NASCAR’s 50 most memorable moments of 2023

NASCAR had an extremely eventful season from start to finish.

NASCAR: Grant Park 220
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In the whole, the 2023 NASCAR season was a memorable one for a lot of reasons.

There was pretty good competition on the big tracks during the summer months, decent continued relative parity with the second year NextGen and all the juicy headline drama one expects from professional motorsports.

The playoffs had no shortage of drama, important business decisions were made and Silly Season lived up to expectations.

Here are the 50 most memorable moments from NASCAR’s diamond anniversary season.

50. Matt Crafton, Nick Sanchez fight

Resulting from a crash in first overtime where Sanchez drifted into Crafton and triggered a massive melee. Crafton confronted Sanchez after the race, either with his words or his fist first, depending on who you believe and the two needed to be pulled apart. Sanchez threatened to kill Crafton at Homestead. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Rene Sanchez was suspended afterwards.

49. Daytona gives the McDowells their moment

michael mcdowell
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Michael McDowell won the 2021 Daytona 500 but it took place during the COVID infield lockdown at NASCAR events so the family couldn’t celebrate together. Daytona recreated the Victory Lane moment for them prior to the summer race in August.

48. One last race at Fontana

NASCAR: Pala Casino 400
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NASCAR says is still intends to redevelop Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California into a half-mile short track. This will be a trivia question at some point, but John Hunter Nemechek actually won the last race on the two-mile layout in the rain-delayed Xfinity race while Kyle Busch won the final Cup Series race earlier in the day. The track became beloved over its final decade of existence once the surface wore out and created a compelling product.

47. Nashville Fairgrounds is still possible

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Speedway Motorsports continues to work towards obtaining the lease for Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway with the goal of bringing NASCAR back to the legendary downtown short track. A deal was close but a newly elected mayor reset the process in a lot of ways. There continues to be a lot of drama over what to do with the property.

46. Aric Almirola retires … sort of

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Aric Almirola reversed course on his decision to retire during the 2022 season. He came back for 2023 and then finally announced that he would stop driving full-time in the Cup Series. He has since revealed his plans to race part-time in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. Almirola still enjoys racing but is a devout family man who just doesn’t want to spend 10 months on the road anymore.

45. Michael McDowell wins Indy Road Course

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It’s kind of the peak positive outcome of this current generation Cup Series car, that a talented driver like McDowell can win a race with a fringe contender program when their team nails the set-up. That’s no disrespect to McDowell or Front Row but they don’t have championship winning resources and will tell you that. But they can contend for wins now.

44. Truex returns for 2024

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For the second year in a row, Martin Truex Jr. mulled retirement before ultimately deciding to come back. Truex has raced at the highest levels for the entirety of this century and has been a contender practically every step of the way.

43. AJ Allmendinger wins the ROVAL

NASCAR: Bank Of America ROVAL 400
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It felt meaningful for a lot of reasons but mostly because we all knew that Allmendinger wouldn’t be back as a full-time Cup Series driver. It validated that AJ is still a Cup Series contending driver and probably should race at the highest levels full-time. The win also cemented the powerful relationship between The Dinger and Kaulig Racing.

42. GMS Racing to close

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GMS Racing, one of the longest tenured Cup Series teams, was forced to shut down at the end of the year due to its parent company, Legacy Motor Club, inking a deal with Toyota, which had no additional room for trucks among its fleet.

41. Brickyard 400 is coming back

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The past three years featured NASCAR racing on the infield road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2024, for the 30th anniversary of the inaugural running, its back to the super oval and the Brickyard 400 — once considered one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.

40. Here comes Iowa

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Similar to the return of the Brickyard 400, Iowa Speedway finally making it onto the Cup Series schedule in 2024 created a lot of hype. It took a race at Montreal not coming together, but this is something a lot of longtimes fans have clamored for over the past decade.

39. The COTA Cup race was ugly

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The Texas Two Slam at Circuit of the Americas was ugly. Jordan Taylor was getting crashed racing for 30th. Formula 1 legends Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen were left wondering what they signed up for. Even Jimmie Johnson came away from the race wondering what happened to ethics in the two years he was away. Up front, Tyler Reddick and William Byron raced the right way and delivered a masterclass of race craft.

