The dawn of the 75th NASCAR season has quick sprung upon us. This weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will bring out the green light on the 2023 Cup Series campaign. While this isn’t a points paying race, it’s still one that will draw millions of viewers to the sport and also allow an early window to make some long term futures bets on the championship.
With that said, how do you bet it this year?
The last two years have been the face of parity. A year after witnessing 17 different winners in 36 points paying races, we just saw 19 different winners in the same 36 races. The 2022 season tied the NASCAR Cup Series record of the most different winners in a single season (19) all-time; joining 1956, 1958, 1961 and 2001.
Do you really think 2023 will feature that same kind of parity?
“I do think the car has been a major factor in the competition this year,” said Team Penske’s Walt Czarnecki regarding the Next Gen and it’s parity brought forth in 2022. “19 different winners. It’s really boiled down to, and we’re going to have to do this on Sunday, boils down to preparation, execution, strategy, and a driver who wants to win.
“The cars are relatively even. I’ve got to be careful what I say here because nothing is ever even. I realize that. But it’s the closest I’ve ever seen.”
Rick Hendrick agreed.
“The car has made it super competitive on any given day, anybody can win,” he says. “You’ve seen all these different winners this year. Nobody has really just dominated the sport. The parity is really unreal.
“I think NASCAR got what they wanted. We’re all trying to figure it out a little bit better each and every week. But boy, you just look at the lead changes and how many people are up there running up front, and you always expect to see coach up there and Roger, and Trackhouse has done an unbelievable job.
“And you look at other teams like Petty and I think Brad and his team, they’re going to be contenders next year.
“So I think it’s leveled the playing field, and it’s good for the sport. I think the fans love it.
“I sometimes look back and like the old way, but it’s good for the sport.
“I look at Trackhouse and any other competitor that comes into the sport. I think the 23 crowd has shown a lot of muscle. They’re going to be competitors and fierce competitors next year.
“I think you’ve got to race everybody now. I’m going to pull for a Chevrolet team if it’s not us for sure, because we’re stronger together.
“But I look at them like Brad is going to be tough next year, having Reddick over in that Toyota is going to be tough. Hey, you’ve got to race everybody, so it’s going to be a bunch of good cars out there, and we just have to go race and win our share.
“But they have done a super job, and I commend them on that. We can’t really look at other people. We just have to get better ourselves. We have to do a better job of figuring out the car and crew chiefs and drivers working together and the whole organization working together.”
Czarnecki said that he doesn’t think that with a second year of this car in 2023, that the gap will necessarily widen just because the bigger teams have more money to develop it faster.
“I think we’ll see the lesser teams still have the same chance,” he says. “I really do. They’re being given that opportunity. Again, I think the car has indicated that or has illustrated that.
“It really boils down to the people. There are some darned good people, whether it’s Penske or Hendrick or Gibbs, there are a lot of good, talented, smart people in this sport that know how to race and know how to win.
“I think it could be just as open next year as it was this year.”
Still Favor The Big Teams
In saying that parity could still be a large factor, I do still think that the trend of the larger teams winning a championship also continues.
Other than Martin Truex Jr’s title with Furniture Row Racing in 2017, you have to go all the way back to Kurt Busch’s championship with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004 as the last team not named Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, Penske, or Hendrick to win a Cup championship.
While the gap on their stranglehold on victory lane has lessened, their reign on the championship trophy hasn’t.
From 2020 and prior, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports won 34 of the 36 points paying races. They took all four of the Championship 4 spots too.
In 2019, the same four teams won 33 of the 36 races run. They also took all four Championship 4 spots again. In 2018, they won 31 of the 36 races. Furniture Row Racing with a JGR alliance won four times that year which if you count them in this mix, that’s 35 of 36 races.
The last 2 years we’ve seen Kaulig, 23XI Racing, Trackhouse, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports all reach victory lane. All are ascending. However, outside of Trackhouse, none have been on the verge of a Championship 4 either.
Top Championship Trends
- Repeat Champ? Not likely — Jimmie Johnson is the last driver to repeat as a Cup Series champion. He did so in his five-year reign from 2006 through 2010. Since, no one has repeated as a champion. Jeff Gordon was the last before Johnson to do so as he did it in 1997 and 1998. Since 1995, those are the only two instances where a driver won consecutive titles? Can Logano accomplish this feat in 2023? Just once in the last four years has the defending champion even made it back to the Championship 4 the following season. Elliott did so in 2021 The last 2 before him were bounced in the Round of 8 and Round of 12 while Larson this past year was eliminated in the Round of 12 himself.
- Parity – We’ve had this playoff format since 2014. In the 9 years of this, we’ve seen 7 different champions. By those accounts, that means Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larosn won’t win the title at Phoenix this November. Jimmie Johnson and Logano just last year, are the only other drivers to win a title in this span.
- The driver to finish 2nd in the points the previous season made it to the Championship 4 in just 2 of the last 5 years, but at least to the Round of 8 in 5 of the last 7. Three times though they missed the playoffs all together. Ross Chastain…enter upset alert.
