Looking ahead to 2023 – Inside Circle Track

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

What driver or team is on the upswing and will continue moving up in 2023?

Richard: I am going to pick an entire organization that seems to be on the upswing and I believe that trend will continue next season. That team is Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. As the 2022 season played out, it seemed as if both of their cars were getting stronger and finding themselves in contention more often.

Of course, they did score one victory when Chris Buescher drove to a win at Bristol Motor Speedway. But more than that, both the No. 17 and the No. 6 Ford steered by former Cup series champion Brad Keselowski ran closer to the front and led more laps than they had at the beginning of the year.

Keselowski is the type of person who surrounds himself with good people which he began doing from the very moment he joined RFK. I believe that organization will be more of a force in 2023 than they were throughout the whole of 2022 and will win multiple races between their two cars.

Chris Buescher putting RFK into victory lane at Bristol

Michael: I think Tyler Reddick going to 23XI Racing will be another move upward for the native Californian. Every move he has made in his NASCAR career has been a move upward. When Reddick left JR Motorsports after winning an Xfinity title there, a lot of people thought that was a bad move. It turned out to be a great move. A number of people questioned his move from him to 23XI. I think this move will be another great move for him.

What driver or team will not live up to expectations in 2023?

Richard: If Roush Fenway Keselowski is trending upward, it feels like Joe Gibbs Racing is moving in the other direction. In my opinion, the way Kyle Busch’s tenure with that team ended was somewhat embarrassing and it was a mistake to allow him to get away so easily. Further, and even though he is clearly very talented, I believe Ty Gibbs is being rushed to the NASCAR Cup Series level too quickly in the same way JGR rushed Joey Logano along too quickly.

The tragic and untimely deaths of both of Joe Gibbs’ sons will definitely take a toll on this organization. While Joe Gibbs himself is unquestionably a great leader, he is 82 years old. At some point, someone else will have to visibly take the reins.

Further, it seems like I make this prediction every year and am wrong every year but I believe JGR driver Denny Hamlin is getting very close to the point in which his productive seasons will be behind him. Going into 2022, I said that if he didn’t win a championship then he might very well have to always carry the title of ‘greatest driver to never win a championship’. Well, he didn’t win a championship last year and if my observation that JGR is sliding is correct, there is even less of chance that he will shed that title this year.

Finally, Martin Truex Jr. had his moments last year in which he looked like a potential winner only to have victory slip away. He, like Hamlin, is approaching the time in which there will be fewer of those opportunities.

I see 2023 as a very pivotal season for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Will Denny Hamlin be leading the pack very often in 2023?

Michael: I thought JGR was heading a bit downward even before Coy Gibbs passed away. Not being able, or willing, to retain Kyle Busch was a red flag. Denny Hamlin and his crew were making countless mistakes throughout the season. You documented Truex’s season.

One thing Joe Gibbs will have to do before the season starts is to let it be known who is going to run his organization. If folks don’t know who is going to be in charge for the long term, they start to ask questions, have doubts, finger point, etc…

Pick six drivers who you feel certain will not only make the NASCAR Playoffs advance past the first round.

Richard: As we saw this past season, there are no guarantees in NASCAR with the competitive nature of the Next Gen and due to the fact that injuries could become a factor at any time. Hopefully with the new rear clip being mounted onto the Next Gen car those injuries will become a thing of the past.

That said, I would be shocked if 2020 and 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champions Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are not among those making a deep run into the Playoffs. Add to those drivers 2022 champ Joey Logano.

But when it gets to the final three who I would be willing to say that I am certain will make it past the first Playoff cut, it gets a bit trickier. Even though I am not overly optimistic abut JGR, Christopher Bell did make a believer out of me in 2022 by picking up three wins and making it to the Championship 4. William Byron is getting better every year and drives for Hendrick Motorsports. And lastly, I feel like the always consistent Ryan Blaney will remain as such and make it beyond the initial Playoff cut.

Chase Elliott(9) and Kevin Harvick(4) are likely to be Playoff contenders

Michael: Larson and Elliott will be on most everyone’s list along with Logano. That leaves three to pick. Considering the races that are in the first round of the playoffs, I’d have to go with Blaney, Harvick, and Hamlin. Blaney seems to find a way to get through the first round. Harvick is the crafty veteran who won’t back down from a battle. Hamlin is really good in those first three races in the first round.

Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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