38. Xfinity Series new TV deal

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NASCAR inked a seven-year, $800 million broadcast rights agreement with the CW Network for its Xfinity series. It’s a big deal for a lot of reasons. Every race will be on broadcast TV. It won’t play second fiddle to the Cup Series and it will be a priority to the network. That’s also a lot of money for the Xfinity Series by itself.

37. Atlanta evolving into something else

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It’s not going to be for everyone but Atlanta races are now something of a cross between superspeedways and intermediates and it’s becoming a unique kind of racing as the surface ages. It’s better when the track is warmer, of course, but it’s become a unique wrinkle on the schedules.

36. Atlanta summer drama

To wit, summer track conditions and the threat of rain made the summer race at Atlanta one of the more memorable of the season. There were various strategy calls, bold moves to get track position and big wrecks. William Byron won when a thunderstorm forced NASCAR’s hand. It was palpable drama throughout.

35. Regular season finale drama

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NASCAR has drama in spades by having Daytona serve as the regular season finale. Chris Buescher won the race but there were all kinds of desperate contenders behind him who would have made the playoffs with a win. Chase Elliott. Alex Bowman. Aric Almirola. Any of them winning would have bumped out Bubba Wallace.

34. RCR Xfinity implosion

NASCAR: Xfinity Series Drive for the Cure 250
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First there was the incident at Bristol; Sheldon Hill crashing off contact from Sheldon Creed. Then came both teammates effectively eliminating each other at Martinsville and the intra-team politics that unfolded afterwards. Hill is now the team’s centerpiece and Creed left for Gibbs.

33. NASCAR rescinds Ryan Blaney penalty

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In hindsight, it didn’t matter because he won Martinsville to advance to the Championship Race anyway but the Ryan Blaney shock penalty getting overturned by NASCAR could have been a huge story. Maybe they don’t win Martinsville with the distraction looming over their heads. Either way, NASCAR admitting it made a mistake was a big story even in a vacuum.

32. Xfinity Martinsville finish

It took a messy road to get there, but the final restart of the penultimate Xfinity Series race of the season was the division at its dramatic best. Justin Allgaier won his way in after the Childress teammates imploded.

31. Alex Bowman injured, misses playoffs

NASCAR: NASCAR Cup Series Championship
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Alex Bowman looked every bit a Cup Series championship threat until he suffered a spinal fracture in a High Limit Sprint Car Series crash in April. He missed a month and was never really the same for the remainder of the season. Bowman has sworn off Sprint Car racing until after his NASCAR career ends and feels closer to 100 percent over the winter.

30. Denny Hamlin’s podcast

While not a single moment, Actions Detrimental made headlines all season. From Hamlin getting fined over admitting that he walled Ross Chastain at Phoenix to his mid-summer beef with Kyle Larson, the podcast provided must-listen moments all season.

29. Dale Earnhardt Jr. contends at Bristol

NASCAR: Xfinity Series Food City 300
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It felt like peak NASCAR nostalgia when Dale Jr. took the lead and contended for the win at Bristol. Ultimately, his car and leg caught fire but NASCAR’s most popular driver created one of the most memorable moments of the season and proved he could still hang with the elite. He wants to keep racing too.

28. Brad’s Daytona donuts

There’s something about Brad Keselowski and social media moments at Daytona. With his car catching fire under red flag conditions at Daytona, Keselowski, the leader, made the legally dubious decision to do burnouts on the apron. NASCAR did not penalize him and praised him for his quick-decision thinking skills. His peers had a good laugh over it in real time.

27. Larson’s season

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Also not one specific moment but just a reflection of the whole season “Yung Money” had in 2023. He contended for NASCAR wins and the championship, won a Sprint Car championship and got approved to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024.

26. Truex’s disaster playoffs

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It ultimately didn’t matter too much because his regular season success, and championship kept resetting him near the top of the standings round-after-round but Martin Truex Jr. had the worst Cup Series playoffs imaginable. It shows in his 11th place finish. But he was also a caution at Martinsville away from possible still making it into the Final Four.

25. Byron breaks out

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Long considered something akin to a prodigy, William Byron finally broke out in a big way this season with a six-win, championship race appearance campaign that arguably showed that his No. 24 team was the best from start to finish. He now has 10 career wins at the highest level and is still just 25 years old.