- The driver to finish third in the Championship 4 has made it to at least the Round of 8 in each of the last 5 years with 3 of the 6 being in the Championship 4. That’s good news for Christopher Bell for a march through the playoffs but not necessarily the final round.
- Playoff points during the regular season matter – 3 of the top 4 in playoff points entering the 2017 season made the Championship 4. In 2018, it was the top 3 making it to the final round. For 2019, all four in the top four of playoff points accumulated entering the playoffs made it to the Championship 4. 2020 saw 4 of the top five. 2021 it was 4 of the top 7.
- Ranks of Championship 4 drivers in playoff points entering the postseason:
- 2017: 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th
- 2018: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th
- 2019: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th
- 2020: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
- 2021: 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th
- 2022: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th
- Three times since 2016 did the #1 seed entering the playoffs win the championship. It happened in odd years at that – 2017, 2019, 2021….2023? They at least made the final round in all but one year (2020).
- The second-place driver in playoff points made the final round in 4 of the 6 years too and all but one has at least made it to the Round of 8.
- The third place driver made it literally every time.
- The thing is, 5 of the 6 years someone outside the top 4 did get through to the Championship 4 but just one (Christopher Bell last year) was lower than the 7th seed.
- Champion likely won’t have won most races during the season — Only three times in the nine-year history of this format did a driver that won the most races during the course of a season actually win the title itself.
- Eventual champion has actually started each season off slow – It actually pays to have a slower start to a season for some reason. Just last year, Joey Logano didn’t win until his 12th start of the season and he only had two wins in the regular season. A year prior, Kyle Larson had one win in the first 14 races. The year prior to that, Chase Elliott had just one win through the first 22 races. He won the title. In 2018, Logano had one win in the first 32 races but won the championship. Martin Truex Jr. had one trip to victory lane in the first 17 races of the 2017 campaign. He won the championship still. Jimmie Johnson in 2016 was 2-for-29 in 2016 and Harvick 1-for-30 in 2014. They both were champions in those seasons. No driver in this era has won the title but was also shut out in the first 26 races run either.
- In 3 of the last 4 years, we’ve had teammates in the Championship 4
- 2019: JGR (Hamlin, Busch, Truex Jr.)
- 2020: Penske (Keselowski, Logano)
- 2021: JGR (Hamlin, Truex Jr.), HMS (Larson, Elliott)
- JGR has had a driver in the Championship 4 every year.
- Round of 8 Appearances:
- • JGR 23
- • Penske 16
- • HMS 13
- • SHR 13
- • Ganassi 2
- • Trackhouse 1
- • RFR, RCR, Furniture Row, Wood Brothers 1
- Final 4 Appearances:
- • JGR 15
- • Penske 7
- • HMS 6
- • SHR 5
- • Furniture Row, RCR, Trackhouse 1 each
- Chase Elliott (+550) – Opened up +410 last year and opens this year at +550. Three straight Championship 4 appearances and has made it to the Round of 8 for six straight years now.
- Kyle Larson (+650) – Massive drop in odds as he came into last year as the heavy favorite at +270. Larson was surprisingly eliminated in the Round of 12 last year but just won the title on the heels of a 10-win season in 2021.
- Denny Hamlin (+900) – Came on strong towards the end of the year (9 Top-10 finishes in the 10 race postseason) and has 3 final round appearances in the last 4 years. No one has more playoff appearances (16) than Hamlin. He entered at +600 last year.
- Ryan Blaney (+1000) – Was +1100 last year at this time. Blaney has 4 Round of 8 appearances in the last 6 years too and while he went winless in 2022, he closed the year with finishes of 3rd and 2nd the last two weeks. Furthermore, Blaney had 4 top 4 finishes over the final 7 weeks and the only reason it wasn’t 7-for-7 was self inflicted mistakes.
- Christopher Bell (+1200) – Great odds for a driver that had a breakout season in 2022. The driver to finish third in the Championship 4 has made it to at least the Round of 8 in each of the last 5 years with 3 of the 6 being in the Championship 4. That’s good news for Bell. He started as +2200 last year and +5000 the year before.
- William Byron (+1400) – If he can put a complete season together, watch out. Byron had a breakout season a year ago but faded for long stretches in the middle. At the end? 6 top 8 finishes in the final 10 week stretch.
- Alex Bowman (+3000) – A contract year with something to prove. Bowman was 16th in the final standings in 2018. He was 12th in 2019 and sixth in 2020. Yes, he was only 14th in 2022, but one could say that year was his breakout year with scoring four wins including one in the penultimate race of the year at Martinsville. Bowman just needs more consistency and was finding it last year before his injury.
- Chase Briscoe (+4000) – May be the best value here. Won a race finally, marched all the way to the Round of 8 and ended the season 4th at Phoenix. That’s the season finale again this year and the place he scored that 2022 win at. SHR has won 69 total races entering the 2023 season, Harvick has won 37 of them. In fact, from 2019 on, Harvick has 16 of SHR’s 19 wins with only Cole Custer (once), Aric Almirola (once) and Chase Briscoe (once) having won in that span. This is his chance to take the baton from Harvick.
