NASCAR accolades: Handing out 2022 awards, predicting future winners
It's late December. I don't know whether to look back on the previous season or look ahead to the next one.
How about both?
Here are my attempts at a version of awards for 2022 — with predictions of the winners for 2023.
2022: Joey Logano
Logano was at his best when it mattered most — late in the season. He took everything he learned during the year and was the dominant car in the championship race. He ranked second in wins in the season with four (to Chase Elliott's five).
2023: Ross Chastain
Chastain certainly was the breakout star of 2022, going from not having won a Cup race to championship contention. If he improves as much in 2023, he'll win the most races and the title.
2022: Austin Cindric
Cindric had by far a better year than Todd Gilliland or Harrison Burton, and that would have even been without the Daytona 500 win. Without that win, Cindric's average finish was 16.7. Burton's was 22.8 and Gilliland's was 23.2.
2023: Ty Gibbs
Assuming both Gibbs and Noah Gragson are considered Cup rookies in 2023, Gibbs is racing for a more established team at Joe Gibbs Racing, one that has had overall more success than the No. 42 car, whereas Gragson tries to help with an organization still trying to create a foundation.
Crew Chief of the Year
2022: Adam Stevens
It takes a smart, even-keeled and confident crew chief to help a young driver navigate some poor early finishes and then guide the team when their backs are against the wall in the playoffs. Christopher Bell's improvement is a testament to Stevens' ability.
2023: Randall Burnett
The crew chief for Kyle Busch has the biggest challenge in making sure Busch has what he needs to win races. Not in 2024. Now. Burnett will be successful at doing just that.
Owner of the Year
2022: Justin Marks
The Trackhouse Racing owner didn't just purchase Chip Ganassi Racing, he improved its performance as his drivers won three races and Ross Chastain placed second overall.
2023: Maury Gallagher
The Petty GMS owner entering his second year of Cup racing now has Jimmie Johnson as a driver/investor. The five-or-so races Johnson competes in as a driver will bring additional interest. His influence could bring additional performance every race.
Best new moment
2022: Clash at the Coliseum
The event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was epic as NASCAR built a temporary quarter-mile track. It will serve as evidence that NASCAR can do this at other locations, especially internationally.
2023: North Wilkesboro
There are two choices here — the all-star race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway and the Chicago street race. The nod will go to Wilkesboro for what should be a "classic" going-back-to-the-roots Field of Dreams feel.
Upset of the Year
2022: Austin Cindric in the Daytona 500
It wasn't a surprise that Cindric would win a race as a rookie, but the Daytona 500? That didn't seem all that realistic.
2023: Justin Haley
A solid racer, Haley could surprise some people with a win. And just like Cindric's victory, it could come at one of the superspeedways. Haley would get a push from Kaulig Racing teammate AJ Allmendinger to do it.
Most Improved Driver
2022: Chase Briscoe
From 23rd in the standings as a rookie to ninth in 2022, Briscoe won a race early, struggled during the middle of the season, but seemed to show some new life in the playoffs.
2023: Bubba Wallace
Winning at Kansas in September showed what Wallace is capable of on intermediate tracks. He seemed to grow throughout the season, except for the awful decision to hook Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. If Wallace learned from that, and there's no reason why he won't, he could make his first Cup playoff appearance in 2023.
2022: Ryan Blaney
Blaney did pretty much everything but win a race during the season, and then two bad mistakes in the semifinal playoff round doomed his championship hopes. He was the best driver who barely got to celebrate anything except winning the all-star race.
2023: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin is used to dealing with the heartbreak of not winning a title. So by picking him, I'm just following history.
Two of the top drivers in the sport and they're teammates. What more do you need? The Hendrick Motorsports rivalry that appeared to get heated at California and Watkins Glen was enough that Larson indicated he had to be more mindful and potentially race differently in the future.
2023: Kyle Busch vs. Tyler Reddick
Busch replaced Reddick at Richard Childress Racing, which initially was miffed that Reddick opted to leave and announce his departure, at the time effective for the 2024 season, in July. Both are going to want to show they made the right move.
Best victory celebration
2022: Daniel Suárez
Swatting a piñata in victory lane as the first Mexican to win a race was cool. Plus it didn't ruin good food, as Ross Chastain's watermelon smash does.
2023: Kyle Busch
Can you imagine what he will do and what Richard Childress will do when they win their first race together? The bows and the one-liners will be incredible.
Thinking Out Loud
A simple thought: Here’s to hoping everyone has a great holiday season.
This will be the last newsletter of 2022, but we plan to be back in the first week of January.
They Said It
"It’s just been a wild ride, let’s just put it that way." —Ryan Preece on solidifying his 2023 plans and a Cup ride at Stewart-Haas Racing
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.