Over the course of 36 races and two special events, the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season boasted a wealth of spirited battles, wild finishes and moments that will be a part of the highlight reels for years to come. With a record-tying 19 different winners on the year, there ended up being a wealth of spectacular moments and thrilling victories to speak of well before the checkered flag flew and a champion was crowned in Phoenix.
While it was difficult to whittle the list of highlights down -- hence several honorable mentions -- there were 10 moments in particular that went a long way in making the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season what it was. Here are the CBS Sports Top 10 moments of 2022 in NASCAR:
10: King of the South again
Richard Petty's No. 43 had won many times on many tracks throughout the southeast, but it had been a very long time since The King's car had prevailed on the south's first major speedway. Petty's car had not won at Darlington Raceway since 1967, when he won his first and only Southern 500 as a driver.
But in the opening race of the NASCAR playoffs, Erik Jones wrote a new chapter in his car's long history. After a quick pit stop put him up to second spot under the final caution, Jones inherited the lead when Kyle Busch blew an engine, and he then held off a hard-charging Denny Hamlin in the final laps to win his second Southern 500 and end a three-year winless drought for him and an eight-year winless drought for the Petty No. 43.
Jones' victory was the first win for Petty GMS, and it was also the 200th win for The King's No. 43.
9: Vindication for Bubba Wallace
Bubba Wallace's first career victory at Talladega in the fall of 2021 was a seminal moment in the Alabama driver's career, and his being the first Black driver to win a Cup Series race in the sport's modern era was a historic moment for NASCAR. But in the undercurrent of that win, there were those who sought to dismiss and discredit Wallace's first victory because it came in a rain-shortened race.
Wallace's detractors made plenty of noise throughout the first half of 2022 as inconsistency, mistakes on pit road and an overall lack of execution plagued him and his race team. But in the second half of the season, everything started to click. Wallace would earn three top fives, eight top 10s and his first career pole in the second half, culminating in a Kansas race where he led the final 43 laps to pick up his second Cup win and leave his haters with nothing to say about how he did it.
"Just thankful, thankful for the opportunity -- and thankful to shut the hell up for a lot of people," Wallace told NBC Sports.
Adding to the satisfaction of the victory was that it gave 23XI Racing a season sweep of the two Kansas races, with Wallace's win coming in the No. 45 that had been driven by Kurt Busch in the springtime. Buschat Pocono, adding to the uplifting nature of Wallace's win for his race team.
8: A smashing win for Suarez
After years of struggling to stick with championship-level teams, Daniel Suarez's perseverance was rewarded with the best season of his career in 2022. Suarez had a career-best six top fives and 13 top 10s as part of Trackhouse Racing's second-year leap, with his finest moment coming when he earned his first career victory at Sonoma in June.
Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver and the fifth-ever foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race, and he had called his shot weeks earlier on how he wanted to celebrate, saying that he wanted to smash a piñata or some tacos. His team obliged,to smash as Suarez emotionally reflected on his journey to being a Cup winner.
"A lot of people in Mexico ... they never gave up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn't," Suarez told Fox Sports. "Just very happy we were able to make it work ... Es el primera de muchas. This is the first one of many."
7: Chase Elliott calms NASCAR at Talladega
The fall race at Talladega Superspeedway took place under a cloud of uncertainty and apprehension the likes of which had not been felt in many, many years. After two drivers were injured the previous week at Texas Motor Speedway, including Alex Bowman -- who suffered a concussion in what appeared to be a minor accident -- alarm bells sounded over the safety of the Next Gen car, with drivers' season-long frustrations with the car's rigidness upon impact.
That was all heightened by the specter of Talladega, NASCAR's fastest and most dangerous track. But what followed a week fraught with tension was a thrilling -- and safe -- race from start to finish. The lead changed hands 57 times, with the 57th and final lead change coming on the last lap when Chase Elliott received a push from Erik Jones to clear Ryan Blaney and score his fifth victory of the season in thrilling fashion.
6: A rookie wins Daytona
On his way up the ranks of NASCAR, Austin Cindric was known mostly as a road racer by trade and known largely because he was driving for Team Penske as the son of team president Tim Cindric. Now, he will be known forever as a champion of the Daytona 500 and one of the more remarkable young champions in the history of The Great American Race.
In just his eighth career Cup start and the first race of his rookie season, Austin Cindric led 21 laps in the closing stages of the Daytona 500 then put on a defensive driving clinic on the final lap, holding off Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace to score his first Cup win in the biggest race of them all.
Cindric became the ninth driver in history to score his first Cup Series win in the Daytona 500, and he would follow it up with a rookie season that saw him earn five top fives, nine top 10s and finish 12th in the championship standings on his way to.