- Daniel Suarez (+5000) – His teammate marched to the final round last year, so why not snag him early for these odds. He got over the hump with his first victory last June in Sonoma and ended the year with a top 10 in points.
- Ryan Preece (+6000) – Want the next Ross Chastain candidate? Here he is. Preece is back in Cup and this time, with a power team at SHR. A similar background coming up as Chastain and has won in everything good he’s been given. JGR gave him NXS cars on a part-time basis and he won with it. David Gilliland Racing did the same in the Truck Series and he won twice. He’s aggressive and in 2 of his 3 Daytona 500 starts with JTG, he had a top 8 finish.
- AJ Allmendinger (+9500) – Why not here? 5 road courses in the regular season now for a driver that’s head and shoulders better than the rest on them. Also, he finally found his groove in Cup on ovals too. Allmendinger closed 2022 with 6 Top-10 finishes in the final 8 starts of his part-time role with Kaulig.
- Erik Jones (+9500) – Somewhat disrespectful to place him here when he won last season and was barely outside of the playoffs…
- Austin Dillon (+20000) – Even more shade thrown here. Dillon won Daytona and with Kyle Busch as a teammate, could have an even further breakout year. Why not for these odds?
- Aric Almirola (+20000) – Just a few short years ago he marched to the Round of 8. Now you get him at 200-1.
- Michael McDowell (+20000) – A career year last year. With the influx of road courses and superspeedway’s again, take an early gamble here.
- Ross Chastain (+1200) – He didn’t even make the list last year, but the trend of just 2 of the last 5 drivers to finish runner-up in points to make it back to the final round as well as three of which didn’t even make the playoffs the following year scares me. For a team that some may say punched above their weight last year, can they continue the rise up? Chastain does seem legit and finished 2022 with 5 top 4 finishes in the final six weeks, but remember, it’s also been nearly two decades since someone outside of the big teams has won a championship too.
- Joey Logano (+1200) – On one side, I like the fact that I get the defending series champion at +1200. Larson was +270 in that role last year. So great odds in your favor here. Also, Logano enters like he did in 2022 as he started off +1300. However, no one has won two straight titles since 2010. Logano only makes the Final Round in even years. On top of that, there’s value to be had for him later anyhow. In 2020, Logano, won two of the first four races then had just one top five and five top 10’s in the next 13 races run during COVID. But, he also had nine top five finishes and 13 top 10’s over his final 15 races too as he marched all the way to the Championship 4. In 2021, he won just once and had only three top fives over the final 20 races. Last year, only two wins in the first 32 races run…Logano does have 6 straight Round of 8 appearances and 8 in 9 tries so he at least is a long run contender.
- Kyle Busch (+1200) – I like the fact that Busch is hungry. He inherits a car that was competitive last year and reached victory lane three times. That’s a plus. However, RCR hasn’t won a championship since 1994 and Busch while at one points having scored five championship 4 appearances in a 6 year span, he’s had none in the last three. He was eliminated in the first round last year. Busch also has only scored 5 wins in his last 130 starts.
- Tyler Reddick (+1600) – A solid team, but can he win a title? Last year was a breakout season with 3 wins and you get him now for this number when a year ago, he was +4200. He’s been a first round exit for two straight years.
- Kevin Harvick (+1600) – Same opening number as last year. Does he end his final year on top? Harvick has five final round appearances in the last 8 years, but none in the last three including a first round defeat last season. Harvick’s won just 2 of his last 79 starts too. The thing is, he was 6th and 5th respectively at Phoenix last year and that’s his best track, so if he can get back to the Championship 4, watch out.
- Martin Truex Jr. (+1700) – Truex also has had five Championship 4 appearances in the last 8 years. However, he didn’t even make the playoffs last year when he opened at +850. Truex Jr. entered 2020 having only two wins in his last 43 races run too. Then came a four-win season and all the momentum back. That was subsequentially lost in a winless campaign in 2022 to give him 6 wins in his last 115 tries.
- Bubba Wallace (+4000) – Finally got that win away from a superspeedway in 2022 and he was ascending as the year went along. However, like for Reddick, can 23XI break down the big teams door to win a title? Wallace has to show me more consistently for me to fully buy in…yet.
- Brad Keselowski (+5000) — I’m not so sure this is his year either. He went from 7-1 in 2021 at Penske to 22-1 with RFK a year ago to 50-1 this. That’s due to now being part of a team that’s largely struggled for the better part of the last decade. Keselowski is trying to make them better. A playoff berth is the first goal for them at the moment.
- Austin Cindric (+5000) – Beware of the dreaded sophomore slump here. He had 1 total top 10 finish away from a superspeedway or road course in 2022.
- Ty Gibbs (+6000) / Noah Gragson (+9500) – While I like that each got experience in the Cup car last year, I just don’t see a “rookie” winning a championship for the first time ever in 2023.
- Chris Buescher (+9500) – Like Keselowski, RFK Racing needs to continue their upward trend and a jump from a non playoff team to a championship level is too much to ask for.