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The NASCAR Cup Series season has 29 races, but there’s already reason to celebrate before this season is over.
Chris Buescher’s breakthrough at Bristol on Saturday night produced the 19th different driver at Victory Lane this year, a record across 29 events and tying 2001 for the most in the modern era. Some of the stunners come from those who have been victorious; some come from those who weren’t.
READ MORE: Bristol Results | Post-Bristol Pulse playoff
Let’s start, of course, with the winners.
Austin Cindric, the fresh-faced rookie driving Team Penske’s No. 2 Ford, started the year with a bang, scoring the Daytona 500 triumph in his eighth career Cup start just inches away. by Bubba Wallace.
Defending series champion Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman followed that up with victories at the Auto Club and Las Vegas, respectively, perhaps leading some to think this year would be routine. That was before Chase Briscoe, the second-year Stewart-Haas Racing driver, made his first trip to Victory Lane by winning the spring race at Phoenix Raceway.
As the season progressed, Ross Chastain led himself and Trackhouse Racing to their first victories at the Circuit of the Americas, then proved himself again four weeks later by winning at Talladega. His teammate, Daniel Suárez, was not far behind, claiming his maiden triumph in June at Sonoma Raceway.
Another sophomore team, 23XI Racing, has itself taken two wins this year thanks to two different drivers – but via the same car number and on the same track. Kurt Busch rode the #45 Toyota to victory at Kansas Speedway in May. Five months later, while Busch was recovering from an injury in July, Wallace took the No. 2 career win on the same track by driving Busch’s number through the boards.
Perhaps more telling was that Wallace’s victory came in a sweep by non-elimination drivers in the Round of 16, a shock not seen during the NASCAR Cup playoff elimination era since the start of 2014. His victory was sandwiched between two storybook triumphs themselves.
Erik Jones won his second Southern 500 checkered flag on Labor Day weekend driving Richard Petty’s famed No. 43 Chevrolet for Petty GMS Motorsports – the team’s first win despite numbers and track record of the co-owner. Two weeks later, Buescher took the first win for the rebranded RFK Racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, his first victory in 222 races.
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|Most Different Winners in a Season: All-Time|
|* = Through 29 races|
Source: Race Insights
And let’s not forget Tyler Reddick’s first career victory at Road America on July 4 weekend – a feat he confirmed four weeks later at the Indianapolis Road Course. His Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon finished the regular season with a clutch victory at Daytona to also qualify for the playoffs.
Yes, the regular contenders have picked up their wins – 2020 Series champion Chase Elliott leads with four wins; two-time title winner Kyle Busch took victory on Bristol soil; Kevin Harvick went back to back in August; Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin each have two wins — but the parity may have never been stronger in the NASCAR Cup Series.
While Hendrick Motorsports statistically parted ways with nine wins – Joe Gibbs Racing tracks with four – nine different teams have won in 2022. That means only six organizations putting in full-time Cup efforts are winless.
And yet, there are still surprises on the list of those with goose eggs in the win column.
2021 three-time winner Ryan Blaney hasn’t visited Victory Lane since the 2021 regular season finale, but the No. 12 Ford (which won this year’s All-Star Race exhibit at Texas Motor Speedway ) is locked in the Round of 16, which kicks off Sunday in Texas (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Former Cup champions Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. have both been ruled out of Victory Lane thus far and have failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in years. Keselowski last missed the playoffs in 2013 while Truex last sat out in 2014.
But there are seven races left on the schedule for the big winners to make their way into the history books. Never has the Cup Series seen 20 different winners in the same season, especially in the modern era since 1972.
What once seemed impossible is certainly within reach. Truex has shown speed multiple times this season, including at 1.5-mile tracks like Texas and Las Vegas; Blaney, among other winless contestants, is particularly capable of breaking through at the dice game that Talladega often is; and who can say that the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval will not cause surprises?
Regardless of what lies ahead over the next seven weeks, the season should be savored for its rare story. Years like this only happen so often – and if there is a new winner, it will be something never seen before.