5: Bristol's dirt dustup
Sometimes when the front two cars are battling hard for a win, third place is exactly the place to be in the event that first and second wipe each other out. That's exactly what happened in this year's edition of the Bristol Dirt Race, to the benefit of one Kyle Busch.
Entering the final corner, Chase Briscoe made a last-ditch effort to try and take the lead with a slidejob on Tyler Reddick. But he couldn't make it stick, tagging Reddick in the left rear and spinning both of their cars out. Reddick straightened his car out and tried to accelerate back to the finish line for his first Cup win, but he couldn't do it in time. Kyle Busch was able to go from a distant third to beating Reddick at the start/finish line to pick up his first and only victory of the 2022 season.
Busch's win would end up being his final at Joe Gibbs Racing. And, coincidentally, the win came over the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet that Busch will now drive in 2023 and beyond.
4: Dillon delivers, rain or shine
Entering the final race of the regular season, Austin Dillon was one of over a dozen drivers who had to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona in order to qualify for the NASCAR playoffs. And with 23 laps to go, Dillon's chance came when he drove through a field-clearing wreck in Turn 1 that began when the lead pack drove into a popup shower that turned into a massive storm that delayed the race for several hours.
Dillon would have won if the storm had ended the race prematurely, but the skies eventually cleared and Daytona was soon dried, meaning that Dillon would have to earn his playoff berth in the race to the finish. He would do just that, taking the lead from Austin Cindric with three laps to go and then holding off a host of unusual contenders -- Landon Cassill, Noah Gragson, Cody Ware and B.J. McLeod among them -- to score a walk-off victory that gave him the right to compete for the 2022 championship.
3: Chastain of the Americas
After a three-race stretch that saw him lead 125 laps and score three-straight finishes in the top three -- third at Las Vegas and then second at both Phoenix and Atlanta -- it was clear early in the season that Ross Chastain's first Cup Series win was coming very soon. It would end up coming at Circuit of the Americas, and the way it happened set the tone for who Chastain was and what kind of force he would be in his breakout season.
After leading 30 of 68 laps heading into the final lap, Chastain had to get the lead back on the final lap after being moved out of the way by a hard-charging AJ Allmendinger on the exit of Turn 16. With Alex Bowman surging forward and poised to take the win from both of them, Chastain took his first Cup Series win back by force, putting the bump-and-run on Allmendinger in Turn 19, shoving him into Bowman and spinning him into the gravel trap as Chastain drove back for his first Cup win and the first victory for Trackhouse Racing.
"I know he's gonna be upset with me, but we raced hard, both of us, and he owes me one -- but when it comes to a Cup win, man, I can't let that go down without a fight," Chastain told Fox Sports, before foreshadowing what Trackhouse would end up proving to be. "... People don't know how good this group is. I can't believe Justin Marks hired me to drive this car."
2: Double clutching it
More than his career-high three wins, 12 top fives and 20 top 10s on his way to placing third in the championship standings, Christopher Bell's 2022 season will be remembered for the fact that he not once, but twice won a race when it was his only option to advance in the NASCAR playoffs.
After problems at both Texas and Talladega, Bell was in a make-or-break scenario at the Charlotte Roval, and he rose to the occasion by using four fresh tires to weave his way through two chaotic restarts to take the lead and the win in overtime to move on. Then, a crash at Las Vegas put Bell in another major points hole entering the Round of 8 finale at Martinsville -- and again, Bell would use fresher tires in the final laps to score a victory that would move him from the brink of elimination to a spot in the Championship 4.
1: The Hail Melon
There are certain moments in racing where any preconceived notions of what a driver can and cannot do with a racecar are completely and permanently defied. And as long as there are cars to be raced and people willing to drive them, no one will ever forget what Ross Chastain did in the final corner at Martinsville.
Running a distant 10th on the final lap, Chastain looked to be all but eliminated from the NASCAR playoffs, as Denny Hamlin was running well ahead of him and was sure to advance to the Championship 4 on points. Out of time and out of options, Chastain had no choice but to shift his car into fifth gear, put his foot to the throttle and see if riding the wall at full speed would work. It did -- Chastain gained five spots in one corner, beating Hamlin to the finish line to come across in fourth and earn the final Championship 4 spot by one point.
-- patented on the Nintendo GameCube -- did more than serve as the top moment in NASCAR for 2022. It also transcended the sport, earning millions upon millions of views on social media, worldwide attention for the humble watermelon farmer from Florida, and a fitting nickname -- The "Hail Melon."
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