24. Chastain, Gragson fight at Kansas

Ross Chastain finished fifth at Kansas in May but at the expense of Noah Gragson, who got fenced in the exchanged. Gragson door Chastain in retaliation and finished five laps down. Gragson went to confront Chastain after the race and it resulted in fisticuffs.  

23. How Brad lost the 500

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Brad Keselowski led six times for a race high 42 laps in the Daytona 500. It is the only remaining omission from his NASCAR Cup resume. He dominated the race and got passed late by Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon. Then a caution came out and he was involved in the subsequent caution.

22. How Rowdy lost the 500

Like Keselowski, the Daytona 500 has evaded Kyle Busch too. With five laps to go, the longtime NASCAR villain got a push from RCR teammate Austin Dillon to surge past Keselowski and the fans came to their feet. They cheered the moment. They wanted it. Then Busch was denied his biggest win in the series of crashes that followed.

21. Noah Gragson suspended

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Gragson was already having a miserable rookie season at Legacy Motor Club. He clearly didn’t fit in and he wasn’t performing. Then it was discovered that he liked a meme with racist underdones on Instagram. He was suspended and effectively fired. He has since landed with Stewart-Haas Racing and expressed broad remorse for his behavior over the years.

20. Short tracks are still bad

NASCAR: Xfinity 500
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The NextGen cars still make too much grip, create too much dirty air, stop too well and don’t have enough horsepower, and NASCAR is committed to working on it but Goodyear has made strides near the end of the season and early this offseason. NASCAR still wants their up/down splitter to be part of the solution and drivers still want more horsepower.

19. Legacy, Jones penalized

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Erik Jones was already in the midst of a definition struggle bus season when his Legacy Motor Club N0. 43 was penalized for a greenhouse violation after the race at Gateway. His team was docked 60 points and five playoff points and never factored into the championship as a result.

18. Kurt Busch retires

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The 2004 champion had such a topsy-turvy career. From young Roush hot shot and champion, to the driver fired by Roger Penske. The reclamation trail and The Outlaw. Then he mellowed out and became a veteran sage and a true asset at 23XI Racing, who’s career was cut short due to a concussion halfway through last season. It’s been a wild ride and his next step is the NASCAR Hall of Fame after 34 career wins and a 16.1 average finish at the highest level over 23 years.   

17. Briscoe, SHR hit with biggest penalty ever

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Chase Briscoe and the Stewart Haas Racing No. 14 team were hit with the single day, single team largest penalty in NASCAR history after the Coca-Cola 600 — 120 driver/owner points, 25 playoff points, a $250,000 fine and a six-race suspension for crew chief John Klausmeier. It was deemed that the team manufacturered their own engine panel NACA duct when those components are supposed to be purchased from a single source supplier. The team was already struggling to 17th in the standings and never won and never recovered.

16. Hendrick’s massive penalty

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Hendrick Motorsports was hit with the largest single day penalty in NASCAR history after the March race at Richmond. The $400,000 fine surpassed the $300,000 fine handed out to Michael Waltrip Racing for race manipulation in 2013. Hendrick was deemed to have modified its hood louvers, a spec part that must be run as purchased. Each driver was docked 100 driver points as well. William Byron recovered by winning six times and went on to race for a championship.

15. Josh Williams parks it

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Josh Williams was forced to watch nearly a whole race from inside the NASCAR Xfinity hauler and then was suspended a race for intentionally parking his car at the start-finish line in protest to what he felt was an unfair decision from race control. He was involved in a previous caution and then told to park his car when bear bond came off it under green.

14. Kyle Busch Motorsports sold

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Kyle Busch ended a 13-year tenure as a NASCAR team owner when he sold the assets and shop associated with his Truck Series team. The team has the Truck Series record for all-time wins at 100 and most wins in a single season (14 in 2014) and launched the national touring careers of many eventual superstars. It also previously competed in Xfinity and ARCA. Busch sold to Spire as part of its acquisition binge but also because it no longer had the manufacturer support at Chevrolet like it did with Toyota.

13. Spire’s acquisition binge

Spire Motorsports is becoming a major NASCAR player. It purchased the assets of Kyle Busch Motorsports for a reported $25 million. It then purchased the Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 charter for a reported $40 million. It has hired major executives with championship pedigree. Spire will soon be a championship threat and it started in earnest in 2023.

