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Team Hendrick, Ross Chastain, Keselowski lead 2023 success stories; Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace have faced obstacles Featured

Posted On Wednesday, 05 April 2023 02:24 Written by
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William Byron, driver of the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, celebrates his victory Sunday, March 12, 2023, after winning the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona. It was the second consecutive win for Byron. William Byron, driver of the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, celebrates his victory Sunday, March 12, 2023, after winning the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona. It was the second consecutive win for Byron. Photo by Tim Parks/HHP for Chevy Racing

Now that we’ve reached the seven-race mark, and competed at a variety of different track types, it’s fair to start looking at this year’s winners and losers in the Cup series, to this point. Good fortunes can fade and bad fortunes can disappear, but it’s clear that some in the garage are in better shape than others right now. Here’s a few takes on the current landscape of the competition.

Biggest 2023 success stories

Hendrick Motorsports: 
Not really a surprise that the team that has more wins than anyone ever in NASCAR is leading the series this year, but the consistency this year is hard to ignore. 

William Byron is having a breakout year, and could win a lot of races (he’s already got two in the bag). Alex Bowman has six top-10s (more than anyone else in the Cup series) and leads the points. 

Kyle Larson just pulled out his first win (likely the first of many) this past weekend at Richmond. And while Chase Elliott will have a battle to make the playoffs once he returns from injury, fill-in driver Josh Berry was the runner-up at Richmond. Not too shabby of a start, and the future looks just as bright for HMS. In year two of the Next Gen car, they seemed to have things figured out better than anyone.

Ross Chastain: Despite being blamed for nearly every accident on the track, whether he is at fault or not, Ross Chastain is putting up some of the best numbers of the season so far. While he hasn’t won yet, he’s a threat every week, and has 3 top-5s and 4 top-10 finishes. I’m pretty confident he’s smash a few watermelons before playoff time starts this fall.

Brad Keslowski/RFK Racing: Last year was a nightmare season for Brad K as he launched his career as a driver-owner, but this year is a light year of difference. Brad and teammate Chris Buescher run up front each week and are both looking likely to make the playoffs and win races. A tremendous turnaround, and a step toward bringing this team back to the glory days of Roush Racing.

Biggest 2023 disappointments:

Ryan Blaney — Blaney is a great driver, and always considered a threat to win. But as Kyle Petty recently noted, those wins rarely come. It’s always a could’ve, should’ve situation, “potential unfulfilled”. No one should doubt Blaney’s talent, as he’s been a fast competitor since he was a teenager in the ARCA series. But he needs to break out of the funk he’s in to have a shot at glory in 2023. 

Joey Logano’s #22 team is leading the Penske stable this year, so maybe he can rub some of that luck off on Blaney and Austin Cindric as the year moves on.

Bubba Wallace — The #23 team entered the year with confidence after a strong ending to 2022.

But outside of a couple bright spots, this year has been a rough one for Bubba Wallace, especially in terms of race finishes. On the positive side, the 23 car shows significant speed most weeks. But on race day — whether through driver fault, crew fault or strategy fault — the end results aren’t there, and Bubba now sits 22nd in points. 

That’s not to say he can’t climb back into the points, as the team has shown it can supply race-winning cars (see Tyler Reddick at COTA). But in reality Bubba likely needs to win a race or two to get into the playoffs. Overcoming self-doubt and putting together solid full races and top 10s and top 5s will be the pathway he needs to follow if those wins are going to come this year.


Time has come to consider ending unlimited Green-White-Checkered attempts

A new level of comedy was reached at the end of the recent Cup race at COTA, which featured a seemingly endless string of overtime restarts that continually ended up with cars pinballilng off each other. And with the long length of COTA, the restarts took an eternity.

In the end, the best car won in Tyler Reddick, but the process of always doing unlimited G-W-C restarts to ensure a race to the flag has tested its limits in the situation we saw at COTA. The lesson is that perhaps at certain tracks, like COTA and other lengthy road courses, we should set a limit (perhaps 2 GWC attempts), and let the chips fall where they may. In the time they ran that overtime at COTA, I could have left my house, eaten dinner, and come home before they were finished. 

It was a bit silly, and ironically the Formula 1 race at Australia this past weekend followed a similar farcical ending, with multiple red flags and heavy contact or damage coming to most of the field. Perhaps the COTA madness was contagious.

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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