The 5 Cup Series Drivers Who Endured By Far the Hardest Luck in 2022

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series campaign was long as it pertained to the grueling race schedule, which featured only one off-weekend from mid-February through early November.

However, the year felt especially long to those who dealt with major adversity along the way. Let’s consider the plight of five drivers whose season took one or more painful turns that ultimately resulted in major disappointment.

1. Kurt Busch

Without question, no one endured a more heartbreaking 2022 season than Kurt Busch. The veteran driver in all likelihood planned to race through the end of 2023. Unfortunately, Busch had his season — and his career as a full-time Cup Series driver — cut short by a non-violent crash in qualifying at Pocono in late July.

The wreck, which sent Busch’s No. 45 Toyota into the outside wall, left the 2004 Cup Series champion with a concussion from which he never fully recovered. So, instead of running the full season and returning for a second and likely final year at 23XI Racing in 2023, Busch was unable to run the final 16 races. The 44-year-old ended up announcing his plans to call it quits from full-time competition.

Prior to his injury, Busch had earned a playoff-clinching win at Kansas Speedway and stood an excellent shot of making a deep playoff run. But the lingering effects of the concussion forced him to opt out of the playoffs before the playoffs ever began. This opened the door for winless Ryan Blaney to claim the final spot in the 16-driver championship field.

Busch, who, health permitting, plans to make future cameo starts for his Michael Jordan- and Denny Hamlin-owned team, somehow managed to keep a positive attitude in the weeks and months after his injury. The Las Vegas native made it known on the day of his retirement how much he appreciated the NASCAR community’s love and support through his health battle.

2. Alex Bowman

Alex Bowman, Ally Chevrolet driver, sits in his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400
Ally Chevrolet driver Alex Bowman at the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

One of the first drivers to clinch a playoff berth in the 2022 season was Alex Bowman, who did so with a win in Week Three at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Though unspectacular over the remainder of the regular season, Bowman and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team appeared like legitimate championship contenders once the playoffs commenced at Darlington in early September.

However, it wasn’t meant to be. The 29-year-old suffered a concussion in a seemingly innocuous-looking wreck at Texas in late September. It sidelined Bowman for the next five races and extinguished his title hopes. Although he was able to return for the season finale in his home state of Arizona, Bowman finished last out of the 16 original playoff drivers.

Of course, as disappointed as Bowman was for his season to end the way it did, he expressed gratitude that his concussion symptoms were short-lived and he could get back behind the wheel — something Kurt Busch wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to do.

3. Cody Ware

Largely overshadowed by all the attention given to the concussions suffered by Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman — two of NASCAR’s top drivers — was an injury that sidelined Rick Ware Racing driver Cody Ware for the October 9 race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

Ware fractured and tore ligaments in his ankle in a wreck at Texas two weekends earlier. The 27-year-old didn’t feel like he could go the distance on the ROVAL, a 17-turn road course, after managing to compete, albeit with his right foot in a boot, the previous weekend at far-less-physically-demanding Talladega.

After missing the ROVAL, Ware competed in the final four races despite still nursing a sore ankle.

4. Kyle Busch

Unlike the three previous hard-luck drivers mentioned, Kyle Busch didn’t suffer any kind of physical injury in 2022. However, Joe Gibbs Racing’s inability to find the 37-year-old a primary sponsor for 2023 bruised the two-time Cup Series champion’s ego. This led to the organization’s unwillingness to grant Kyle a contract extension. 

Despite being the Cup Series’ only two-time champion and wins leader among active drivers for most of 2022, Kyle spent most of the year not knowing where he’d compete next season. This took a toll on his performance and peace of mind.

Kyle eventually secured a ride at Richard Childress Racing for 2023 and beyond. But by the time that happened in mid-September, any hopes Kyle had of being a serious title contender in his 15th and final season at JGR were pretty much too far gone.

After winning just once in the regular season, he was eliminated along with three others in the first round of the playoffs and finished 13th in the standings — his worst outcome in a decade.  

5. Martin Truex Jr.

No one seemed more consistently snake-bitten by bad luck in 2022 than Martin Truex Jr., a perennial championship contender who missed the playoffs and failed to win a race for the first time since 2014.

Although Truex had a fast car almost every weekend, something almost inevitably seemed to always go wrong or at least stand in the way of him going to Victory Lane.

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Well before the season even concluded, it was clear from Truex’s comments in media interviews that he’d effectively thrown in the towel on 2022 and was ready for the season to end.

When the season finally did end, the 2017 Cup Series champion was saddled 17th in the standings, with five DNFs, only four top-fives, and nary a victory to his credit.