The NASCAR Cup Series season is 29 races old, but there’s already reason to celebrate before this season comes to an end.
Chris Buescher’s Bristol breakthrough on Saturday night produced the 19th different driver in Victory Lane this year, a record through 29 events and tying 2001 for the most in the modern era. Some of the stunners stem from who have been victorious; some stem from those who haven’t been.
Let’s start, of course, with the winners.
Austin Cindric, the fresh-faced rookie wheeling the No. 2 Ford for Team Penske, started the year with a bang, scoring the Daytona 500 triumph in his eighth career Cup start by mere inches over Bubba Wallace.
Defending series champion Kyle Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman followed up with respective wins at Auto Club and Las Vegas, perhaps lulling some into thinking this year would be routine. That was before Chase Briscoe, the sophomore Stewart-Haas Racing driver, made his maiden trip to Victory Lane by winning the spring race at Phoenix Raceway.
As the season rolled, Ross Chastain drove himself and Trackhouse Racing to their first wins at Circuit of The Americas, then proved himself again just four weeks later by winning at Talladega. His teammate, Daniel Suárez, wasn’t far behind, netting his inaugural triumph in June at Sonoma Raceway.
Another second-year team, 23XI Racing, has itself two wins this year courtesy of two different drivers — but via the same car number and at the same track. Kurt Busch drove the No. 45 Toyota to victory at Kansas Speedway in May. Five months later, with Busch recovering from a July injury, Wallace scored career win No. 2 at the same track piloting Busch’s number across the stripe.
Perhaps more eye-opening was that Wallace’s win came during a sweep by non-playoff drivers in the Round of 16, a shocker unseen during the elimination era of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs since it began in 2014. His victory was sandwiched between two storybook triumphs themselves.
Erik Jones earned his second Southern 500 checkered flag on Labor Day Weekend behind the wheel of Richard Petty’s famed No. 43 Chevrolet for Petty GMS Motorsports — the team’s first win despite the number and co-owner’s prior history. Two weeks later, Buescher scored the inaugural win for the rebranded RFK Racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, his first win in 222 races.
Most different winners in a season: All-time
* = Through 29 races
Source: Racing Insights
And let’s not forget the first career win for Tyler Reddick at Road America on Fourth of July weekend — a feat he backed up four weeks later at the Indianapolis Road Course. His Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon ended the regular season with a clutch win at Daytona to advance into the postseason as well.
Yes, the regular contenders have scored their wins — 2020 series champion Chase Elliott leads with four victories; two-time title winner Kyle Busch was victorious on Bristol’s dirt; Kevin Harvick went back-to-back in August; Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin each have two wins — but the parity has perhaps never been stronger in the NASCAR Cup Series.
While Hendrick Motorsports has statistically separated itself with nine wins — Joe Gibbs Racing trails with four — nine different teams have won in 2022. That means only six organizations that field full-time Cup efforts are winless.
And yet there remain surprises on the list of those with goose eggs in the win column.
Ryan Blaney, a three-time winner in 2021, has failed to visit Victory Lane since the 2021 regular-season finale, yet the No. 12 Ford (which won this year’s exhibition All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway) is locked into the Round of 12, which begins Sunday at Texas (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Former Cup champions Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. have both been shut out of Victory Lane thus far and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in years. Keselowski last missed the postseason in 2013 while Truex was last out in 2014.
But there remain seven races on the schedule for breakout winners to find their way into the history books. Never has the Cup Series seen 20 different victors in the same season, particularly in the modern age dating back to 1972.
What once seemed impossible is certainly within reach. Truex has shown speed numerous times this season, including at 1.5-mile tracks like Texas and Las Vegas; Blaney, among other winless competitors — is especially capable of breaking through at the crapshoot that often is Talladega; and who’s to say the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval won’t produce an upset?
Regardless of what’s next over the next seven weeks, the season should be relished for its rare history. Years like this come around only so often — and if there is a new winner, it’ll be something never seen before.