Youth, parity driving factors toward successful 2022 NASCAR season

2022 NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

Joey Logano crossing the checkered flag at Phoenix Raceway and claiming the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Championship certainly brought the spectacle. And it no doubt checked off a milestone for the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, too. After all, Logano’s 2022 victory now gives him the recognition of being one of only two active drivers to win more than one title at the Cup level (Kyle Busch).

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But the 2022 Championship 4 checked off another milestone, too. While the 32-year-old in Logano took home the title, his title-vying running mates — 29-year-old Ross Chastain, 27-year-old Christopher Bell and 26-year-old Chase Elliott — helped emphasize one major facet: youth.

Per Racing Insights, the average age of the 2022 Championship 4 was 29 years, 3 months and 19 days, the youngest ever under the parameters. And for Logano to be the “old man” at 32 only heightened the notion that younger grasshoppers are becoming ever more abundant atop the title-contending table.

Of course, youth wasn’t solely exclusive to just the sub-30 championship-contending trio. If anything else, it transcended throughout the entire racing field. And through the youth movement revolution, another significant facet was illustrated, too: parity.

The combined youth and parity of the sport emanated right at the start of the season, and it was hard to miss. Dating from the Daytona 500 through the circuit’s mid-March event at Circuit of The Americas — six races in total — all winners (Austin Cindric, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, William Byron and Chastain) were younger than 30 at the time of their victory.

Expanding on the sample size further continued to show the trend — drivers younger than 30 found Victory Lane in nine of the season’s first 11 races. And to extrapolate it further when speaking on the parity side of the coin — within the first 18 races, there were five first-time winners for the first time in a season since 1950 (Racing Insights). Four of those five first-time winners qualified under the younger-than-30 threshold (Cindric, Briscoe, Chastain and Tyler Reddick). And just for the sake of brevity, the fifth first-time winner — Daniel Suárez at Sonoma Raceway — was only 30.

Season-long trends can tell the story, so let’s examine the season’s entirety. Three stretches spanning six races saw drivers under 30 win each race (Feb. 20-Mar. 27, June 26-July 31 and Sept. 4-Oct. 9). In total, 22 of the season’s 36 races were won by drivers under 30.

Talking points around the Next Gen car exist when speaking about the sport’s parity. However, the youth could have also played a part in that, too. Among the league’s 19 winners over 2022 — tied for the most in a single season — 12 were 30 or younger at the time of their win. Among the sport’s nine drivers to win more than one race, six were younger than 30, with only Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick being the odd drivers out.

It was a banner year for the league, not only due to Next Gen’s arrival but also because of the youth that took the wheel behind it. And while it is certainly arguable, this youth helped heighten the parity to a level rarely matched before.

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Now, the sport looks ahead to 2023, which could potentially see even more youth and parity. Perhaps Ryan Blaney — who didn’t win a race in 2022 but will still be under 30 by the time 2023 rolls around — checks his name off. Maybe 24-year-old Noah Gragson — who will jump from the NASCAR Xfinity Series to Cup next season and drive the No. 42 Chevrolet for Petty GMS Racing — taps into the same magic that helped net him eight Xfinity victories in 2022. Maybe Cup drivers from the 2022 crop will take an even bigger leap forward.

Whatever the case, the spectacle should be one to watch. And perhaps even more milestones come from it.