After spending NASCAR’s seventy fifth anniversary season with our eyeballs firmly targeted on the rearview mirror, we now have chosen to spend these ultimate days main into the game’s 76th yr gazing not a long time into the previous, however somewhat glancing during the last 12 months.
Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that the 2023 inventory automobile calendar kicked off with an exhibition race from Hollywood, as a result of throughout this similar time when moviemakers have change into so obsessive about the thought of crisscrossing multiverse timelines, NASCAR spent a whole season doing the identical. A celebration of the game’s previous punctuated by what felt like a definitive altering of the beginning grid guard. New venues blended in with racetracks woke up after we had way back left them for lifeless.
Ultimately, what earned the distinctions as the most effective or worst of this DeLorean time machine of a yr? Seize a leather-based helmet, a hover board and browse forward as we current our 2023 NASCAR Yr in Assessment.
Race of the Yr: Kansas Spring Race
I can already hear the complaints from individuals wanting a sexier choice. However what else might you probably need than a file variety of lead adjustments for a 400 mile intermediate occasion (37), a seemingly limitless collection of incredible restarts, an extra time end and considerably controversial battle between two future Corridor of Famers in Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson, all completed off with chef’s kiss pit highway throw down between Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson? To cite the good NASCAR thinker Maximus, “Are you not entertained?”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 7, 2023
Honorable Point out: Chicago Road Course, which rallied for an important present after a rainfall worthy of one other Noah. Not Gragson, the one with the ark.
Occasion of the Yr: All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway
The race itself wasn’t nice, thank the tremendous previous asphalt and tremendous butt-whipping doled out by Larson. Nonetheless, in my almost three a long time of overlaying auto racing, I’ve by no means been to an occasion the place everybody was in such a phenomenal mood. I’ll always remember being on the hospitality constructing rooftop overlooking Flip 4 the morning earlier than the race and watching 10-time North Wilkesboro winner Darrell Waltrip, a person who has by no means been speechless, simply stand there together with his legendary jaw hanging open, saying time and again to nobody, “I am unable to imagine this.”
Honorable Point out: Chicago Road Course. After months of public fear from commuters to artwork museums, NASCAR’s first true road course was additionally a feel-good occasion. Largely. Did we point out the rain? Additionally, I suppose we must always really feel unhealthy about two honorable mentions, however hey, it’s the second metropolis.
Undertaker Out Of the Coffin Resurrection Award: North Wilkesboro Speedway
In case you have been questioning why Waltrip was in such disbelief, he wasn’t alone. Anybody who thought NASCAR would ever return, they have been those who have been alone. Any of us who have been round when North Wilkesboro speedway was closed in 1996, at any time when requested if we believed it’d reopen in the future, we have been prone to quote Clark Griswold from the vacation film we have all simply watched 20 occasions over the few weeks: “It I awoke tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I would not be extra stunned that I’m proper now.” For the total story of the racetrack’s revival, read our story from May.
Honorable Point out: RFK Racing
Whereas we’re on this temper of honesty, let me let you know now that two years in the past when Brad Keselowski left crew Penske to take over directly proud Roush Fenway Racing, rebranded as a Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, I believed the shoo-in Corridor of Famer had signed away his profession and financial savings account on a misplaced trigger. However this season RFK put each of its Fords within the Playoffs and visited Victory Lane thrice. Talking of…
Breakthrough of the Yr: Chris Buescher
The Satisfaction of Prosper, Texas lastly prospered as promised after making his Cup Collection debut 9 seasons in the past. His fog-shrouded first win in 2016 appeared destined for the one-and-done file as he plowed his approach by seasons at Entrance Row Motorsport and Roush. However this yr he gained thrice, probably the most for a Roush driver since Matt Kenseth in 2012.
Disappointment of the Yr: Chase Elliott
Something wanting a deep postseason run is a bummer for the 2020 Cup champ. So think about his emotions a couple of winless season through which he missed six races due to a snowboarding damage (that began a little bit of an argument that we covered in this column) and a one-race NASCAR suspension for a run-in with Hamlin within the Coca-Cola 600, in the end failing to qualify for the 16-team playoff discipline. As his father “Superior Invoice” likes to say, it was a foul deal of a scenario.
