One goal of the Next Gen Cup Series car was to level the playing field in NASCAR. One of the juggernaut teams won the championship, but the average finish throughout the field sets up an intriguing 2023 season.
There were 25 full-time drivers that posted an average finish better than 20.0 during the 2022 season. This list also includes Kurt Busch, who made 20 starts before a concussion ended his season. Chase Elliott had the best mark at 12.5 while Cup Series champion Joey Logano was at 13.5.
Along with the full-time drivers, there were four other drivers that posted an average finish better than 20.0 in their limited schedules. Austin Hill (18.0) and Zane Smith (17.0) both reached the mark in their respective debuts while David Ragan had an average finish of 14.8 in his four starts.
AJ Allmendinger had a strong season while making 18 starts for Kaulig Racing. He had an average finish of 15.4 in his 18 starts while securing eight top-10 finishes and three top-fives. This stat line includes a six-race stretch of top-10s.
Allmendinger will now return full-time to the Cup Series, and he will join what appears to be a stacked field of competitors. There were 19 different winners in 2022, 29 total drivers with an average finish better than 20.0, and 20 that led more than 100 laps.
There will likely be some statistical changes during the 2023 season as NASCAR updates the Next Gen cars to improve safety and teams return to tracks with significantly more experience. Still, the 2022 season sets the stage for another intriguing season in 2023 that could feature more drivers making the first playoff appearances of their careers.
These Numbers Compared to Kevin Harvick’s Championship Season
Elliott had the best average finish at 12.5 among full-time and part-time drivers alike. He was the only driver to be even remotely within reach of single digits — not counting the decimal point — but he still did not reach this mark.
The last time that no driver posted an average finish under 10.0 was in 2014, which marked the first year of the current elimination format. Kevin Harvick won the championship, but Jeff Gordon had the best average finish at 10.4. Logano was second at 11.3.
For comparison, the 2021 season had 25 total drivers — 23 full-time — secure an average finish better than 20.0. The big difference is that three of them were better than 10.0.
Jamie McMurray finished eighth in his lone start while Denny Hamlin had an average of 8.4. Cup Series champion Kyle Larson ended the season with an average finish of 9.1.
What about 2020? Well, the COVID-altered season still had 25 drivers with an average finish better than 20.0. The biggest difference is that only 20 of them competed full-time in the Cup Series. David Ragan, Kaz Grala, Larson, Cody Ware, and Justin Haley all ran limited schedules for different reasons.
2019 had 22 full-time drivers reach this mark. Three of them — Kyle Busch, Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. — were all in single digits as they battled for the Cup Series championship trophy.
Average Finish Was Only 1 Key Statistic
The 2022 season had more drivers posting an average finish better than 20.0 as they adjusted to the Next Gen car, which has a reputation for being more difficult to drive. Many also turned in career years.
Michael McDowell was at the top of the list as he reached double-digit top-10s for the first time in his career. He led the most laps of his career (67), and he posted the best average finish 17.0.
Similarly, Chris Buescher had his best season by far. He improved his average finish from 18.1 to 15.8, won his second career race, and set new marks with 10 top-10s and three top-fives.
Justin Haley ran the first 36-race schedule of his career after he spent 30 races with Spire Motorsports and one race with Kaulig Racing in 2021. He continued to gain experience throughout the season, and he secured four top-10 finishes and three top-fives. He was also in contention for the win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 before sudden rainfall wrecked him and a large portion of the field.
Tyler Reddick was an interesting example. His average finish was slightly down from 2021, but he won the first three races of his career, tripled his number of top-fives (10), and led more than 500 laps while closing out his tenure at Richard Childress Racing.
Daniel Suarez fell in the same category as Reddick. He had a slightly lower average finish (16.5) than his career-best of 16.4, but he set new marks across the board. He won the first race of his career and led 280 laps. He also had career-highs with 13 top-10s and six top-fives. Meanwhile, his teammate Ross Chastain won the first two races of his career before finishing second in the championship standings.