NASCAR's worst performances of 2022: Intentional wrecks and more (2023)

Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi

Dec 19, 2022


There was no question about the worst moment of the NASCAR season. That came on the morning of Championship Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, when news broke that Coy Gibbs, the Joe Gibbs Racing executive who had just celebrated his son Ty’s Xfinity Series championship hours earlier, died in his sleep at an area hotel.


(Video) Best Of MOTORSPORT 2022 | Terrifying CRASH COMPILATION / *Live* | NO FATAL

But this story is part of a series about the worst “performances” in each sport, not the worst “moments.” So what are NASCAR’s worst performances of 2022? And what defines a “performance,” anyway?

For our purposes, we decided to view a performance as a singular event rather than a trend — although sometimes that means the occurrence could be related to a larger issue.

Anyway, let’s get to it. Here are The Athletic’s five worst NASCAR performances of 2022, as selected by Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi. (Our picks for the best performances of the year can be found here.)

GO DEEPERNASCAR's best performances of 2022: The 'Hail Melon' leads the way

Bubba Wallace intentionally wrecks Kyle Larson at Las Vegas

What happened: In a flash of anger over a mistake by Larson, Wallace retaliated on the frontstretch of a 1.5-mile track by hooking the No. 5 car in the right rear and sending it toward the wall. Larson was thankfully uninjured, but it was a dangerous move that caused Wallace to be suspended for the next week’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Why it mattered: It was a bad look for Wallace to make such a move at a high-speed track in a season when safety had become such a major topic and cost him any goodwill he’d earned by his improved performances on track (including a victory at Kansas two weeks earlier). At the same time, it also took out Toyota teammate Christopher Bell — who later rallied to salvage his season by winning at Martinsville to make the Championship 4.

What it means now/for the future: The suspension for an on-track incident was the first in the Cup Series since 2015 (Matt Kenseth) and seemed to draw a line over what qualifies as acceptable payback. But now retaliations will be closely watched, because any similar incident will spark calls for other drivers to receive a punishment consistent with the one Wallace got.

Quotable: “You live and learn, and I intend to learn from this.” — Wallace

Kyle Larson hits Bubba Wallace.

(Video) Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash @ Daytona

Wallace spins him out, and #NASCARPlayoffs driver Christopher Bell is involved!

— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 16, 2022

Ty Gibbs takes out Brandon Jones at Martinsville

What happened: In the final laps of the penultimate Xfinity Series race of the season, Ty Gibbs forcefully and deliberately shoved aside Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brandon Jones to take the lead. The contact sent Jones spinning into the Turn 1 wall while Gibbs went on to take the win, earning the 20-year-old driver widespread scorn from both fans and fellow competitors.


Why it mattered: Had Jones won the race, he would’ve locked himself into the four-driver Xfinity championship final, which Gibbs had already qualified for. The incident was unnecessary, entirely avoidable and only further perpetuated the belief that Gibbs still has a lot of growing up to do if he’s going to fulfill his vast potential. That it cost JGR from having two drivers vie for the championship also made Gibbs appear as someone who puts his own self interests above that of the organization. In the bigger picture, one driver blatantly crashing another to win a race raised questions whether NASCAR should begin policing such situations instead of falling back on its longstanding principle that NASCAR is full-contact and drivers are allowed to get away with such behavior if they’re racing for a win.

What it means now/for the future: In a season in which Gibbs often found himself embroiled in controversy, this incident certainly felt like the tipping point, the young driver learning that his actions have consequences. And NASCAR has come to the realization that sometimes full-contact racing for the win does, in fact, have limitations. There are now discussions underway whether to mete out penalties should a similar situation occur.

Quotable: “It was definitely not a clean move, for sure. I definitely didn’t want to wreck him, but I definitely wanted to move him out of the groove so I could go win. I felt like we lost the spring race getting moved by him. … We got moved out of the way earlier this year so, it’s part of it.” — Ty Gibbs

Ty Gibbs WRECKS Brandon Jones to WIN at Martinsville!

(Video) Top 100 Crashes In Nascar History

Jones is eliminated from the #NASCARPlayoffs.

— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 29, 2022

Next Gen car struggles with preventing head injuries

What happened: Dating back to the Next Gen car’s initial on-track development, drivers had been voicing concerns about how they felt the energy was dispersed upon crashing — specifically that they were absorbing the brunt of the impact rather than the new car itself. But it wasn’t until Kurt Busch crashed heavily during qualifying for the Pocono race that a driver had sustained a serious injury. Busch suffered a concussion that ultimately sidelined him for the season, necessitating him to vacate his playoff spot and leading to him announcing he would not race full-time in 2023. Alex Bowman then became the second driver to suffer a concussion when he crashed during the playoff race at Texas. The injury forced the championship-eligible driver to sit out five playoff races, ensuring his elimination from the playoffs through no fault of his own.