The Driver Nonetheless Issues Award: Kyle Busch at RCR
Rowdy Busch is a generational sort of expertise. Everybody within the storage has believed that for a very long time. However over that very same very long time, I’ve witnessed lots of gifted racers transfer from positive issues to struggling groups, believing they might save the day by way of will and wheel (See: My feedback about Keselowski).
So, when Busch joined Richard Childress Racing — they of all these wins and Cups with Dale Earnhardt, but additionally they who haven’t gained a title since 1994 and so they who haven’t severely contended for a Cup since 2013 and so they who had change into a spot racers left for greener pastures (see: Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick) — it had an uneasy acquainted feeling about it. Then Busch gained thrice, his highest season whole since 2019 whereas matching and topping his 2022 high 10 and high 5 totals (17 and 10) at Joe Gibbs Racing. Oh, and since I discussed Harvick…
Greatest Paint Scheme: Kevin Harvick’s 2001 No. 29 throwback, North Wilkesboro
When the Artist Formally Generally known as Completely satisfied introduced that 2023 could be his ultimate season, he promised a yr of reflection and, in his words, “an opportunity to undo some issues I might have dealt with higher.” After going by the hell of Earnhardt’s loss of life collectively and remaining companions for greater than a decade after that, Harvick’s departure from RCR was removed from cordial. So, it warmed lots of NASCAR hearts to see Childress and Harvick teaming up once more with NASCAR’s cooperation to run their 2001 post-Earnhardt livery on the place and in a race The Intimidator liked a lot.
— Toby Christie (@Toby_Christie) May 19, 2023
Worst Paint Scheme: Ryan Preece, Atlanta Motor Speedway
When NASCAR lastly gave in to the requests of groups and sponsors to maneuver automobile numbers ahead in direction of the entrance wheels, the thought was to create extra space for company logos and creativity. However for a lot of designers and entrepreneurs that door panel DMZ stays mystifying.
This yr that area has been crammed with every thing from photographs of globby cheese to the faces of legislation companions whose haunting photographs unintentionally seemed like a go to from the Ghost of Lawsuits Previous. However probably the most complicated sticker slappage was discovered on the Ford of Harvick’s teammate Ryan Preece at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July.
Sony invited NASCAR shoppers to take a look at its newest technological wizardry by means of an enormous QR code, using shotgun on the doorways and hood of the No. 41 Mustang. All I might image was over-served race followers within the Atlanta rooster bone part making an attempt to scan that code as Preece blasted down the frontstretch at 190 mph or sitting of their recliners at dwelling shakily holding their smartphones towards their TV. I am unable to even efficiently scan a restaurant menu code that is sitting completely nonetheless after I’m completely sober.
Query for my NASCAR followers in Atlanta. Again in July did any of y’all attempt to scan this QR code because it screamed by at 190 mph? As a result of I am unable to even correctly scan a menu code sitting completely nonetheless in a sports activities bar sales space. pic.twitter.com/V3cFtuQ7jr
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) December 17, 2023
Greatest Rivalry: Earth vs Ross Chastain
As mentioned in our Waffle Home-hosted fall Chastain profile, the NASCAR storage has all the time appeared to function one man versus all the different guys. And as he defined in that dialog, enjoying that position would not precisely hold the Melon Man up at evening with fear. After a sluggish begin, the Chastain haters have been out in full pressure to declare his ’22 near-title run a fluke. Then he gained twice, made the postseason discipline once more and completed ninth within the standings. It’s more and more evident that maybe people ought to cease doubting this man and his talents. Simply ask Noah Gragson’s nostril.
Pour One Out: California Speedway
After one of the crucial hyped debuts of any racetrack in NASCAR’s fashionable period, the California Speedway was shuttered after 26 years and it is sluggish, painful demolition has change into a supply of nostalgia for NASCAR followers’ social media timelines. The said plan is to reinvent the place and finally reopen it, however the particulars of these plans stay as shrouded as that foggy Chris Buescher 2016 Pocono win.
The grandstands in flip 4 😭😭😭!!
