Pop open your finest keg of moonshine and dust off your open-face racing helmets, NASCAR is turning 75 in 2023! Before the season unofficially gets underway with the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum on February 5, we’d like to make our annual predictions for the upcoming Cup Series season. Read on below to see how we think the upcoming season will play out and feel free to drop your own predictions in the comments!
Which Drivers Will Earn Their First Career Wins:
After serving as the reserve driver for Stewart-Haas Racing last season, Ryan Preece will get the chance to prove his worth as he takes over the 41 car this season. Preece had a successful part-time run in 2022, with 2 top 6 finishes in 3 Xfinity Series starts for B. J. McLeod Motorsports and 1 win, 7 top 5’s, and 9 top 10’s in 10 Truck Series starts for David Gilliland Racing. Preece has shown that he has the ability to drive whatever he is racing to the front of the field and after driving mostly mid-pack cars for the majority of his Cup career (JTG Daugherty Racing, Premium Motorsports, and Rick Ware Racing), we predict that his hard work and dedication will finally pay off when he picks up his first Cup Series victory this season.
The defending Xfinity Series Champion, Ty Gibbs will drive the 54 car in the Cup Series full-time in 2023 for, you guessed it, Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs has proven he has the caliber to win at the highest level, with 7 wins, 16 top 5’s, and 23 top 10’s during his championship campaign last season. Gibbs raced part-time in Cup last season, earning just 1 top 10 finish and 4 finishes of 30th or worse in 15 starts while driving for 23XI Racing in place of Kurt Busch. Gibbs will be an instant threat at any track, winning last season on short tracks, mile and a half tracks, 2 mile tracks (Michigan) road courses, and super speedways (if you count Atlanta as one, then yes). Gibbs will have some ups and downs this season in his first full-time campaign, but he will most certainly find himself in Victory Lane this year.
Surprise Picks To Make The Playoffs:
Ryan Preece and Ty Gibbs- See Which Drivers Will Earn Their First Career Wins
The true road course king, AJ Allmendinger will be making his long-awaited full-time Cup Series return this season to drive for Kaulig Racing. Allmendinger finished 5th in the Championship Standings for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series last year, earning 5 wins, 17 top 5’s, and 28 top 10’s, to go along with 3 top 5’s and 8 top 10’s while running a part-time Cup Series schedule for Kaulig as well. Allmendinger has shown that he is more than just a road course racer, winning on superspeedways, short tracks, mile and a half tracks, and 2 mile ovals during his time in the Xfinity Series. Allmendinger brings a veteran approach to the Cup Series and will help Kaulig grow in the ensuing years. Allmendinger will make the playoffs this year by winning, most likely on a road course.
Arguably the most polarizing figure in the sport today, Bubba Wallace took another step in the right direction last season, earning his first non-rain shortened victory at Kansas last fall. For those who think that it was fluke, that is far from the case. Wallace had an average finishing position of 18.29 in 2022, which isn’t super impressive, but is nearly 1.5 spots better than his average finishing position in 2021. His average start and finish position has gradually approved in each of his full-time seasons and 2022 was arguably his best year to date, with 1 win, 5 top 5’s, and 10 top 10 finishes. With Wallace being the veteran driver at 23XI Racing this year, he has to prove to the masses that he has what it takes to be successful at the highest level and we predict that if he can get out of his own head, that he will be a playoff caliber driver this season.
Surprise Picks To Miss The Playoffs:
2022 was quite the roller coaster for Alex Bowman, who missed 5 races due to a concussion. Regardless of injury, his numbers were down considerably from 2021, as he had 3 less wins, 4 less top 5’s and 4 less top 10’s. Bowman’s best average finish while driving for Hendrick Motorsports has been 14.36, which is no means top of the charts. At the end of the day, we predict that the aftermath of the concussion will loom larger than most expect and that Bowman will suffer a down year and miss the playoffs. In what is a contract year for Bowman, this could potentially be his last stand at Hendrick Motorsports.
In his sophomore season, Chase Briscoe picked up his first career win during the Phoenix spring race last year. That was the main highlight for the regular season, earning just 2 additional top 5’s along the way. Briscoe heated up in the playoffs though, with 3 top 5’s and 6 top 10’s during the final 10 races on the way to a 9th place finish in the Championship Standings. Honestly, we just aren’t buying into the Briscoe hype at this moment. He’s a talented driver, but with an average finish of 17.33 last year, he’ll most likely be a checkers or wreckers type driver trying to make the playoffs, which is not the most stable way to find success in the Cup Series. Briscoe will have flashes of brilliance, but we predict he will miss out on the playoffs in 2023.