Why it mattered: This was the biggest safety crisis in the sport since 2001 when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500. And that a design flaw had left them vulnerable — a flaw that, in their estimation, was preventable — prompted an outcry among drivers that NASCAR take immediate action, with some even going so far as to publicly question NASCAR’s leadership. Although no immediate changes were made, NASCAR acknowledged its missteps and responded by announcing changes would be made to the rear of the car for the following season to better protect drivers.


What it means now/for the future: It remains to be seen whether the new rear clip featuring a bumper that’s more energy-absorbent will solve the problem, but NASCAR said testing at a crash facility in Ohio indicated the redesign should produce a safer car.

Quotable: “We threw up red flags over a year ago and they just didn’t respond. They just kept pushing that this car has to be on the racetrack at all costs.” — Denny Hamlin

GO DEEPERKevin Harvick sounds off on NASCAR's safety response

Rain crashes field at Daytona regular-season finale

What happened: With 21 laps to go in the regular-season cutoff race at Daytona International Speedway, the entire field suddenly hit rain while going through Turn 1. The crash wiped out the top 13 cars and 14th-place Austin Dillon inherited the lead (and later won the race after it was restarted).

(Video) Worst Revenge Moments in NASCAR

Why it mattered: The crash potentially altered the playoff picture for a handful of drivers, whether it was those in win-to-get-in situations or some who simply needed more playoff points (Hamlin was leading and would have made the Championship 4 with an additional five points from a win, for example). It also directed more criticism at NASCAR’s race control, which had a tough season at times with missed calls and controversies.

What it means now/for the future: In addition to its current radars and spotters around the track, NASCAR is looking at different technology to see if it can detect rain in the immediate vicinity of the racing surface.

Quotable: “The tires did not meet the road anymore. It was wet. When we’re running 200 miles per hour, you can’t do that.” — Justin Haley

Texas Motor Speedway

What happened: Despite the Next Gen’s stellar performance on intermediate tracks that reshaped the perception of how fans and the NASCAR industry view such circuits, the 1.5-mile Texas track found itself unable to join in the party. It had two stinkers for Cup Series events, which were voted as the worst and second-worst races in the 261-race history of our Twitter “Was It A Good Race?” poll (just 11 percent of voters thought the All-Star Race was a good race and 13.4 percent said the same about the playoff race in October).


Why it mattered: Texas showed that no matter the type of car, it is apparently unable to put on a good stock car race under the current configuration. Even in a year when it should have been able to shine — it hosted the All-Star Race and a playoff race with a car people looked forward to watching — Texas still underwhelmed.

What it means now/for the future: Texas is going to need drastic changes to reestablish itself as an important place for NASCAR. It lost the 2023 All-Star Race to North Wilkesboro and now has just one Cup race per season (the playoff race next fall).

Quotable: “I would like them to demolish this place first. Then start over from scratch.” — Kyle Larson

(Video) A Closer Look at NASCAR's Most HORRIFIC Wreck

GO DEEPERThe best and worst performances of 2022: Reliving the highs and lows of the year in sports

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photo: Will Lester / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


What is the most wrecks in a NASCAR race? ›

2002 Aaron's 312 at Talladega: On lap 14, the largest crash in modern NASCAR history (1972–present) took place at the exit of turn two, with 31 cars being involved.

How fast did NASCAR's go in 1970? ›

149.601 miles per hour

Who drives 42 in NASCAR? ›

42. STATESVILLE, N.C. — Petty GMS Motorsports announced the final piece of its 2023 driver lineup Wednesday, promoting Noah Gragson to the NASCAR Cup Series full-time in the No. 42 Chevrolet and signing him to a multiyear deal.

How often do NASCAR crashes happen? ›

Since 2001 there have been an average of 220 crashes per year in the NASCAR cup series. This equals an average of 6 crashes per race. These crashes can range in severity from a small 2 car collision to a multiple 20 car “Big One” Despite the frequency of crashes no fatalities have occurred since 2001.

Who caused the most wrecks in NASCAR? ›

So, with that in mind, the driver who has the highest crash-rate in the NASCAR Cup Series is (according to this one site, of course) ... Cody Ware!

What was the worst accident in racing history? ›

Large pieces of debris flew into the crowd, killing 83 spectators and French driver Pierre Levegh, and injuring nearly 180 more. It was the most catastrophic crash in motorsport history, and it prompted Mercedes-Benz to withdraw from motor racing until 1989.

What is the oldest NASCAR track still in use? ›

Founded in 1947 by the late H. Clay Earles, Martinsville Speedway is only track which has hosted NASCAR Cup Series races every year since the division's inception in 1949. At .

