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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season had some of the most unpredictable moments of any in recent memory, with the number of different drivers who celebrated in Victory Lane at the top of the list.

A record-tying 19 different winners won at least one points-paying race last year. Several in that group were outside the regular rotation of drivers who filled the race-winner lists of previous years, and no driver had more than five victories.

Let’s take a look back at the most surprising of those wins before the 2023 Cup Series season begins and creates a whole new set of race winners who fans would deem highly unlikely at this point in the year.

3. Erik Jones wins the Southern 500

Darlington Raceway is a track where winners usually come from a set group of drivers who race for the largest organizations in the sport. Regan Smith’s win for Furniture Row Racing in the 2011 Southern 500 is the only time an organization that had not yet won a Cup Series championship went to Victory Lane since Ricky Craven took PPI Motorsports to victory in a 2003 photo finish over Kurt Busch.

Erik Jones had actually won the Southern 500 before, as well. He triumphed at “The Lady In Black” in the 2019 edition, but he was driving the No. 20 car for JGR.

The resources available at JGR are a far cry from what Jones had to work with in 2022 with Petty GMS Racing, which was in its first season as an organization after GMS Racing bought out the former Richard Petty Motorsports.

Jones had a handful of good runs scattered throughout the regular season. He ran third at Auto Club Speedway and finished fourth in the July race at Atlanta.

None of that foretold a win in one of the crown jewel races for a driver who had not won in three years and had dropped from a championship-caliber team to an organization that was just getting off the ground.

Regardless, Jones took the lead on the final caution with 23 laps remaining and held off Denny Hamlin to give the famous No. 43 car its first win in more than eight years.

2. Chris Buescher wins the Bristol Night Race

Bristol Motor Speedway is a track that hardly ever produces surprise winners. All but two of the last 40 races at the half-mile concrete oval have featured a victor with either at least one Cup Series championship or at least 26 career victories.

Chris Buescher had just one win in 249 starts as he took the green flag in September at Bristol. And that one victory was a fluke fog-shortened race in 2016 at Pocono Raceway when his crew chief had him stay out while others pitted under the caution that ultimately ended the race.

Buescher had made strides in his third year as the driver of the No. 17 car for a rebuilding RFK Racing organization. He won his first career pole award in May at Dover Motor Speedway, he ran second in June at Sonoma Raceway, and he finished third in August at Richmond Raceway.

Those bright spots still did not make Buescher any sort of favorite to win the night race at Bristol, especially after he ran 20th in qualifying.

He reached the top spot 130 laps into the 500-lap event and held the lead for 108 circuits. He did not get back to the front until Lap 440 but led the final 61 laps and managed to avoid any serious pressure in the final laps to get his first full-length Cup Series victory.

1. Austin Cindric wins the Daytona 500

Austin Cindric celebrates winning the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500
Austin Cindric celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 on February 20, 2022 | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Daytona 500 can be an unpredictable race because of the pack racing that it features. However, a rookie winning his first career Cup Series race in only his eighth start was still beyond the reach of most imaginations before Speedweeks began at Daytona International Speedway last February.

Cindric had won the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona the year before, but he is best known as an ace on road courses, where five of his 13 career Xfinity Series victories happened.

Still, Cindric worked his way up from an 11th-place starting position to finish second in his qualifying race. He stayed near the front of the field through much of the 500-mile event but didn’t take the lead until Lap 157 of the 200-lap race. He ultimately led 21 circuits, including the final eight, but he had to fend off numerous charges from many different drivers.


The 2023 Daytona 500 Could Produce a Result Not Seen Since the 1990s

Cindric nudged his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney into the outside wall to block his potential pass as the field stormed to the finish line, and he then dropped low to hold off Bubba Wallace and become only the second rookie to win the sport’s most famous race and first since Trevor Bayne in 2011.

The 2022 season had numerous surprises throughout the year, but those three stand apart as hallmarks of one of the wildest seasons in NASCAR history.