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Top stories from the 2023 NASCAR Cup season

1. Chicago Street Course is a stunning success

The 2023 NASCAR Cup season had plenty of firsts and perhaps none was bigger than the series’ inaugural street course race, held around historic Grant Park in downtown Chicago. While the weekend faced numerous weather challenges, the racing proved superb and with a surprise winner. Making his first ever start, three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen dominated the field to secure the victory for Trackhouse Racing. Van Gisbergen is moving to NASCAR competition full-time in 2024, running a full Xfinity Series schedule with Kaulig Racing along with a partial Cup schedule with Trackhouse.

2. New NASCAR media rights deal finalized

Late last month, NASCAR announced it had reached agreement on a new seven-year, multi-billion-dollar TV rights deal for its Cup Series that includes a streaming component for the first time. The deal is reportedly worth approximately $1.1 billion total a year – about a 40 percent increase over NASCAR’s current package, which expires at the end of the 2024 season. Joining current TV partners Fox and NBC in the new deal will be TNT and streaming partners Prime Video and Max (formerly HBO Max). NASCAR also secured a seven-year deal with the CW Network to televise its Xfinity Series races beginning with the 2025 season. That package is reportedly worth over $115 million a year.

3. NASCAR’s Garage 56 entry turns heads at Le Mans

In addition to van Gisbergen’s victory, NASCAR got additional positive international exposure with its Garage 56 entry in the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours. The entry’s trio of drivers – seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, 2010 Le Mans 24 overall winner Mike Rockenfeller and 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button – had a productive stint competing in a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car. The NASCAR entry, a collaboration among the sanctioning body, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear, was running at the finish, completing 285 laps on the 8.4-mile circuit and finished 39th in the 62-car field.

#65 Panis Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson of Manuel Maldonado, Tijmen Van Der Helm, Job Van Uitert, #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 of Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

#65 Panis Racing Oreca 07 – Gibson of Manuel Maldonado, Tijmen Van Der Helm, Job Van Uitert, #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 of Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button

4. North Wilkesboro revived

The historic .625-mile short track received rave reviews this year after hosting NASCAR competition in May for the first time since 1996 with a Truck Series race and the NASCAR All-Star Race. It was the culmination of a long and difficult process that required much convincing of state and local government officials by Speedway Motorsports as well as $18 million in money from the N.C. state government for infrastructure improvements. The track is undergoing a repave and will again host the All-Star race in 2024.

5. Ryan Blaney is crowned champion

The Cup Series got another first-time champion in 2023 with Ryan Blaney but a return trip to the top for owner Roger Penske. Blaney’s Cup title – which came with the help of two critical wins in the 10-race playoffs – was the fourth overall and second consecutive for Team Penske and 44th in the storied history of the organization. Penske drivers have now won both championships decided since the introduction of the Next Gen car, with Joey Logano also winning in 2022.

6. Denny Hamlin becomes NASCAR’s villain  

Denny Hamlin took on the role of villain during the 2023 NASCAR Cup season. He did not shy away from the shower of boos and actively engaged with displeased fans. On-track, he got into it with his friend Kyle Larson as they battled for the win at Kansas and later Pocono. The Pocono incident left Larson fuming, and Hamlin unapologetic, telling fans to “boo my rock out here in a few years.” 

His podcast, appropriately named Actions Detrimental, even got him penalized after he openly admitted to intentionally walling Chastain in the spring Phoenix race. The brazen and outspoken Hamlin is a driver the fans have always loved to hate, but 2023 was the year when Hamlin truly embraced it. 

7. Chase Elliott sidelined

NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver went winless this year, failed to make the playoffs for the first time in his career, and missed a total of seven races. He was sidelined by a leg injury for six weeks, with Josh Berry and Jordan Taylor driving the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in his absence.

Later on, he was also suspended for one race after intentionally wrecking Hamlin during the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Corey LaJoie drove his car the following weekend. It was a strange and frustrating year for the HMS star, and one he will want to put behind him as soon as possible.

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry crash wreck

Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry crash wreck

8. Noah Gragson suspended 

It was a hellish rookie season for 2022 NASCAR Xfinity runner-up Noah Gragson. He struggled for results and was even briefly sidelined with concussion-like symptoms after a crash at Gateway. But things really went wrong in early August. After liking a meme that mocked the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, he was suspended from Legacy Motor Club and later NASCAR itself.

He parted ways with LMC soon after, and has since successfully completed sensitivity training. Gragson will make his return in 2024, taking over the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

9. Kevin Harvick’s farewell tour

The last full-time driver to have competed in the pre-playoff era has now retired. Harvick ended his career with 826 starts, 60 wins and the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Although SHR struggled, Harvick still made the playoffs and consistently beat all three of his team-mates. He came close on several occasions but never reached Victory Lane in his final season. Despite this, he still ended things on a bit of a high note by leading laps in his final race, starting third and finishing seventh at Phoenix.. He will now move into the role of commentator as he joins the FOX Sports booth in 2024. Fans showed their appreciation for the veteran driver in many ways, and made his No. 29 throwback from the All-Star Race the top-selling diecast of the year.

10. Ross Chastain vs. the world

It was a tale of two seasons for Ross Chastain. In the first third of the year, he was all anyone could talk about. His feud with Hamlin reignited in Phoenix, there was a run-in with his team-mate at COTA, and even a fight at Kansas where he punched Gragson in the face. But things hit a fever pitch at Darlington. While battling for the win, he and Kyle Larson were trading blows on late-race restarts. Ultimately, Chastain took it too far and crashed both cars. 

The fallout was immediate with Rick Hendrick himself calling out Chastain. The fiery young driver faded from view after that, leaving Darlington with the points lead but falling to the backend of the top-ten by the time the playoffs began. But a cleaner and more calculated Chastain ended the year on a positive, becoming the first non-final four driver in the elimination era to win the season finale.


Honorable mentions:

RFK Racing’s resurgence and Chris Buescher’s three-win season

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. snaps a 199-race winless streak to win the Daytona 500

Martin Truex Jr.’s disastrous playoffs after winning the regular season title

Kyle Busch’s first year with Richard Childress Racing

Ryan Preece walks away from terrifying rollover crash at Daytona


 



This article was originally published by a www.motorsport.com . Read the Original article here. .

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