*Information courtesy of CBS Sports / NASCAR – read the full article online
Driver of the Year: Ross Chastain
Before the season began, there was a pretty good sense of who Ross Chastain was and what he was capable of. Through years of overachieving in lesser equipment, the consensus was that Chastain was a talented driver who made his way on merit, and one that was capable of taking the better equipment he worked his way into and winning at least one Cup race with it.
But in only his second season running all 36 Cup Series races, Chastain performed at a level that even his fiercest advocates may not have expected him to. Not only did Chastain earn the first two wins of his career at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega, but he also led all drivers in top-five (15) and top-10 finishes (21), led the fourth-most laps of all drivers (692) and had the second-best average finish of all drivers (13.3).
In many of the season’s top moments or greatest conflicts, Chastain was a central character. His stand-your-ground, unapologetically aggressive style of driving harkened back to an era where rubbin’ was racin’, and it earned him just as many fans as it earned him enemies on the racetrack. And that was before he risked life and limb to make the Championship 4 and produce one of the greatest highlights in NASCAR playoff history at Martinsville.
If any single driver defined the 2022 season, it was Ross Chastain and his arrival as one of stock car racing’s best.
Team of the Year: Trackhouse Racing
For the longest time, the balance of power among NASCAR race teams has amounted to an oligarchy of powerhouse race shops that have gone almost entirely unchallenged — until now.
The vision of Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks, a former journeyman driver, has been transgressive and transformative for an industry that had stagnated and needed new ideas from new power players. But more than bringing on a celebrity co-owner in Pitbull and buying Chip Ganassi Racing’s entire NASCAR operation, Trackhouse has become a force in NASCAR through what it accomplished on the racetrack in 2022. Both of its cars finished in the top 10, with both Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez leading the rising tide of Trackhouse to the best seasons of their respective careers.
Moment of the Year: Hail Melon
There were 19 different winners in 2022, tying a NASCAR record. Every single driver who competed for the championship had at least one finish inside the top 10. But nothing any driver did mattered more than what one driver was willing to do to finish fourth.
Running 10th entering the final corner at Martinsville in October, there was seemingly nothing Ross Chastain could conceivably do to make up the points deficit to Denny Hamlin and make the Championship 4 in Phoenix. So Chastain shifted into fifth gear, put his throttle to the floorboard and tried to make something happen. Sure enough, Chastain’s car carried an extreme amount of speed as it wrapped around the wall, allowing him to pass five cars in one corner and beat Hamlin back to the start/finish line to make the Championship 4 by one point.
Chastain’s move quickly became one of the greatest highlights of NASCAR’s playoff era, one of the most iconic individual driving moments in NASCAR’s 75-year history, and perhaps offered a striking, lasting visual that will long encapsulate the season that was in 2022.