What car broke the 200 mph record in NASCAR? ›

On this day 50 years ago, Buddy Baker got to go really fast. On Tuesday, March 24, 1970, Baker strapped into a blue Dodge Daytona during a tire test at Talladega Superspeedway, the largest oval track in NASCAR. During the test, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed circuit.

What was the first car to hit 200 mph? ›

This 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona Was the First Car to Top 200 MPH. Now It's Heading to Auction.

Is NASCAR gaining or losing popularity? ›

The NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway averaged 3.991 million average viewers on FOX last weekend. The event was down 12.2% compared to last year at 4.544 million average viewers on FOX. This marks the fourth straight race that NASCAR has been down to start the 2023 season.

Why is NASCAR popularly declining? ›

Reasons cited for its decline include the aforementioned track changes, the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow which both drivers and fans alike criticized, the constant tinkering of the rules of its championship and the racing itself, the change in its race day experience, the perceived decline in the quality of its ...

When did NASCAR start declining? ›

NASCAR has suffered with declining attendance for years from its heyday in the early 2000s, when it was routinely drawing crowds well over 50,000 to 100,000 essentially for every Cup Series race. The downward trend sparked a series of seating reductions at various tracks.

Who was caught cheating in NASCAR? ›

But the drivers always kept the trophy and added the number in the win column. No more and not again. NASCAR carried out its stiffest punishment against a race winner in more than 60 years when it stripped Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin of his Pocono Raceway victory and teammate Kyle Busch of his runner-up finish.

What was the worst NASCAR crash ever? ›

Race: Daytona Modified Sportsman Race

The crackup occurred on the fourth turn of the first lap, less than two minutes into the race. It's been called the worst wreck in NASCAR history, with 37 cars involved.

Who has the most losses in NASCAR? ›

Not only does Petty hold almost every positive NASCAR record — most starts, poles, victories, top-5s, top-10s, races led and laps led — he also hold the dubious record for most losses. Take away his 200 victories from his 1,185 starts and you have 985 losses. Nobody's ever gonna get close to that, either.

What is the most famous car crash? ›

Princess Diana

This accident is probably one of the most famous car crashes with an abundance of media coverage and paparazzi car crash photos circulating in the press. Driving a 1994 Mercedes-Benz W140 through a tunnel in France, the driver of the vehicle lost control and smashed into a pillar.

When was the last fatal crash in NASCAR? ›

Throughout NASCAR's history, 30 people have died, 29 drivers and one spectator. Deaths were much more common in the early days of the sport, and there have been no fatalities in NASCAR since 2001.

What is the closest NASCAR finish ever? ›

As of 2022, the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Cup Series is 0.002 seconds. This first occurred during the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway, as Ricky Craven crossed the finish line inches ahead of Kurt Busch.

What is the most difficult NASCAR track? ›

NASCAR's 10-race, season-ending premier series playoff run kicks off Sunday with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, one of the sport's oldest and most challenging tracks.

What is the flattest NASCAR track? ›

Langley Speedway is a paved short track measuring 0.395 miles in length. It is one of the flattest tracks in the region with only six degrees of banking in the corners and four degrees of banking on the straights.

What car is banned in NASCAR? ›

In 2022, the Dodge Charger Daytona is a future EV. In 1969, it was something else entirely. That Charger Daytona was a supercar decades before that word came into the modern lexicon.

What was the first car banned from NASCAR? ›

And the 1969 Dodge Daytona did just that as the rules were rewritten. Dodge and Plymouth were the two brands that were told they could not bring their vehicles to race competitively. The Superbird from Plymouth was the other aero-vehicle that could not compete at NASCAR events.

What is the most speedy car? ›

As of 2021, these are considered to be the fastest cars in the world:
  • Hennessey Venom F5: 301 mph (485 km/h)
  • Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+: 304 mph (490 km/h)
  • Koenigsegg Jesko: 300 mph (483 km/h)
  • 9ff GT9-R: 257 mph (413.6km/h)
  • SSC Ultimate Aero: 256.18mph (412.28km/h)
  • Which is your favourite super fast car?

What car broke the 300 mph? ›

In August 2019, Bugatti topped the formerly reigning Hennessey Venom F5. Not only that, but the Chiron Super Sport 300+ also became the first car to break 300 miles per hour on the track. The final record was 304.773 mph with racing driver Andy Wallace at the wheel on Volkswagen's Ehra-Lessien test track in Germany.

Whats the highest mph a car has gone? ›

The current holder of the Outright World Land Speed Record is ThrustSSC driven by Andy Green, a twin turbofan jet-powered car which achieved 763.035 mph - 1227.985 km/h - over one mile in October 1997. This is the first supersonic record as it exceeded the sound barrier at Mach 1.016.

