Among the surprising developments in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season — and there were many — is the fact that five drivers rolled into a Cup Victory Lane for the first time.
Rookie Austin Cindric started the points season with a stunner by winning the Daytona 500. Chase Briscoe scored at Phoenix. Ross Chastain (COTA), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma) and Tyler Reddick (Road America) all recorded their first Cup victories on road courses.
What does 2023 hold for drivers looking for a breakthrough victory? Although strange things are possible in NASCAR’s new world, it doesn’t seem likely that the new season will see as many as five first-time winners.
Approaching the start of the season, the three top candidates to join the list of Cup winners might be Ty Gibbs, Ryan Preece and Noah Gragson.
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Preece replaces Cole Custer in the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing, a team that has been sagging a bit but remains a threat to win almost every week. Preece has raced in Cup 115 times without a win, but the move into a full-time ride at SHR clearly gives him his best shot.
A veteran of numerous racing series, Preece has won twice in Xfinity and twice in trucks. And he’ll have the extra surge that comes from trying to cash in on a long-time-coming opportunity.
Gibbs will draw unusual amounts of attention in his first full season in Cup. He replaces Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing in one of the sport’s best cars, and he’ll be expected to perform more quickly than the average rookie.
Gibbs won the Xfinity Series championship last season but created a string of controversy along the way, most prominently by wrecking teammate Brandon Jones on the last lap at Martinsville, preventing Jones from a win that would have put him in the Xfinity Championship Four.
Gibbs’ aggressive racing style might be more difficult to sustain at the Cup level.
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Gragson will be the season’s wild card. His offbeat personality and fast-forward driving style made him a star in the Xfinity Series, where he won 13 times. He moves to the Petty GMS team to start his full-time Cup career. Petty GMS has been a second-level team but won last year’s Southern 500 with Erik Jones and could be on the upswing with Gragson’s talent and the addition of new co-owner Jimmie Johnson.
Spire Motorsports’ two drivers — Corey LaJoie and newcomer Ty Dillon — are looking for first wins. LaJoie has had one top-five finish in five mostly-full seasons. Dillon has had two top fives in 202 starts.
Harrison Burton had one top-five finish in his rookie season with Wood Brothers Racing last year. The next victory for the Woods, who are winless since the 2017 season, will be the team’s 100th in Cup.
Todd Gilliland, another rookie last year, had one top-five run for Front Row Motorsports and returns to that team this season.