The NASCAR Cup Series season is now done, and there were plenty of good races with some not-so-good races. However, which races are amongst the five best and the five worst among all points and non-points events in the 2023 Cup Series season?
5. Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway
Just before the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, it was announced that the 2023 race would be the last on the current 2-mile D-shaped oval. The track went out with a bang as the lead changed hands 28 times amongst 14 different drivers. In the end, it was Kyle Busch who came back from a speeding penalty early in the race.
With 21 laps to go, Kyle Busch would pass Michael McDowell to take the lead for good. While the finish was anticlimactic, fans savored the last five-wide restarts and incredible racing at the Southern California speedway. Now, the track is in the process of being demolished, much to the sadness of many fans.
4. HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway
A sold-out crowd, a packed campground, and hot tempers highlighted the Cup Series annual trip to Pocono in July. Different drivers took their turns at the front throughout the day, and a misguided helmet throw from Austin Dillon at Tyler Reddick brought up the tempers. However, it all came to a head in the final laps with Denny Hamlin battling Kyle Larson
The two fought incredibly close during a restart into turn one, but Hamlin squeezed Larson up the track into the wall. Larson was hot, and he showed his displeasure to Hamlin when a caution came out on the next lap. Well, Hamlin got the last laugh as he took home the win with Larson finishing a disappointing 20th.
3. Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway
Ross Chastain was a hot topic of conversation early in the season, and it all came to a head at Darlington Raceway in May. On a late restart, Chastain was battling with Kyle Larson for the lead, but Chastain pushed up just a bit too much to cause the two to collide. Both drivers were taken out of the race, and William Byron ended up taking home the win.
This seemed to be the final straw for many when it came to Ross Chastain. Rick Hendrick called Chastain out later that week for the move, and Trackhouse Racing team owner, Justin Marks, mentioned “Difficult conversations” with Chastain in the wake of the incident. It also was where the “Thanks Ross” meme seemed to show up in force.
2. Chicago Street Race
This year, NASCAR decided to do something they never had before, run a race on the streets of Chicago. The race appeared to be heading towards disaster territory as the Xfinity Series race was cut short and the Cup race was delayed by an unrelenting monsoon. Well, the rain let up just enough to allow the race to be run, and was it a show?
The strategy of wet vs. dry tires and the new race track made for a fun and chaotic race. In the end, Shane Van Gisbergen shocked everyone by charging through the field in the final laps. He would take home the win after passing Justin Haley, and SVG was on the NASCAR map.
1. Advent Health 400 at Kansas Speedway (Spring)
The most memorable race of the season came at Kansas Speedway in the spring. A race that featured a staggering 37 lead changes came down to Denny Hamlin running down Kyle Larson in the closing laps. On the final lap, it got intense as Hamlin touched Larson off of turn two.
Larson would hit the wall, and Hamlin would run away and hide for the win. However, the story after the race was on pit road as Ross Chastain fended off a punch from Noah Gragson. No penalties came from that, but this race left a lot of people talking, and it made for the number one race on this list of best races of the season.
Honorable Mentions: Michigan, Atlanta (July), Richmond (Spring), Darlington (Fall), Championship Race at Phoenix
5. United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix (Spring)
The spring race at Phoenix was one of the most highly-anticipated races of the season. NASCAR was debuting a brand new short track rules package to help rectify the racing product on short tracks from 2022. Well, this race looked a lot like a 2022 short track race.
Kyle Larson and William Byron would dominate as there were only 10 lead changes all day, with only seven of those happening under green flag conditions. William Byron did win on a dramatic late-race restart to keep this race interesting, but fans were not satisfied. This may not have been the worst race in Phoenix Raceway history, but, it was very underwhelming with the hope of a new rules package.
4. NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway (Spring)
With the underwhelming product at Phoenix, fans were less than optimistic heading into Martinsville in April. While the race was certainly better than the dud that was the 2022 spring race, it was not a great show. Passing was very difficult, and there were only 10 lead changes in all, with only five under green flag conditions.
Alternate strategies made the end of the race somewhat interesting, but Kyle Larson pulled away for a 4.1-second win. It was not nearly as bad as the year prior, but, fans were still left unsatisfied with the short-track product. Unfortunately, that came to a head on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
3. All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway
As far as the event goes, the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway received an A+, and seeing Cup Series racing in Wilkes County once again was a long time coming. Unfortunately, the racing product was not great. Kyle Larson burst through the field after an early caution, and he took the lead for the final stage.
He ran away and hid. There was no real battle at the front, and there was little passing throughout the field as the race progressed. Larson took home the win in a great event, but the race left a lot to be desired.
2. The Clash (Or Crash) at the Coliseum
Again, from an event standpoint, the Clash at the Coliseum was a solid event. However, the race turned into an absolute slog. There were 16 caution flags in the 150 laps race, and, because caution laps did not count the race just kept going. There were so many caution laps that both Front Row Motorsports drivers ran out of fuel.
Drivers were happy for that race to end. Thankfully, it was a non-points race, so the wreck fest did not factor into the season standings. However, it was a race that many were glad to see end.
1. Go Bowling at the Glen (Watkins Glen)
The road course product has been a source of controversy with the Next-Gen car. Well, Watkins Glen was the poster child for the worst parts of it. Over the final 66 of the 90 laps run, there was only one lead change, and that happened under a green flag pit stop cycle.
On top of that, over the final 30 laps, the top-5 cars never changed positions, despite 2nd-5th running nose to tail. It was the definition of a procession, and it was over in under 2 hours, a first for a modern-era NASCAR race run to its’ conclusion. It was a tough day for a track that has typically delivered good races in recent years.
Dishonorable Mentions: Las Vegas (Spring), Sonoma
The best and the worst races fo 2023 will be talked about for quite some time. What is your best and worst race of the 2023 season?