The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season will have a much different look than in years past. There are new cars, new teams, new venues, and new faces that will help shape the season, but a list of familiar names will once again battle it out for the championship over the course of 36 races.
It all begins with a major change to the start of the season. The action has always begun at Daytona, but that changes this year. The series will instead open on the other side of the country, with a brand new race in the heart of Los Angeles. The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum will set the stage for the 2022 season as teams and drivers prepare to tackle a new track inside of the famed Memorial Coliseum.
This weekend's event will not reward any points but it is sure to provide plenty of curveballs for everyone. A quarter-mile asphalt oval was built around the facility's football field, which will give fans a much closer look at the Next Gen car. This will be the first time since 1979 that the Clash will be outside of Daytona International Speedway.
Practice and qualifying for the race will take place on Saturday, with television coverage on FS2 and FS1. On Sunday, four qualifying heat races will begin at 3 PM ET followed by two last-chance qualifiers races. The main event is set to begin at 6 PM with FOX providing coverage of all on-track action on Sunday.
One of the biggest moves of the offseason was the already announced deal for Kurt Busch. The former Cup series champion takes over the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing as he teams up with Bubba Wallace as the team expands to two full-time entries. Busch's former teammate Ross Chastain is staying at the new Trackhouse Racing Team, driving the No. 1 Chevrolet. He will team with Daniel Suarez in the No. 99 machine.
Another major move involves Brad Keselowski, who takes over the No. 6 Ford at the newly-named RFK Racing, where he is now part-owner. The 2012 series champion and winner of 34 Cup races brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team in his new driver/owner role. He replaces veteran Ryan Newman, who is still without a ride this season.
Austin Cindric will slide into Keselowski's former ride, the No. 2 Ford machine. Cindric graduates to the Cup series after winning the Xfinity Series title with Team Penske two seasons ago, and coming up just short of repeating last year. He will be the clear favorite for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award in 2022.
Harrison Burton will also vie for that award as the second-generation driver takes over the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford. Burton won four Xfinity races in two seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Another popular young driver will be Justin Haley, who slides into the No. 31 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing. He will be the team's first full-time Cup series driver after winning four races with the group in the Xfinity series. Haley already has a Cup victory to his name, when he won the 2019 night race at Daytona with Spire Motorsports. The team's second car will be shared by a trio of drivers this season. AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, and Daniel Hemric will all get their turn in the No. 16 car.
Aric Almirola will be back in the No. 10 Ford with Stewart-Haas Racing but it will be his final season. The 37-year old has announced that he will retire at the end of the year after five seasons with the team. Josh Bilicki has moved on from Rick Ware Racing to his new home at Spire Motorsports where he will drive the No. 77 Chevrolet. Ty Dillon returns to the Cup series with Petty GMS Motorsports, joining Erik Jones in the two-car Chevrolet stable. Dillon drove for Germain Racing from 2017-20 with two top-five finishes and six top-ten finishes.
Todd Gilliland is making the leap from the Camping World Truck series all the way to Cup, where he will still drive for the Front Row Motorsports team. The 21-year old will take over the No. 38 Ford in his rookie campaign. Ryan Preece was announced as a reserve driver for Stewart-Haas Racing after the JTG team scaled back to just one car.
The top two teams from last season remain intact once again for 2022. Hendrick Motorsports returns with their four-car lineup of Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, and reigning series champion Kyle Larson. The team dominated the regular season and combined to win 17 races last year, their most since winning 18 races in 2007.
Joe Gibbs Racing will again be contending for the title as Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr, and Christopher Bell give Toyota a solid shot at another championship. All four drivers made the playoffs last season and should have a good shot at doing it once again. They managed to get two drivers into the Championship 4 but were unable to wrestle the title away from Larson and Hendrick.
Team Penske will still have a solid crack at the championship this year, with Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano returning to lead the team. Should Cindric get up to speed with the Next Gen car quickly, it could give The Captain three playoff drivers yet again. While Chevrolet and Toyota may have the top two teams in the series, Ford's best opportunity at the title rides with Penske.
After a miserable 2021 campaign, Stewart-Haas Racing is hoping for a bounce back season. They return the same four drivers in Kevin Harvick, Almirola, Chase Briscoe, and Cole Custer with Preece in a reserve role. They may not have the same depth as the top three teams, but they have a motivated Harvick. The hunger is real for the 46-year old, who is coming off of his first winless season since 2009.
One team that did have a resurgence last season was Richard Childress Racing. Their two drivers, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, had to battle it out amongst each other for the final playoff spot last season. That went to Reddick, who had a breakout year with three top-fives, 16 top-tens, 43 laps led and a 15th place average finish. Both drivers could continue to improve and possibly each find themselves in the playoffs this season.
Outside of those teams, there are a couple of drivers to watch in terms of the championship. Busch is hoping to bring 23XI into the playoffs this year while Keselowski hopes to do the same for RFK Racing. These two veteran drivers and former series champions know what it takes to get there, but they will have plenty of competition standing in their way.