If you were to look back at last year’s NASCAR Cup Series season, you would probably immediately remember the key seasons of this season. You had Ross Chastain, the former watermelon grower from Florida who proved he really belongs in the Cup Series by finishing second in the points standings. There was Christopher Bell, whose strong second half of the season earned him a spot in Championship 4 for the first time in his career, and Chase Elliott, who was in contention for the title for the third year in a row. However, it was Joey Logano who was the biggest winner of the year, claiming his second Cup championship at the season-ending race in Phoenix.
While there were many success stories in 2022, you also had quite a few drivers that didn’t live up to expectations. For some, like Harrison Burton and Cole Custer, the turnaround window is likely to be longer than a year or two. However, for the other drivers, we see a much clearer path to recovery in 2023. Here are three of those drivers.
The injury put a huge damper on Alex Bowman’s 2022 season. After suffering a concussion during the September race at Texas Motor Speedway, the driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 Chevy missed races at Talladega, Charlotte Roval, Las Vegas, Homestead, and Martinsville, and was subsequently eliminated in the Round of 12.
Heading into the new season, not only will Bowman be healthy, but he’ll also have a new crew chief in Blake Harris. During his rookie year in the Cup Series, Harris helped lead Michael McDowell to his 12th top-ten finish, doubling the previous driver’s best. Harris will apparently have more talent to work with, as Bowman has won four trophies in 2021. Health and inconsistent driving may have defined Bowman in 2022, but we expect 2023 to bring the change he and Hendrick can both believe in.
The 2022 season directed by Kevin Harvick was historically bad.
The 47-year-old veteran finished the season 15th in the points standings, marking his first points outside the top 10 since 2009 when he finished 19th. But, the 2023 season will be different for Harvick for one major reason: It will be his last before he hangs up his racing suit and helmet forever. As the 2014 cup champion said in his country Official retirement announcement, “This last season is the best season.” Now, I’m not taking it literally here – he’s not going to win a second championship. But I think, with sure retirement, we’ll see a return to Harvick that we saw just two years ago. Harvick from 2018 who won eight races on his way to third in the standings. Harvick from 2019 which saw The Harvick from 2020 claim the regular season title. You get the point.
Harvick also has several major milestones coming up in 2023. For example, he’s scheduled to make his 800th career Cup start at the Talladega race in April, and if all goes as planned and he runs a full season, he’ll pass Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip and become the driver Eighth on the all-time Cup best starts list, he has 826 starts. Harvick is also 99 laps short of driving the 16,000 laps of his Cup career, and five of the top five 250 career-best fives.
It’s not like Harvick has anything to prove in the Cup Series, but when it comes to legacy and all that’s on the line this year, you’d better think he’d be pushed to make a statement. He’s ready for a big comeback in 2023, I can feel that.
All things considered, Ryan Blaney had a very strong 2022 season. Although he went winless, Blaney made it through the heats and eventually finished eighth in the points standings. That was thanks to some fairly consistent racing to put together four top-fives and six top-10s. But the pressure on the 29-year-old Ohio native to perform on show is more evident now than ever. why? Because fellow defending Cup champion Joey Logano. Now, Team Penske undoubtedly wants its second-best Cup driver to live up to his full potential (the team also features Austin Cindrick, who is entering his second season), but no one has higher expectations of Blaney than he does for himself.
Despite making it to the eighth round, Blaney’s failure to score a single win looms large for a ninth-year driver, especially during a season when there seemed to be a new winner every week. Consistent racing is great when it comes to accumulating points, but winning is an absolute confidence boost for the driver. If he hopes to become his own NASCAR driver, Blaney needs that boost.
Blaney: “I hope we win one” He said Back in november. “We had a great car to do it but it just didn’t happen. I’m proud of the effort. We had a winning car and it didn’t.”
When it comes to drivers ready for a major makeover season, Blaney certainly has the most promise. It looks like there are only a few small tweaks left from achieving a dominant race this year. He had two huge errors in races that could have turned the tide of his season (playoff races in Las Vegas and Homestead-Miami especially come to mind). Expect him not to make the same mistakes again. It’s a new year, new Ryan Blaney in 2023.