Skip to main content

Got the winter blues? If so, take heart: the NASCAR Cup Series season is just around the corner, with the official kickoff of the 2023 campaign just over a month away.

So you’re totally ready for the season and know what to expect when the big day finally comes, let’s take a look at the four races on the upcoming Cup Series schedule that you can least afford not to watch in real time.

1. The All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro

The most can’t-miss race of 2023 is an exhibition event that won’t pay any points, but it’ll pay a bucketload of cash to win — $1 million to be exact — and, more importantly, mark a major milestone in the history of a track that has been all but completely idle since last hosting NASCAR’s premier division in 1996.

Basically considered little more than a relic of NASCAR’s past until just a few months ago, North Wilkesboro Speedway is currently undergoing extensive renovations so it can be ready in plenty of time for the May 21 NASCAR All-Star Race, which has been held at Texas Motor Speedway the last two years and up until 2020 was traditionally hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Among the upgrades and amenities coming to North Wilkesboro is the addition of lights, which will allow for the All-Star Race to take place at night, unlike the 93 Cup Series races contested at the fabled .625-mile short track between 1949 and 1996. Credit NASCAR, speedway owner Marcus Smith, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and a few other key influencers for making a star-studded return to the storied track a reality when it seemed like all hope was lost for the track ever hosting another major NASCAR event — much less the All-Star Race, which is always one of the most popular and fan-friendly affairs on the Cup Series tour.

Not only will the 2023 All-Star Race be high on nostalgia, given North Wilkesboro’s historical significance and longtime absence from the sport, but the night should be electric from start to finish since grandstand weekend ticket packages quickly sold out and every driver who competes will be eager to not only add to their bank account but to also add their name to the list of legends who’ve raced and won at the iconic motorsports venue in Wilkes County, North Carolina.

2. The Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 has always been and forever will be the premier event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, so the 2023 running of The Great American Race on Feb. 19 will be no exception.

Adding to the allure of this year’s 65th installment of the Daytona 500 will be the return of seven-time Cup Series champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, who is running a part-time Cup Series schedule in 2023 on the heels of a two-year absence from the sport that most people believed he would never race in again after retiring from full-time competition at the end of 2020.

Johnson, who’s made all 686 of his Cup Series starts and earned all 83 of his Cup wins with Hendrick Motorsports, will make his official debut at Daytona as an owner and driver for the newly renamed Legacy Motor Club that competed last year under the banner of Petty GMS.

Of course, another key storyline surrounding this year’s Daytona 500 will be whether veterans and former Cup Series champions Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Martin Truex Jr. can finally snare their first triumph in the Cup Series’ marquee event.

3. The fall race at Martinsville

Anyone remember what happened in October’s race at Martinsville Speedway? Yeah, there’s no way you’ve forgotten.

Executing one of the boldest, most outside-the-box, most unthinkable moves in NASCAR history, Ross Chastain went from 10th to fifth in the final corner when he never lifted off the throttle and bounced off the outside wall multiple times in an effort to gain the positions he needed to make it into the Championship 4.

Sure enough, Chastain’s video-game style move worked like a charm, and the Trackhouse Racing driver earned the right to compete for a title the next weekend at Phoenix. Now that the lid is off the bottle, so to speak, don’t be surprised if Chastain or another driver tries this same move in future editions of the Round of 8 elimination race. If it worked for Chastain in 2022, it could work again, which makes the fall Martinsville race a must-watch in 2023 and for years to come assuming the paperclip-shaped short track maintains its place as host to the season’s penultimate event.

4. The Chicago Street Course Race

Bubba Wallace drives through Chicago to promote NASCAR's street race.
The Chicago Street Race will certainly be worth watching in 2023.| Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Austin Hill Could Be a Sleeper Pick of the 2023 NASCAR Silly Season

Anytime NASCAR goes to any race track or type of race track for the first time, it’s worth checking out, right? 

That’ll certainly be the case on July 2 when the Cup Series hits the streets of downtown Chicago for the first-ever Cup race ever held on a street circuit.

No race on the 2023 schedule presents a bigger unknown than this one since it will be the first of its kind in NASCAR history, but that’s just all the more reason to tune in or, better yet, buy a ticket.