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NASCAR’s new championship favorite for the 2022 season

NASCAR has a new championship favorite after the last three races. Let's dive into Christopher Bell's case and the change of guard at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Austin Konenski
NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR has seen a very unpredictable season due to the debut of the NextGen car and this was on full display when non-playoff drivers swept the entire Round of 16, which has never been done in this current format.

However, a new championship favorite has emerged after the first three races of the NASCAR playoffs.

Christopher Bell takes the title as NASCAR’s championship favorite

NASCAR: Bass Pro Shops Night Race - Practice and Qualifying
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Christopher Bell may not have been the name people were expecting when opening this article but it is hands down the correct driver. While Bell may only have one victory this season, there are more compelling reasons.

Over the first three races of the playoffs, Bell has been the best driver with three top-5 finishes, the most laps led by a playoff driver, the best average finish, and the most points by a decent-sized margin.

The 27-year-old driver has a 25-point gap on William Byron as the top points-earning driver in the playoffs. If this was the previous format with the 10-race Chase that Jimmie Johnson demolished, Bell would still be the leader in points after Bristol Motor Speedway.

This should not be too big of a surprise if people have been paying attention to the 2022 season overall. It was a rocky start to the season for the No. 20 team which makes this turnaround even more impressive.

Bell is tied for the third-most top-5 finishes and has the second-most top-10 finishes. Plus, he currently holds the second-best average finishing position behind Chase Elliott, who has been struggling to find speed.

If Elliott can’t find the speed he found during the summer, it makes Bell the clear-cut championship favorite. Due to the playoffs, the driver of the No. 9 car will get numerous opportunities to prove himself again with his playoff points.

It seems like both drivers could be in a good position to enter Phoenix Raceway with a shot at the championship. Bell’s win coming at New Hampshire Motor Speedway shows he will have plenty of speed to compete if he makes it.

Related: NASCAR – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity program cleared out for 2023

Joe Gibbs Racing is seeing a shift among its top NASCAR drivers

NASCAR: Bass Pro Shops Night Race
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Gibbs Racing has seen a massive shift in its top drivers over the last few seasons. However, the 2022 NASCAR season is the first time that it has become very clear what is happening.

Martin Truex Jr. did not make the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season but it wasn’t fully due to the number of winners. Truex only boasts four top-5 finishes on the season, which is not normal for him.

Kyle Busch’s championship hopes are already over after his surprising exit in the Round of 16. Granted, these were due to engine failures that had nothing to do with Busch’s ability to drive a car.

However, Busch is on pace for his worst season since 2014, which is the exact same as Truex. Both drivers haven’t seen as much success due to multiple reasons, such as Busch’s contract negotiations.

The 37-year-old driver will move to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 8 car after the 2022 NASCAR season as his tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing will come to an abrupt end.

It is expected that Ty Gibbs will replace Busch in the No. 18 car next season. But, Gibbs has struggled outside of the race at Michigan International Speedway, which should be expected for someone in his shoes.

The 19-year-old driver would have the sixth-worst average finishing position of full-time drivers behind Ty Dillon in much better equipment. Gibbs will end up winning races at NASCAR’s top level someday, but it will take time.

Denny Hamlin is the other driver with Joe Gibbs Racing and his season has been up and down too. Hamlin only has 10 top-10 finishes and is on pace for his worst average finishing position during a season since 2013.

The 41-year-old driver has seen some struggles but he has been turning it around as of late with three straight top-10 finishes, including two finishes in the top-2 positions.

It all leads us back to Bell who is on pace for the best average finishing position in the No. 20 car since the 2014 season with Matt Kenseth. There is a clear change at the guard for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Bell represents the future of the organization and will end up being its No. 1 driver for years to come. He might be flying under the radar, but Toyota Racing finally developed and stuck with a driver capable of winning championships.