Kevin Harvick may be retiring at the end of this upcoming season, but he proved last year that he still has a little gas left in the tank, picking up back-to-back wins at Michigan and Richmond to end an almost two year winless streak. Nevertheless, the speed just wasn’t there for Harvick last year, as he led a mere 119 laps, with 93 of those laps led coming during his 2 victories. Harvick had an average finish of 14.33 last year, down nearly 3.5 spots from the season before. If 2022 was any indication, drivers will almost certainly have to win to guarantee themselves a playoff spot in 2023. Harvick may be looking to go out with a bang, but we predict that it will be more of a whimper as he misses the playoffs in his farewell season.
Driving for Trackhouse Racing, Daniel Suarez had his breakthrough year last season, picking up his first Cup Series win at Sonoma, to go along with 6 top 5’s and 13 top 10 finishes. Even with his success, there is room for concern. With an average finish of 16.5 last season, Suarez would essentially be another checkers or wreckers type driver who would have to win to guarantee a playoff spot. Only 3 of Suarez’s 13 top 10’s came on mile and a half tracks, 2 of which came at the Atlanta Motor Speedway (superspeedway). With a mile and a half track in each of the first 3 rounds of the playoff, Suarez will have to make some gains on this style of track if he wants to make the playoffs, let alone make a deep run in the playoffs come September. We predict some regression this year as Suarez will miss out on the playoffs.
Who Will Win Rookie Of The Year:
It will be a highly contested battle between Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson for Rookie of the Year honors this season. We really don’t see this being that close, with Gibbs making the playoffs and Gragson missing out. Even so, at the end of the day, Gibbs is in much better equipment than Gragson. As long as Gibbs doesn’t fumble the bag, he will walk away with the Rookie of the Year title.
How Will Jimmie Johnson & Legacy Motor Club Fare In 2023:
Jimmie Johnson made waves by becoming a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and announcing a part-time return to racing driving for the team he owns. Despite all of this great news, Legacy Motor Club is the exact same team as it would’ve been under its old name, Petty GMS Motorsports, which has been a mid-tier team at best for quite awhile now. They may pop off for a win occasionally, but you can expect some top 10’s and mostly top 20 finishes. Plus, Johnson wasn’t that strong at the end of his career either, ending his Cup career on a 130 race losing streak and having an average finish of 16.7 or worse across each of his final 4 seasons. Johnson hasn’t even had a race behind the wheel of the Next-Gen car, which is very temperamental, as we all know. If Johnson pops off for a top 10 or two during his part-time schedule, that would be realistic. But to expect him to go out and dominate the field is absolutely asinine.
Ross Chastain vs The Field:
It’s not a secret that Ross Chastain had some issues with drivers on-track last year, most notably Denny Hamlin. We believe that the majority of the drivers weren’t sure of what to make of Chastain early on since he hadn’t had a ton of experience running up front in the Cup Series. But Chastain has once again proven that he is an aggressive driver who grinds for every spot he can get and is not going to back down or be intimidated by other drivers. Chastain is one of the best drivers in the Cup Series right now and will be around for many years to come. Will there be more run-ins on the track this season? Absolutely. Will other drivers be ready this time? You better believe it.
How Will Drivers Fare After Switching Teams:
After spending 15 seasons driving the 18 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch has switched over to Richard Childress Racing and will drive the 8 car this season. Busch had 1 win, 8 top 5’s, and 17 top 10’s during his final season at JGR and is looking to extend his streak of seasons with at least one win to an astounding 19 consecutive years. RCR isn’t a dominant team, but they are a team on the upswing, putting both of its drivers in the playoffs last year for the first time since 2017. Busch will have a learning curve, but picking up a win, making the playoffs, and advancing through at least one round of the playoffs seems like a realistic goal in year one with his new team.
Drive of the 8 car for Richard Childress Racing last season, Tyler Reddick will shift over to 23XI Racing in 2023 and will drive the 45 car for Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. Reddick is fresh off a breakout campaign in 2022, where he had 3 wins, 10 top 5’s, and 15 top 10’s. Reddick had a lot of bad luck as well, with 9 finishes of 30th or worse. Reddick will also face a learning curve in 2023 while racing for a new team, but like Busch, he is too talented to be kept down for long. Another winning campaign, another playoff appearance, and like Busch, advancing through at least one round of the playoffs is certainly a realistic goal.
New Tracks On The Schedule:
Two new tracks have been added to the Cup Series schedule this year, the Chicago Street Course and North Wilkesboro Speedway.
The Chicago Street Course is a bit of an unknown; in theory, it should run like a road course, but it’s not a traditional road course. There are left and right turns, but road courses have run off areas, while street courses are more confined being in the city. With the chaotic finishes that come with new road courses being added to the schedule, looking at you Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, we could very likely see a ton of fireworks by race end. It should produce tight and exciting racing for sure, but there are a ton of unknowns at this point.
On the flip side, North Wilkesboro will make its triumphant return to schedule after being closed for many years and undergoing a complete renovation to re-open. NASCAR last visited the track in 1996, but it is a lock that the track will have great racing, as it is the host track for the All-Star Race this season. Short track racing is short track racing and drivers will know exactly what they’ll be stepping into with a cool one million dollars on the line that night. All-Star Race weekend cannot get here soon enough.