Is that this the ultimate time we see Auto Membership Speedway standing? I’ve a sense it’s & as soon as the demolition is full i concern NASCAR will announce the sale of the remainder of the land & we’ll by no means be racing at Fontana ever once more 😩😩 #NASCAR… pic.twitter.com/uPNO9npyeF
— Ryan Ostrander 8 🏁 (@RyanOstrander_8) December 8, 2023
The Ben Franklin Lightning Rod Award: Denny Hamlin
When Hambone introduced he could be internet hosting a podcast for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s media firm titled “Actions Detrimental” we must always have all seen this stir-the-pot season coming from 1.5 miles away. On the observe, Hamlin discovered himself concerned in a number of feuds. Off the observe, he continued to name out NASCAR brass on every thing from how races are officiated to the game’s ever-changing enterprise mannequin. Simply in case he wanted proof that these executives take heed to his pod, he obtained a hefty wonderful for confessing on that present that he had purposely wrecked a competitor at Phoenix (Chastain, naturally). All of this whereas he continued to run up entrance as a driver and likewise as a crew co-owner with Michael Jordan. Hey, somebody ought to write a column about all this. Oh wait, I did!
Tantrum of the Yr: Josh Wiliams, Atlanta
Williams just isn’t a cup collection driver. Not but anyway. However the match he pitched in Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, protesting a ruling from race management by parking his automobile on the entrance stretch and strolling dwelling. The transfer from the mullet-wearing Floridian was so unreasonably entertaining that it has earned a spot right here among the many huge leaguers. Heck, he even landed a sponsor due to it. From whom? The producer of a parking steerage system.
In March, Josh Williams parked his automobile and walked throughout the Atlanta infield throughout an Xfinity race.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) July 8, 2023
Crossover Transfer: Storage 56
It didn’t matter that NASCAR’s foray into the 24 hours of Le Mans was just a glorified exhibition run. As quickly because the rumble of that inventory automobile engine rattled the French countryside, it was completely value it. You’ll be able to hear it on the 0:31 mark of this video from my man Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports activities.
What a deal with it was final evening to be this near the motion at Le Mans … thoughts blowing is an understatement. Superior to share the experiences with @calvinfish & Monsieur Le Mans #tomkristensen pic.twitter.com/fMyDC2HCkD
— Leigh Diffey (@leighdiffey) June 9, 2023
Sizzling Subject That Grew to become Non-Sizzling: Waivers
A large portion of the season was spent debating whether or not or not drivers ought to obtain waivers, permitting them to qualify for the postseason, regardless of lacking races for extracurricular actions. However when Chase Elliott, damage snowboarding, and Alex Bowman, damage observe racing, each didn’t qualify for the playoff, even with assist, that dialog went away quicker than my listening to the primary time I went to Bristol Motor Speedway.
Honorable Point out: Staff Charters. Am I the one one whose eyes glaze over like I am being compelled to observe a monetary PowerPoint presentation at any time when somebody tries to have interaction me in a riveting dialog about NASCAR crew homeowners and their charters?
The Greatest Worst Information That Did not Occur: Ryan Blaney’s Nashville crash
The 2023 NASCAR cup collection champion nearly had his season — and maybe his life — ended approach too early when his Ford discovered a piece of uncovered concrete wall at Nashville Superspeedway. How within the hell in 2023 is there any part of any speedway retaining wall that is not coated with a SAFER barrier? If we now have realized nothing during the last twenty years, it’s that race automobiles will discover even the tiniest part of concrete if it is not coated with the lifesaving “comfortable partitions.”
The place Ryan Blaney hit the wall at Nashville and simply how briskly and straight the contact was pic.twitter.com/SZw6cYZI13
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverRA) June 26, 2023
The Settle In As a result of He is Right here to Keep Award: William Byron
In actuality, you can apply this to just about each driver we now have talked about right here. From Blaney to Elliott to Redick and past, the long-predicted NASCAR youth motion has lastly arrived. All one must do is scan the record of winners during the last two seasons. It is younger. However nobody embodies this shift change within the paddock greater than Byron.
Driving for legendary proprietor Rick Hendrick and wheeling probably the most legendary of Mr. H’s automobiles, the quantity 24 Chevy, and successful six occasions, greater than every other driver within the collection this yr. At 26 years previous, he is simply getting began. And he is not alone. We will not wait. Daytona will probably be right here earlier than we all know it. And as 2023 taught us, to not point out the final 75 years, we do not know what NASCAR has coming across the nook.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) December 14, 2023