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NASCAR 2022: The top ten Cup Series moments to remember

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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season featured a plethora of spirited battles, wild finishes, and moments that will be part of highlight reels for years to come over the course of 36 races and two special events. With a record-tying 19 different winners this year, there were plenty of spectacular moments and thrilling victories to talk about long before the checkered flag flew and a champion was crowned in Phoenix.

While it was difficult to narrow down the list of highlights (hence several honorable mentions), there were ten moments in particular that contributed significantly to the success of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. Here are CBS Sports’ top ten NASCAR moments in 2022:

10: King of the South once more

Richard Petty’s No. 43 had won on numerous tracks across the southeast, but it had been a long time since The King’s car had triumphed on the south’s first major speedway. Petty’s car hadn’t won at Darlington Raceway since 1967, when he captured his first and only Southern 500 victory.

Erik Jones, on the other hand, wrote a new chapter in his car’s long history in the first race of the NASCAR playoffs. Jones inherited the lead when Kyle Busch blew an engine in the final laps, and he held off a hard-charging Denny Hamlin in the final laps to win his second Southern 500 and end a three-year winless streak for him and an eight-year winless streak for the Petty No. 43.

Jones’ victory was the first for Petty GMS, as well as The King’s No. 43’s 200th.

9: Bubba Wallace is vindicated

Bubba Wallace’s first career victory at Talladega in the fall of 2021 was a watershed moment in the Alabama driver’s career, and his status as the sport’s first Black driver to win a Cup Series race in the modern era was a watershed moment for NASCAR. However, there were those who sought to dismiss and discredit Wallace’s first victory because it came in a rain-shortened race.

Throughout the first half of 2022, Wallace’s detractors made plenty of noise as inconsistency, mistakes on pit road, and an overall lack of execution plagued him and his race team. However, in the second half of the season, everything began to fall into place. Wallace would finish the second half with three top fives, eight top tens, and his first career pole, culminating in a Kansas race where he led the final 43 laps to pick up his second Cup win and leave his detractors speechless.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity — and grateful to be able to silence a lot of people,” he says.

The victory gave 23XI Racing a season sweep of the two Kansas races, with Wallace winning in the No. 45 that had previously been driven by Kurt Busch in the spring. At Pocono, Busch suffered a season-ending concussion, adding to the joy of Wallace’s victory for his race team.

8: A spectacular victory for Suarez

Daniel Suarez’s perseverance was rewarded with the best season of his career in 2022 after years of struggling to stay with championship-level teams. Suarez had a career-high six top fives and 13 top tens as part of Trackhouse Racing’s second-year surge, with his best moment coming in June when he won his first career race at Sonoma.

Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver and the fifth foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race, and he had already stated his intention to celebrate by smashing a piata or eating tacos. Suarez’s teammates obliged, providing him with a taco-shaped piata to smash as he emotionally reflected on his journey to becoming a Cup winner.

“Many people in Mexico… never gave up on me. Many people did, but they did not, “Suarez stated to Fox Sports. “I’m just glad we were able to make it work… This is the first of many. This is the first in a series.”

7: Chase Elliott soothes NASCAR at Talladega.

Talladega Superspeedway’s fall race was surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty and apprehension the likes of which had not been felt in many, many years. After two drivers were injured the week before at Texas Motor Speedway, including Alex Bowman, who suffered a concussion in what appeared to be a minor accident, concerns were raised about the Next Gen car’s safety, with drivers’ season-long frustrations with the car’s rigidity upon impact exploding in the media.

All of this was heightened by the threat of Talladega, NASCAR’s fastest and most dangerous racetrack. But what followed a tense week was a thrilling – and risk-free – race from start to finish. The lead changed hands 57 times, with the 57th and final change occurring on the final lap, when Chase Elliott received a push from Erik Jones to clear Ryan Blaney and win his fifth race of the season in thrilling fashion.

6: A rookie wins the Daytona 500

Austin Cindric rose through the NASCAR ranks primarily as a road racer by trade, and primarily because he was driving for Team Penske as the son of team president Tim Cindric. He will now be remembered as a Daytona 500 champion and one of the most remarkable young champions in the history of The Great American Race.

Austin Cindric led 21 laps in the closing stages of the Daytona 500 in only his eighth career Cup start and the first race of his rookie season, then put on a defensive driving clinic on the final lap, holding off Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, and Bubba Wallace to score his first Cup win in the biggest race of the year.

Cindric became the ninth driver in history to win his first Cup Series race in the Daytona 500, and he would go on to win Rookie of the Year after a rookie season in which he earned five top fives, nine top tens, and finished 12th in the championship standings.

5: Bristol’s mudslide

When the front two cars are battling for the win, third place is exactly where you want to be if the first and second cars wipe each other out. That is exactly what occurred in this year’s Bristol Dirt Race, to the benefit of one Kyle Busch.

