circle were four first-time winners in Austin, Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez. Additionally this season, riders like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones have been battling for wins in the final laps of racing.

Considering that not too long ago a select round robin of drivers monopolized the winners circle – remember the ‘Big Three’ season of 2018 or Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominating 2020? — 2022 so far has shown a dramatic departure from stock car racing’s competitive record.

The Rise of Trackhouse

Speaking of competitive imbalances, the winner’s circle is no longer the exclusive domain of names like Hendrick, Gibbs and Penske. After being a promising newcomer in 2021, Trackhouse Racing has made a huge leap in its sophomore year.

The forward-thinking racing team, owned by former driver Justin Marks and global superstar Pitbull, has already won three races this season and sits second-highest with Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. The rise of Trackhouse marks a complete departure from the status quo, as it has been a very long time since a new organization rose to the level of a top cup team so quickly. What makes this even more impressive is how Trackhouse has done this with Chastain and Suarez – two other upstarts – as drivers.

Trackhouse has taken the lead among a new generation of racing teams that have benefited from NASCAR’s next-gen platform. Second-year team 23XI Racing also won this year, with Kurt Busch piloting one of their cars to victory in Kansas. Meanwhile, Kaulig Racing, with AJ Allmendinger at the wheel, was just one swipe at the Circuit of the Americas winner.

What’s Next for Next Gen?

The last time NASCAR debuted an all-new race car was in 2007, and Kyle Busch’s reaction to winning the first-ever race for the then-car-of-tomorrow was the famous declaration: “I can’t stand driving them, they suck .” A whopping 15 years later, the reception for the latest and greatest stock car technology couldn’t be more different.

The next-generation car was widely acclaimed in its debut season with several exciting races at a variety of circuits, validating the work NASCAR has done in developing the car and its associated engineering program. Compared to the extremely stable but extremely aerodynamic Gen6 (a derivative of the Car of Tomorrow), the next-gen car is a more challenging car for drivers and more exciting racing for fans – particularly on mile-and-a-half tracks that have suddenly become action-packed affairs.

However, the performance of the next-gen car over short distances – particularly at Martinsville – was unsatisfactory. And in the interests of better short-track racing, NASCAR may end up making some changes to the car by removing the short-track rear diffuser. an idea that will be tested at the track next week. In theory, this should make following cars less sensitive to turbulent air and improve drivers’ ability to overtake and run in tight spaces. This is particularly important in Martinsville, which hosts both the penultimate race of the season and the playoff eliminator that determines Championship 4.

playoff scare

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In the past, drivers well above the playoff line on points and points alone could generally earn a playoff spot even if they hadn’t won by race 26. This year, no rider in that position can or should believe that’s a guarantee.

With 12 winners to date, riders currently in the playoffs on points are feeling less and less secure. Despite finishing fourth and sixth in the points standings, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. sit 13th and 14th in the playoffs since they didn’t win. And Daniel Suarez’s Sonoma win meant Kevin Harvick, the regular-season champion two years ago, was pushed below the cutoff line.

Given the number of different winners this year and the quality of the riders who haven’t won yet, there’s an expectation that victory will be the only way for anyone to secure a playoff spot. In the event that there are more than 16 different winners, even that might not be enough, making for a jittery July and August for riders like Chase Briscoe, Suarez, Austin Cindric and Kurt Busch – all of whom left Sonoma with less than 400 points.

As a reminder, the record for the most diverse winners in a Cup season was set in 2001 when a total of 19 drivers attended Victory Lane. That season, 14 different drivers had won by Race 26, which would have meant only two points by points would be available in a playoff format.


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