NASCAR Power Rankings: Things to watch for in 2023

The calendar having flipped into a new year, it’s now only a matter of weeks before another NASCAR season, major sports’ longest, pops into gear.

With NASCAR continuing to test new fields of play and new approaches to a 75-year-old sport, there is much to anticipate entering the 2023 season.

NASCAR Power Rankings: What to expect in 2023

1. Daytona 500 — Despite new wrinkles, new locales and the continuing merry-go-round of drivers moving from team to team, the Great American Race always should be the most anticipated event of any NASCAR season. Over the years, many have been classics; few have been duds. A full field of cars roaring out of Daytona International Speedway’s fourth turn to start another points season lights the fire for another year.

2. Chicago Street Race — It might be thrilling. It might be disappointing. It might be somewhere in the middle. However it evolves, the July 2 race, a significant departure for NASCAR, will draw major attention. NASCAR drivers racing along the shore of Lake Michigan, with Chicago’s skyscrapers towering overhead? Definitely undiscovered country.

3. North Wilkesboro All-Star Race — Fans of one of NASCAR’s oldest tracks never gave up hope that racing would return to North Wilkesboro Speedway after the Cup Series departed in 1996. The track fell into disrepair and was largely forgotten by much of the racing community. In May, it returns in a big way, hosting the Cup Series’ annual All-Star Race, whose recent history hasn’t exactly been filled with excitement. Wilkesboro should change that.

MORE: 2023 NASCAR, ARCA schedules

4. Kyle Busch and RCRThis odd pairing will be the most-watched team as the new year opens. Once combatants in a brief garage-area scuffle, Busch and team owner Richard Childress will try to recreate the magic that produced six Cup championships for RCR when Dale Earnhardt was behind the wheel of the No. 3 Chevrolets. Busch leaves behind a decade-plus of success at Joe Gibbs Racing.

5. Ross Chastain‘s next chapter — Chastain burst onto the Cup scene like an exploding watermelon last year, winning twice, annoying a cast of drivers with questionable aggression and challenging for what would have been a very unlikely championship. No longer the New Guy and with a reputation for controversy, Chastain could find this year very challenging.

6. The return of Jimmie Johnson — The seven-time champion, now part owner of Petty GMS, plans to return to the track in a partial schedule for the Chevrolet team. His first race back is scheduled to be the Daytona 500, a race he’s won twice.

7. 20 winners? — The 2022 season produced 19 different winners, tying an all-time record for a single Cup season. Could 2023 be as productive?

8. Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson arrive in Cup — The two biggest stars from the Xfinity Series move into Cup racing full-time and seek to make a mark early.

9. NASCAR at Le MansNASCAR will have a significant on-track presence in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race, for the first time since 1976. Hendrick Motorsports will field a Camaro through the event’s “Garage 56” program in the June 10-11 race. Champion crew chief Chad Knaus is leading the effort. The driver lineup has not been announced, but winning sports car driver Mike Rockenfeller is expected to anchor the team. Former Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are considered possibilities.

10. Tyler Reddick and 23XI Racing — Reddick had a breakthrough season last year with three victories for Richard Childress Racing. Along the way, he made some of the year’s biggest news by announcing he would move to 23XI Racing for the 2024 season. There was immediate speculation that some sort of deal would be worked out for Reddick to arrive early — for the 2023 season — at 23XI. That happened, and his progress with one of the sport’s rising teams will be a big storyline this year.

Honorable mentions: The season-opening Clash returns to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a second run. … Kevin Harvick races into the final year of his contract with Stewart-Haas Racing in what also could be his final full-time season as a driver. … Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney try to bounce back from a season in which neither won a points race.

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Things to watch for in 2023 originally appeared on NBCSports.com