Has any car hit 400 mph? ›

In 1960 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, Mickey Thompson reached an unprecedented speed of 406.6 mph in a four-engine streamliner he called Challenger 1.

Does anyone care about NASCAR anymore? ›

Viewership and attendance of NASCAR have been on the decline ever since 2006, and some think the 2021 boost was only due to people seeking more outdoor activity after isolating themselves for so long during the 2020 pandemic. While viewership was up last year, the sport does not have the clout it had back in 2005.

What state likes NASCAR the most? ›

West Virginia

Is NASCAR in financial trouble? ›

One of America's most iconic sports leagues is in fiscal trouble, according to its top teams. Team executives are seeking more money from media contracts and other changes to the sport.

Why does dodge not run in NASCAR anymore? ›

The automaker left the sport after the 2012 season when it won the championship with Penske Racing and driver Brad Keselowski. Soon after, Penske Racing left Dodge for Ford, after the Auburn Hills-based automaker wouldn't give the organization a multi-year deal.

Is NASCAR just turning left? ›

With the exception of a few road course races, most of the NASCAR races are held on ovals. The cars always race counter-clockwise on the ovals, meaning the cars only turn left.

Why doesn't Dodge do NASCAR anymore? ›

Dodge has had multiple stints in NASCAR, most recently from 2001-12, but it left after winning a championship with Team Penske and Brad Keselowski. Penske was switching to Ford, and Dodge said it could not find another top-tier team to partner.

Is NASCAR going electric? ›

NASCAR is going electric, eventually. The racing series has been investigating the hybridization of its Cup Series as well as developing an all-electric vehicle.

What happens to old NASCAR engines? ›

Crumpled frames and engines are sent to scrapyards like Gordon or Foil's, Inc., in Harrisburg, N.C., where they are flattened, then ripped into hand-size pieces that will be milled back into new steel. And some of that steel can end up back in a race shop.

What NASCAR track has the most fatalities? ›

14 NASCAR drivers have died at Daytona International Speedway, more than any other circuit.

What are the toughest tracks in NASCAR? ›

Darlington, South Carolina

With its distinctive egg-shaped design, Darlington Raceway is considered the toughest track in NASCAR.

Is crashing in NASCAR illegal? ›

It is technically illegal in NASCAR for a driver to intentionally hit another car. However, incidental contact is extremely common in the sport. Bumping another car will usually go unpunished unless it is especially egregious.

What is the bumpiest NASCAR track? ›

— When drivers show up to race at Kentucky Speedway, the track makes their teeth chatter. But it's not because the drivers are scared. Rather, the surface of Kentucky's 1.5-mile track is bumpier than any other in NASCAR — and that's no exaggeration.

Which NASCAR track has the steepest banking? ›

Talladega Superspeedway

Often called "Dega", the track is located at the former Anniston Air Force Base in Lincoln, Alabama. Along with being the most steeply banked, Talladega is also the longest oval at 2.66-miles long.

Who is the most liked NASCAR driver of all time? ›

Bill Elliott has the most Most Popular Driver Awards in the Cup Series with 16.

Is NASCAR losing popularity? ›

The NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway averaged 3.991 million average viewers on FOX last weekend. The event was down 12.2% compared to last year at 4.544 million average viewers on FOX. This marks the fourth straight race that NASCAR has been down to start the 2023 season.

Who is statistically the best NASCAR driver? ›

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch has earned a spot on this list for a variety of reasons, including the honor of being the most winningest driver in NASCAR history. Busch has a total of 225 victories across the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series throughout his career.

What is the loudest NASCAR track? ›

The unique construction of Bristol Motor Speedway has made it the loudest track in NASCAR. Just 0.533 miles in length, the grandstands at Bristol rise the equivalent of 21 stories, which holds the noise inside the track. How loud is it?

What NASCAR track is known as Tricky Triangle? ›

Home - Pocono Raceway - The Tricky Triangle.

What motors are NASCAR banned? ›

The HEMI engine was a mechanical marvel that was so successful it was banned from NASCAR after its first year. Today, it continues to be the basis of the engine that is used by ALL teams in the NHRA Nitro Top Fuel and Funny Car classes.

Does NASCAR have a speed limit? ›

NASCAR implemented pit road speed limits in 1991, following tire changer Mike Rich's death at the 1990 Atlanta Journal 500. In 2022, pit road speed at tracks hosting points races ranges from 30 mph at smaller tracks like Martinsville and Bristol to 55 mph at 2-mile and larger ovals.

Is Dodge banned in NASCAR? ›

The end of the aero cars

Along with rules banning the Dodge Charger Daytona's unique brand of aerodynamic wackiness, NASCAR banned the use of large displacement engines. New rules kept the size limited to just 305 cubic inches, significantly smaller than the Daytona's 426-cubic-inch and 440 cubic-inch engine options.


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