History indicates that Joey Logano is not going to have an easy time repeated as NASCAR 2023 Cup Series Champion.
But for Logano to miss out on becoming the first back-to-back champion since then Jimmy Johnson More than a decade ago, someone else would have to step up to the proverbial level and dethrone the Penske wheeler.
Let’s take a look at five drivers – including a surprise contender – who are capable of doing just that next season.
Widely considered one of the best NASCAR drivers ever to never win a Cup Series championship, Denny Hamlin is running out of time to climb the highest mountain in the sport.
Will 2023 be his year?
Although 42 years old Undoubtedly nearing the end of his career, Hamlin has given no indication of losing a beat with regards to his skills behind the wheel. a Championship 4 In qualifying in three of the last four seasons, the Tampa native has come agonizingly close to winning the title on multiple occasions but in the end has always fallen short of the mark. That’s despite picking up an impressive three Daytona 500s along the way.
The biggest hurdle for 2023 may be the year Hamlin celebrates the championship that narrowly eluded him, may be the inevitable distractions that will come from his ongoing contract negotiations with Joe Gibbs Racing, where his current contract is – and longtime primary sponsor FedEx. – It is due to end after this season.
If Hamlin and FedEx can get back together with JGR early in the year, uncertainties about 2024 and beyond won’t have much of an impact on Hamlin’s performance. But if contract negotiations continue into the latter part of the season like they did last season with Hamlin’s former JGR teammate Kyle Busch, Hamlin may not be able to put his best foot forward on the track. His chances of winning the tournament could be significantly affected as a result.
Like Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott has become a default fixture in Championship 4, but — unlike Hamlin, who missed cuts in 2022 — Elliott has made it to Phoenix among the quartet of tournament finalists in each of the last three seasons.
Although Elliott only left the Valley of the Sun with the champion hardware once, he is bound to enter the 2023 season with a small chip on his shoulder and a fire in his stomach after reaching the regular season title last year and leading the series. in wins, only to hit the skates big time when the 10-race playoff rolled around and let everyone know Exactly how he felt about it.
If Elliot – NASCAR’s most popular perennial driver – He can avoid a disappointment in 2023 like the one he suffered in 2022, he has as good a chance as anyone to stand between Joey Logano and another title.
Only one season has been removed from the Cup Series Championship, Kyle Larson proved it in 2022 That it was no wonder for one year. Sure, Larson didn’t repeat as champion and, in fact, didn’t even return to Championship 4, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver has been to Victory Lane three times, scored 19 top-ten finishes, and led solidly 635 laps along the way.
While these numbers weren’t close to the previous season’s numbers, they were strong, nonetheless. Furthermore, they suggest that Larsson has established himself as one of the sport’s best drivers for the foreseeable future.
Does that mean he will be good enough to take down Joey Logano and the others in 2023? Well, not necessarily. But he certainly has the talent and the team to go all the way if good luck smiles at him.
No stranger to Cup Series championships, Kyle Busch will be in an odd place, of sorts, this season when he debuts the No. 8 Chevrolet of Richard Childress Racing.
Busch has spent the last 15 years in a Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, winning two championships and his 56th career to date in NASCAR’s premier series. While it is likely that he will need some time – maybe even a whole year – to do so Adapting to life With a new crew chief, a new factory and a new team, this isn’t the first time he’s changed employers, having done so in 2008 after three years with Hendrick Motorsports.
In that time, Bush hit the ground running to Victory Lane in a Cup Series high eight times in JGR’s first year. this It is unlikely to happen In his first season with RCR, but Busch will very likely be in contention for the championship right out of the gate and even be the one to end the reign of Joey Logano – one of his fiercest rivals.
You have to go back to 1980 for the last time a driver won a championship in his second full season as a NASCAR Cup Series driver. And this driver — eventual seven-time NASCAR Hall of Fame champion Dale Earnhardt — was a rare breed indeed.
Given all this, the odds appear to be stacked firmly against second-year Cup Series driver Austin Cindrick who did what Earnhardt last did over 40 years ago. Then again, Cindric has already defied the odds once when – in a shocking way Became the first rookie driver to win the Daytona 500.
The son of Penske chief Tim Cindric didn’t stop there, making it to the Round of 12 in the Cup Series playoffs and handily claiming the Rookie of the Year Honors On second generation drivers Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland.
Cindric may not have the experience to beat Joey Logano or other veterans of the sport for a NASCAR Grand Prix in 2023, but he should have the equipment. After all, he and Logano lead for the same organization, which shares a host of resources among its three Cup Series teams.