My 22′ Preseason Favorite, Underachiever, and Sleeper
Sleeper: Tyler Reddick
Tyler Reddick is going into his 3rd full-time season driving in the Cup Series this year, and he has already shown great potential. Driving for Richard Childress Racing, Reddick has uplifted their entire program the past two years, pushing both himself and teammate Austin Dillon to improve their results slowly but surely. After making the playoffs in 2021, he has become the leader of the team and is RCR’s best chance at returning to championship form in the coming years. Comparing his rookie year stats to his stats from last season, Reddick improved his average finish by 2.5 positions and had 7 more top 10s. He also passed the eye test, consistently running in the top 5 and top 10, especially towards the end of the season.
With the total reset that the Next-Gen car provides, we can expect a team like RCR to be much more competitive against teams like Hendrick and Gibbs, who have been the class of the field recently. I expect the two-time Xfinity Series champion to improve on his stats this year and win his first career race.
Underachiever: Alex Bowman
Coming off a 4 win season, there are high expectations for Alex Bowman in 2022. At base level Bowman’s season last year was a huge success, winning 4 times after having only 2 career wins previously. What concerns me about Bowman is how he was able to win those 4 races last year. He didn’t lead the most laps in any of the races he won. One of his wins came after the leader (eventual champion Kyle Larson) blew a tire in the final corner, the other 3 all came with him taking the lead either after a pit stop sequence or him controversially taking out the leader with few laps remaining in the race. Besides the 4 wins, there wasn’t much else to talk about for Bowman’s 2021 season. An average finish of 15.1 was by far the worst out of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, and only leading 161 laps did not make him a consistent contender week to week.
As the Next-Gen car rolls into the series in 2022, the leveling of the playing field will take away some of Bowman’s advantage of being in a Hendrick-prepared car, making it that much more difficult to replicate his success from last season. I expect Bowman to make the playoffs, but any more than 1 win this year will be a surprise.
Favorite: Kyle Larson
It’s hard to not pick the defending champion as the favorite to win the championship again this year. Arguably the best driver in North America, Larson dominated the top series of NASCAR, with 10 wins and 2581 laps led (the most in over 2 decades), he was virtually unstoppable. It’s hard to see this momentum letting up going into this year. I think the introduction of the Next-Gen will be a benefit to Larson, who is known to be able to adapt to any type of car and win right away. Not to mention the updated aerodynamic and horsepower rules, which puts more of the control of the car in the driver’s hands, Larson will feel right at home. I expect Larson to have multiple wins this year and a deep run into the playoffs.