Top 5 moments of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season

AVONDALE, AZ — Now that the 38 week NASCAR Cup Series season is behind us, here are the top 5 moments that the 2022 season left behind.

Between parity (21 race winners if you include the All-Star Race, Clash and Duels) 5 first time winners, fires, safety and tires, this car delivered a lot of headlines this season.

Busch Light Clash

The Clash is back. After years of redundancy and questions of its future, NASCAR delivered when moving the race to the west coast in a football stadium. It was a massive risk that couldn’t have been scripted any better.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum hosted NASCAR and 70% of those in attendance had never been to a NASCAR race before. They were treated to a far better race than we expected and start the year off with a bang.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 06: Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, talks with co-team owner Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, after being eliminated after an on-track incident in the last chance qualifying race for the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 06, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch Stepping Away

No one would have thought that the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season would be Kurt Busch’s final full-time year. While he’s not shutting the door on racing again, he pretty much did on racing for a championship. Busch had one more year left on his contract but after a July 23 qualifying crash at Pocono, he was sidelined for the remainder of the season due to never fully recovering from concussion like symptoms. That sparked his decision last month to announce that he won’t race full time in 2023 which would pave a way for Tyler Reddick to move over to 23XI Racing a year ahead of schedule.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – OCTOBER 16: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #45 McDonald’s Toyota, confronts Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace vs. Kyle Larson/Other Huge Drama

There was a lot of tense moments between NASCAR and the garage this year which is why I can’t separate one from the other. From Ryan Blaney thinking he won the All-Star race only to have quick trigger on the caution button before and him holding onto his window net as a result from bringing it down in a premature celebration, to the rain at Daytona while racing and creating a melee in Turn 1, to Kevin Harvick calling out the Next Gen’s “crappy parts” to Martin Truex Jr. echoing the sentiment a week later, to William Byron’s penalty then basically non penalty at Texas, to Kevin Harvick and Cole Custer’s penalties in consecutive weeks, to the drivers calling out NASCAR for safety, to Bubba Wallace’s suspension, etc. there was a lot of drama to be had this year.

That’s just between front office and drivers. The teams were upset with NASCAR for how the new TV money will get divided up in 2025. Then you had driver vs. driver problems most notably Ross Chastain vs. the field and even Denny Hamlin vs. Byron vs. Chastain, Byron vs. Joey Logano, Kyle Larson vs. Chase Elliott (x2), etc, Bubba Wallace vs. Larson. As well as driver (Tyler Reddick) vs. owner (Richard Childress)…

This was an explosive season to witness.

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, exits the track to his hauler after an engine failure during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Kyle Busch Leaving JGR

This has to be tops on the list. We all knew Busch was a free agent at the end of the season, but for the first half of the year, it was never really discussed that Busch could be gone from JGR. It was unfathomable. But as the days turned to weeks and weeks to months, it was growing more and more increasingly likely that his races with JGR were now numbered.

Then you have in the summer 23XI Racing and Toyota making the bombshell announcement that Tyler Reddick would be coming onboard for the 2024 season, that started a wild chain of events for silly season that led to Busch being Reddick’s replacement which will happen a year early in fact which also in turn sent Reddick out the door a year early too.

This is the definition of Michael Jordan or LeBron James changing teams at the heights of their careers. Busch has won over 200 races in this sport and the only driver in the garage that had won multiple Cup championships and here he was free to look around…

Ross Chastain’s Final Lap Martinsville Move

It was shaping up to being a perfect storm against Ross Chastain in last weeks Xfinity 500 at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. Chastain started 9th and finished there in both stages. That was 4 points scored for him in the pair of stages. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott went 1-2 in each netting Hamlin 20 stage points and Elliott 18. That pushed Chastain to the bubble.

He was +24 entering the final stage but on the cutline. Should Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, William Byron or Chase Briscoe win, then he’d be out.

Hamlin was leading and Chastain ironically enough was happy with that. Then came Hamlin’s pit road problems that plagued him on his final three stops dropping him from first on Lap 322 to fourth, then from fourth to 6th on the Lap 395 stop and then to 10th on the final stop.

It did push Hamlin back to his clutches, but it also allowed Bell to get into the lead. It was a worst case scenario now for the Florida native. Then with the final caution and Briscoe staying out, Chastain was now in a hard battle with Hamlin for that fourth and final spot to Phoenix.

Inside of 10 to go, it was Briscoe and Bell running 1-2. Hamlin was charging and now in a great spot to advance over Chastain again. Chastain was without little hope. He was playing more defense than offense because his car just didn’t have the speed to close back up to gain another spot or two.

Until the last lap.

Chastain grew up in a watermelon farm family down in Florida. While he would end up becoming a farmer of his own, he did what every kid did when they were younger and played video games. He remembers playing a NASCAR game back in 2005 on his Game Cube. A move he did was to upshift, mash the gas and ride the wall in the Turns at Martinsville. In Turn 2 on the final lap, he was told he needed help.

He was 10th. Hamlin in 5th. He needed 2 more spots but the two spots were well ahead. So, he did the move he did in a video game and oddly enough, it worked.

Chastain shot out of a cannon and looked like he was on fast forward speed compared to everyone else and went from 10th to 5th to beat Hamlin by 4 points and in his first season with Trackhouse, is going to the Championship 4.

That lap he turned was a track record at that. He went 18.845-seconds which beat Joey Logano’s pole record from 2014 (18.898-seconds).

“Oh, played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the game cube with Chad (his brother) growing up. You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work,” Chastain admitted after the race.

“I mean, I did that when I was eight years old. I grabbed fifth gear, asked off of two on the last lap if we needed it, and we did. I couldn’t tell who was leading. I made the choice, grabbed fifth gear down the back. Full committed. Basically let go of the wheel, hoping I didn’t catch the turn four access gate or something crazy. But I was willing to do it.

“For this Trackhouse group, we’ve done everything. We did so much right this year, for Advent Health, the Moose, Jockey, to lose Rob this year, we got a rose riding with is, right, an angel overhead. I thought about that for a long time.

“Today for our Moose Chevy, we didn’t have what we needed. Just glad we could do whatever we could do. A great pit stop on the last stop to put us in position to even be close enough by our guys, our pit crew, our guys are incredible. All we asked for is a chance.”

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