How Will The Next-Gen Car Fare This Season:
Honestly, who the hell knows at this point. There were a lot of issues with it last year, some that were expected, others that weren’t expected. The biggest issue was with the rear bumper of the car, as there would be severe impacts when that portion of the car would hit the wall, leading to concussion issues with multiple drivers, including Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch. Other issues included engines just expiring with no warning, tires randomly blowing out, issues galore with the power steering and cars abruptly bursting into flames, just to make a few. The first year of any new product features a learning curve. NASCAR quickly learned that there were issues with the car, but no immediate ways to fix them. With a full season and off-season with the Next-Gen car in the books, hopefully NASCAR has figured out a way to resolve most, if not all of the issues. Will we still see issues outlined above? Most likely. But hopefully they will be few and far between. At the end of the day, we want to see great racing where the drivers can settle it on the track going head-to-head, with no worries that their car will fall apart in the heat of battle.
How Will The New Rule Changes Impact The Sport Going Forward:
There have been several rule changes announced for 2023 that will impact the sport at various levels.
Right out of the gate, all road courses races on the Cup Series schedule will be run without stage breaks. We love to see it! There is nothing more boring than watching a 5 minute caution lap on a road course, especially if it is for an unnecessary stoppage. Getting rid of the stage breaks speeds up the pace of the race and opens the rule books to new strategy, both of which we can support.
Ross Chastain’s “Hail Melon” wall move will cease to exist, as NASCAR plans to issue a time penalty to any driver who attempts the move again, in the name of safety of course. If it was truly a “safety concern,” then NASCAR would’ve put this rule into effect back in 2021 when Kyle Larson unsuccessfully tried the same move at Darlington. To us, it just seems that NASCAR didn’t care about this type of move until someone successfully pulled it off. We are all for safety, but the ability to pull that move off is one in a million to begin with. There are only a few tracks where the move could even be considered, let alone be actually done successfully. We say live and let live on that subject. If someone has the balls to pull that move off successfully, more power to them. We hate to see creativity get penalized at the end of the day.
Most importantly, the penalty for tires breaking off of the car has been changed, and we couldn’t be happier. The old rules meant that the crew chief would be suspended four races if a tire broke free at any point during a race, whether on track or pit road. Now, teams will have to do a pass-through penalty under green flag conditions if a wheels breaks free while on pit road; will start at the tail end of the field if the wheel breaks free under caution; or a two-lap penalty, plus a two-race suspension for two crew members if the wheels breaks anywhere outside of pit road. Overall, we feel this is a much fairer system than what was previous in place, especially more so since there are different types of penalties depending on the circumstance. One size doesn’t always fit all and the old version of the rule demonstrated that.
There are also a few minor rules updates and changes we are looking forward to. More tracks are now going to be allowed to run wet weather packages, including the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Martinsville Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, Richmond Raceway, The Milwaukee Mile and Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. It’ll be nice to see NASCAR drivers have the opportunity to race in the rain if necessary, as no one enjoys sitting through a lengthy rain delay.
Another rule change is that drivers will no longer have to be in the top 30 in points to maintain postseason eligibility. As long as a driver attempts all of the races or has a waiver, then they will qualify for the playoffs with a win. We don’t expect this to have a huge impact on the sport going forward, but it would be nice to see the implications of an underdog team pulls off the upset win at a superspeedway or road course race and how a team ranked outside the top 30 in points would fare against the top ranked drivers come playoff time.
Other notable changes include the choose rule being implemented at superspeedways and dirt tracks and the Damaged Vehicle Policy repair clock expanding to seven minutes for repair work.
Overall, we think the rules will take a small adjustment period to get used to, but will be a good fit for the sport moving forward. Change can be a good thing, especially if the changes are working towards improving the sport for both the teams and the fans.
Which 16 Drivers Will Make The Playoffs:
Martin Truex Jr.
Which Drivers Will Advance To The Round Of 12:
Which Drivers Will Advance To The Round Of 8:
Which Drivers Will Advance To The Championship 4:
Your 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Is:
Why Kyle Larson Will Win:
Winner of the 2021 Cup Series Championship, Larson had a bit of a regression in 2022, with 3 wins, 13 top 5’s, and 19 top 10 finishes. If not for some misfortune at the Charlotte Roval, Larson would’ve likely been racing in Phoenix as a part of the Championship 4 last November, which only adds more fuel to his fire to get back to Phoenix with a chance to win another championship. Larson has the ability to win on nearly any style track, as evidenced by his past success at mile and a half tracks, road courses, and short tracks, just to name a few. With a full season of driving the Next-Gen car under his belt, Larson should be able to build on the season he had last year and put the pedal back to the floor and return to his winning ways. We predict that Kyle Larson will earn his second career championship in 2023!