That doesn’t mean some of those in the latter group were any less worthy of recognition, however.
In just a moment, we’ll revisit four drivers who didn’t garner nearly the attention of Joey Logano or Ross Chastain or Chase Elliott or Denny Hamlin — just to name a few — but deserve a tip of the cap nevertheless.
Largely overshadowed by the surprising success and daring aggression of Ross Chastain in 2022 was Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, Daniel Suarez.
In his second season with the organization for which he was the lone original driver, Suarez enjoyed a career season by capturing his first career Cup Series victory — which came in June on the Sonoma road course — and reaching the playoffs for the first time.
Suarez finished 10th in the standings on the strength of a career-high 13 top-10 finishes that included a career-high six top-fives.
Suarez, whose career seemed left for dead as recent as a couple of years ago, now appears to have a promising future after signing a one-year contract extension with Trackhouse Racing to remain with the organization for 2023. With another season like the one he had in 2022, a multi-year deal seems inevitable if Suarez wants it.
For at least one day, Austin Cindric was the focus of the entire NASCAR universe when he became the first rookie driver to ever win the Daytona 500.
But all the buzz surrounding the Team Penske driver’s shocking victory in NASCAR’s biggest race had pretty much subsided by the following weekend when Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson got crossed up while battling for the win at Fontana, raising the proverbial temperature within the walls of Hendrick Motorsports for weeks, if not months, to come.
Meanwhile, Cindric quietly pieced together a strong first season in NASCAR’s top series by collecting nine top-10 finishes — including five top-fives — on the way to a 12th-place points finish. Cindric reached the playoffs by virtue of his victory in the season opener at Daytona and made it through the Round of 16 before being eliminated from title contention with three others in the Round of 12.
Due perhaps in large part to teammate Joey Logano’s championship run, Cindric was overlooked for most of 2022 despite earning rookie-of-the-year honors and starting the year with a history-making triumph in The Great American Race.
When you’re a teammate of former Cup Series champions Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., along with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, it’s hard to steal a lot of thunder.
That’s especially true when Busch is in a contract year and Truex is trying to make up his mind about whether he wants to retire or return to Joe Gibbs Racing for another season.
Such was the predicament that young Christopher Bell found himself in this past season — a season when he managed to go mostly unnoticed until the very end, all while ringing up a career-high three victories, including two that came when facing a must-win scenario in a playoff elimination race.
Bell finally earned his due, however, by becoming the only one of JGR’s four drivers to qualify for the Championship 4 and finishing a JGR-best third in the final standings.
Entering the final race of the regular season needing nothing less than a win to make the playoffs, Austin Dillon rose to the occasion with a clutch victory at Daytona.
Although Dillon wasn’t able to advance beyond the opening round of the playoffs, the grandson of NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Richard Childress still enjoyed a quietly successful season based on the totality of his career to date.
His 11th-place points finish tied his career-best final ranking and his five top-fives stood alone as a career high. Dillon also registered 11 top-10s — more than he’d recorded in any season since 2016. But Dillon’s results faded into the background thanks mostly to teammate Tyler Reddick, who won three times but grabbed even more headlines by announcing out of the blue in July that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024 — which later became 2023.
Dillon then continued to fly under the radar as RCR announced that Reddick’s replacement would be superstar two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.