Chase Briscoe made a last-ditch effort to take the lead with a slidejob on Tyler Reddick entering the final corner. But he couldn’t get it to stick, slamming into Reddick’s left rear and spinning both of their cars out. Reddick straightened his car and attempted to accelerate back to the finish line for his first Cup victory, but he didn’t have enough time. Kyle Busch came from third place to beat Reddick at the start/finish line for his first and only victory of the 2022 season.

Busch’s victory would be his final with Joe Gibbs Racing. Moreover, the victory came over the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, which Busch will now drive in 2023 and beyond.

4: Dillon comes through rain or shine.

Austin Dillon was one of over a dozen drivers who needed to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona to qualify for the NASCAR playoffs as the season came to a close. Dillon’s chance came with 23 laps to go when he drove through a field-clearing wreck in Turn 1 that began when the lead pack drove into a popup shower that turned into a massive storm that delayed the race for several hours.

Dillon would have won if the storm had ended the race early, but the skies cleared and Daytona dried quickly, meaning Dillon would have to earn his playoff berth in the race to the finish. He would do just that, taking the lead from Austin Cindric with three laps to go and then holding off a slew of unusual contenders, including Landon Cassill, Noah Gragson, Cody Ware, and B.J. McLeod, to earn the right to compete for the 2022 championship.

3rd: America’s Chastain

After leading 125 laps and finishing third in three consecutive races (third in Las Vegas, second in Phoenix, and third in Atlanta), it was clear early in the season that Ross Chastain’s first Cup Series victory was on the way. It would come at Circuit of the Americas, and the manner in which it occurred set the tone for who Chastain was and what kind of force he would be in his breakout season.

Chastain had led 30 of 68 laps heading into the final lap before being moved out of the way by a hard-charging AJ Allmendinger on the exit of Turn 16. With Alex Bowman surging ahead and poised to take the win from both of them, Chastain reclaimed his first Cup Series victory by putting the bump-and-run on Allmendinger in Turn 19, shoving him into Bowman and spinning him into the gravel trap as Chastain drove back for his first Cup win and Trackhouse Racing’s first victory.

“I know he’s going to be upset with me, but we raced hard, both of us, and he owes me one — but when it comes to a Cup win, man, I can’t let that go down without a fight,” Chastain told Fox Sports, before hinting at what Trackhouse would become. “… Nobody knows how good this group is. I’m shocked Justin Marks hired me to drive this car.”

2: Holding it twice

More than his three wins, 12 top fives, and 20 top tens on his way to third place in the championship standings, Christopher Bell’s 2022 season will be remembered for the fact that he not once, but twice, won a race when it was his only option to advance in the NASCAR playoffs.

After issues at Texas and Talladega, Bell was in a make-or-break situation at Charlotte Roval, and he rose to the occasion by weaving his way through two chaotic restarts to take the lead and the win in overtime to advance. Then, a crash in Las Vegas dropped Bell into another major points hole heading into the Round of 8 finale at Martinsville – and, once again, Bell used fresher tires in the final laps to score a victory that vaulted him from the verge of elimination to a spot in the Championship 4.

The Hail Melon is number one.

Certain moments in racing completely and permanently defy any preconceived notions about what a driver can and cannot do with a racecar. And no one will ever forget what Ross Chastain did in the final corner at Martinsville as long as there are cars to race and people willing to drive them.

Chastain appeared to be all but eliminated from the NASCAR playoffs, as Denny Hamlin was running well ahead of him and was certain to advance to the Championship 4 on points. Chastain had no choice but to shift his car into fifth gear, put his foot on the throttle, and see if riding the wall at full speed would work. Chastain gained five positions in one corner, outrunning Hamlin to the finish line to finish fourth and earn the final Championship 4 spot by one point.

Chastain appeared to be all but eliminated from the NASCAR playoffs, as Denny Hamlin was running well ahead of him and was certain to advance to the Championship 4 on points. Chastain had no choice but to shift his car into fifth gear, put his foot on the throttle, and see if riding the wall at full speed would work. Chastain gained five positions in one corner, outrunning Hamlin to the finish line to finish fourth and earn the final Championship 4 spot by one point.

Chastain’s video game move, which was patented on the Nintendo GameCube, did more than just serve as the best moment in NASCAR history in 2022. It also went beyond the sport, gaining millions upon millions of views on social media, global attention for the humble Florida watermelon farmer, and a fitting nickname: The “Hail Melon.”

Mentions of Merit
Kyle Larson triumphs in the Fontana thriller
Darlington bump-and-run by Joey Logano
The Coca-Cola 600 was won four-wide.
Corey LaJoie comes close to winning Atlanta

 

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