The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season had no shortage of great racing. Some races throughout the season were fantastic, some, however, were not. Some could argue that the racing this year was better than last season, and that’s a valid argument. Thanks to teams figuring out how the Next-Gen car functions, we saw better racing. For the 75th anniversary season of NASCAR, it was a season to remember. These are the Five Best Races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Season.
#5: Quaker State 400 (Atlanta, 7/9/23):
When it was announced that Atlanta Motor Speedway was being repaved and reconfigured at the end of 2021, nobody knew what to expect. It was reconfigured into a hybrid of a mile-and-a-half intermediate track and a superspeedway track. For the first few races on the new Atlanta configuration starting in 2022, it was not great. This was due to the unknowns of the new Atlanta configuration and the Next-Gen car. For this race in July, people were expecting it to be another lackluster Atlanta race. But this was quite the opposite. To begin with, rain was on the way to Atlanta. This added to the urgency of the drivers to get to the end of Stage Two to make the race official.
The racing was intense, some of the most intense that we have seen on a superspeedway track with the Next-Gen Car. Right from the drop of the green flag, the bumps from drivers were intense. The end of the Stages was insane to watch with the intense racing. Eventually, Mother Nature arrived in Atlanta, and NASCAR called the race official with William Byron scoring the victory. This was Byron’s fourth victory of the season and his second at Atlanta. Thankfully, there were no big, messy crashes throughout this race that are accustomed to Daytona and Talladega. Dale Jr called Atlanta the hottest ticket in NASCAR. If the racing at Atlanta was this intense in July, fans can only imagine what it’ll be like once February rolls around.
#4: AdventHealth 400 (Kansas, 5/7/23):
For years, Kansas has been the best intermediate track on the NASCAR circuit. From great racing to tempers flaring, fans have always looked forward to race day in Kansas. But what if a Cup Series race at Kansas had both great racing and tempers flaring? That’s exactly what happened in May. Right from the start, it was obvious that Kyle Larson had a fast car. But on lap five, Larson was spun around off the nose of Tyler Reddick with no damage to Larson’s car. It was going to be one of those races. There were several cautions throughout the day, specifically, 11. Denny Hamlin would win stage one, and Joey Logano would win stage two. The race would come down to a battle between Hamlin and Larson. On the last lap, Hamlin pushed Larson into the wall on the back straightaway en route to the win.
This win was Hamlin’s first win of the season and the 48th of his career. But Hamlin versus Larson was not the big story of the race. That belonged to Ross Chastain versus Noah Gragson. Chastain, a seventh-generation watermelon farmer, is known to have a never-back-down attitude on and off the track. That attitude also applies to the young Noah Gragson. Gragson was upset at Chastain for how he was being raced on the track and went to confront Chastain on pit road after the race. The talking lasted for about 15 seconds before fists flew between the two drivers. Chastain defended himself when he connected with a punch to the face of Gragson. This great racing that has taken place in Kansas recently is thanks to the Next-Gen Car. Fans are already looking forward to both Kansas races next year.
#3: Coke Zero Sugar 400 (Daytona, 8/26/23)
After Atlanta, fans had the Daytona night race circled on their calendar, even if it was over a month away. What fans saw in Atlanta proved that there could be good superspeedway racing with the Next-Gen car. The big headlines going into Daytona were that there was only one Playoff spot left for grabs for a driver. The 16th and final Playoff spot was held by Bubba Wallace on points over Ty Gibbs. But if there was a new winner on the season at Daytona, that driver would get the final Playoff spot. Right from the drop of the green flag, the racing was intense. It only took the field six laps to start racing three-wide throughout the field. This three-wide racing lasted almost the entire race. With superspeedway racing, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when the big crash will happen.
Coming to the end of stage two, Ty Gibbs was turned off the front nose of his JGR teammate, Christopher Bell, and chaos unfolded. This took Gibbs out of Playoff contention. Would the drivers calm down after this incident? Not at all. With five laps to go, Ryan Preece was turned off the nose of Erik Jones. This sent Preece flipping down the back straightaway 11 times. Thankfully, Preece climbed out under his own power. Chris Buescher would go on to win the race in a 1-2 finish for RFK Racing. This was Buescher’s third win of the season and his first at Daytona. The future of Superspeedway racing is in good hands. If the Daytona 500 will be as intense as this race, then February can’t come soon enough.
#2: Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte, 5/29/23)
Last season, the 2022 Coca-Cola 600 was hands down the best race of the season. With intense racing and 18 caution flags last season, the 2023 Coca-Cola 600 had high expectations from fans. This race was almost as good as the 2022 Coca-Cola 600. The start of the race was delayed from 5 PM Sunday evening to 3 PM Monday afternoon due to rain. This delay just made the drivers even more antsy to get started. Early in the race, Ryan Blaney made it apparent that he had a fast racecar and possibly the car to beat. This was intense racing to start the race, even in the first half. The racing was so intense that drivers were getting frustrated with each other. Specifically, Chase Elliott hooked Denny Hamlin into the front straightaway wall in a massive hit for Hamlin. Elliott was suspended for the next event at Gateway.
William Byron won stage one while Chris Buescher would go on to win stage two. Stage three is when Blaney’s car started to come alive. Blaney would win the third stage and then came the chaotic final stage. After several cautions taking out contenders such as Kyle Larson and Ty Gibbs, this just added fuel to the fire. After overcoming several late race restarts, the eventual 2023 Cup Series Champion broke the longest winless drought of his career. Much like his IndyCar Penske Racing teammate, Blaney celebrated this victory in the grandstands with the fans. This was a fantastic race; this is what the Next-Gen car excels at. The 2023 Coca-Cola 600 was almost a perfect race, with great racing and a fan-favorite driver snapping his winless streak. But there’s one 2023 Cup Series race that’s better than the 2023 Coca-Cola 600.
#1: Grant Park 220 (Chicago, 7/2/23)
When it was announced that Chicago would host the first street race in NASCAR, nobody knew what to expect. It was either going to be a fantastic race or a complete failure. Thankfully, it was a fantastic race. But Mother Nature tried her best to derail NASCAR’s plans of running the race on Sunday. It was already a rainy weekend to begin with, but with three inches of rain alone on Sunday, it was going to be a challenge to get the race in. With a delayed start and sunset drawing closer, NASCAR decided to cut the race short from 100 laps to 75 laps. Earlier this year, Trackhouse Racing announced Shane Van Gisbergen as the driver of the #91 Car for Chicago. SVG would get caught back in traffic but late in the race, Gisbergen found his way at the front of the field and never looked back.
The now-former two-time Australian V8 Supercar Champion won the inaugural street race in NASCAR and won his first career start. The last driver to win their first Cup Series start was Johhny Rutherford in 1963. This was the definition of a perfect race. A first-time winner on the inaugural street circuit in NASCAR, this was fitting for NASCAR’s 75th anniversary. Earlier this year, Trackhouse Racing also announced that they were signing SVG to a developmental deal for 2024. This deal includes races in the Trucks, Xfinity, and Cup Series, as well as the CARS Tour next year. Chicago was the best Cup Series race in the last five years. Fans are already wondering what SVG can produce behind the wheel next season. Only time will tell but one thing is for certain, the Chicago Street Race was easily the best NASCAR Cup Series Race of 2023.