12. Xfinity Series finale

Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, John Hunter Nemechek and Sam Mayer showed that a championship can be won and lost with hard-nosed racing that doesn’t devolve into nonsense.

11. Truck Series finale

NASCAR: Truck Series Championship
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The Truck Series championship was a complete farcical experience that left no one but champion Ben Rhodes feeling particularly proud and happy. There was bad race craft, intentional crashes, a lot of other crashing and just things that made the series look awful.

10. New Cup TV deal

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When including the Xfinity Series deal with the CW Network, NASCAR got a total of $7.7 billion for its complete next generation broadcast package. Emphasis on next generation as 10 summer races will be on Amazon Prime and Turner Sports alongside returning partners FOX Sports and NBC Sports from 2025-31. It’s a modest rights increase when factoring in inflation. It now allows the sanctioning body and the race teams to come together and negotiate a new charter agreement.

9. Elliott suspended for Hamlin retaliation

Chase Elliott was already in a fight for his playoff life after missing six races due to a snowboarding incident in Colorado. It didn’t help his odds when he was suspended one race by NASCAR for intentionally crashing Denny Hamlin with a right rear hook on the tri-oval during the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

8. Blaney wins Cup title

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Ryan Blaney winning the Cup Series championship was significant in a lot of ways. For one, he never had Cup Series money growing up, despite his heritage, and made it to the highest level on merit. He finished the job his grassroots racing father started at the Cup level. He also persevered from a slow start, and with a resilient manufacturer, to win the championship in a way befitting his gritty background and personality.

7. Hamlin vs. Larson

Denny Hamlin sent his lonfgtime friend Kyle Larson into the wall racing for the win at Pocono. Larson felt used up but Hamlin felt it was all fair when racing for the win. The two traded barbs back-and-forth on their podcasts. Larson made it clear that it was going to take some time to get over, despite Hamlin’s efforts.

6. Kevin Harvick retires

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It was the end of a lot of eras. Kevin Harvick replaced Dale Earnhardt after he died in the 2001 Daytona 500. He and Kurt Busch were the last active Winston Cup era drivers. With 60 wins and the 2014 championship, Harvick is also one of the all-time greats and often transcended the sport over two decades of competition.

5. Elliott injured, misses six weeks

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More than the suspension for intentionally crashing Denny Hamlin, it was the six races Chase Elliott missed while recovering from a snowboarding incident that ultimately derailed his season. But the missed time also showed just how reliant the sport is on needing Elliott, the sport’s most popular driver, active and in the hunt each week.

4. Ryan Preece’s Daytona crash

Ryan Preece rolled over a dozen times in this ugly crash in the summer race at Daytona. Remarkably, he walked away and didn’t miss a single race. His only injury was bruised eyes from the spinning — something he carried with him for the remainder of the season.

3. Chicago Xfinity race

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The much-ballyhooed NASCAR debut event on the streets of Chicago could not have gotten off to a worse start. A deluge rolled in on Saturday at the start of the Xfinity Series race. Fans were cleared out of the stands and were not even permitted to stay for a Chainsmokers concert. Cole Custer was declared the winner well short of halfway — a conflict with NASCAR’s own rules. It updated the rules a few weeks later to give itself better discretion. It looked like the whole weekend would be a wash …

2. Wilkesboro returns

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It took 27 years but NASCAR finally returned to Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway for the All Star Race. NASCAR’s oldest track had been left for dead. Weeds had grown up. Nature started to take the facility back. Dale Earnhardt Jr. spearheaded a clean-up effort in December 2019 just so the track could be preserved on iRacing. A grassroots event took place in 2022 and NASCAR returned after a modernization project. It was a widely successful weeklong event, even if the Cup Series race was negatively affected by the current short track package’s shortcomings.

1. SVG saved Chicago

Through no fault of its own, NASCAR’s hyped weekend in Downtown Chicago was sabotaged by weather. The Xfinity Series race was washed out well short of halfway. The concerts were canceled. It even looked like the Cup Series main event would need to be pushed back to Monday. NASCAR never gave up on the event and got the race started in wet conditions. The race was genuinely a thrill ride won by international racing superstar Shane van Gisbergen making his Cup Series debut. The event made Grant Park look like a million bucks, and NASCAR has a lot of reasons to be excited for its return trip to the Windy City in 2024 due to what happened on Sunday … hopefully with much better weather this time.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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