With only four races to go in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, there are a few big names who haven’t won a race yet.
The names include perennial winners, champions, drivers with close calls this season and drivers who encapsulate all three.
RFK Racing has made leaps and bounds in their performance in 2023. Keselowski and Chris Buescher are each finishing better and leading laps more often than last season.
Keselowski is even on pace for his best average finish, most laps led and most top-10 finishes since 2021 – his last season with Team Penske.
What Keselowski doesn’t have is a win. That doesn’t tell the whole tale, however.
The owner-driver has led laps and been a contender at an array of tracks, including Richmond, Kansas and Michigan. That, combined with Buescher’s three wins at three different tracks, has elevated RFK Racing’s stock quickly.
Keselowski has a lot to celebrate two seasons into being an owner-driver. With his driver still in the thick of the title hunt, there could be more too.
A NASCAR Cup Series win would be the cherry on top.
|Stat||RFK Racing 2022||RFK Racing 2023|
|Top-5s||Brad Keselowski – 1|
Chris Buescher – 3
|Brad Keselowski – 6|
Chris Buescher – 8
|Top-10s||Brad Keselowski – 6|
Chris Buescher – 10
|Brad Keselowski – 15 |
Chris Buescher – 15
|Average finish||Brad Keselowski – 19.2|
Chris Buescher – 17.9
|Brad Keselowski – 13.8|
Chris Buescher – 12.3
|Laps led||Brad Keselowski – 224 (6 races)|
Chris Buescher – 194 (6 races)
|Brad Keselowski – 287 (16)|
Chris Buescher – 237 (11)
Elliott may be out of the driver playoff battle but his numbers clearly show he is all-in on the owner playoff battle.
In the six playoff races so far, Elliott has earned the second-most points of any driver(226). In fact, the No. 9 team is in the owner playoffs’ Round of 12 while Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 19 team is out.
When you consider how the owner points determine a team’s season-end prize money, and how good Truex has been this season, that is big.
In the six playoff races, Elliott has also led more laps (71) than in his previous 19 races (41). That includes displays of winning speed at Kansas (47 laps led) and the Charlotte Roval (15 laps led).
Still, Elliott has an average finish of 12th and just four finishes worse than 13th. After 25 races last season, he had six.
Elliott is back in winning form and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he upset the playoffs in one of these final four races.
Alex Bowman has had a tale of two seasons between the first 10 races of success and the last 19 races of trying to get the full feel of his car again – literally.
Bowman had three top-5 finishes and six top-10s in the first 10, while he has had one top-5 and four top-10s in the last 19.
Crucially, in between then, a vertebrae injury took Bowman out for three races plus the NASCAR All-Star Race.
In many ways, Bowman’s season mirrors Denny Hamlin in 2013.
Before a wreck on the final lap left him with a vertebrae injury, Hamlin was battling for the win at Auto Club Speedway. He also led the most laps at Bristol, led 33 laps at Daytona and finished third at Phoenix.
After missing four races and most of a fifth, he earned three top-10 finishes in the next four races – but had to wait another 17 races for his next top-10.
In his return, Bowman earned his first top-10 in his 11th race. It came at the Indianapolis road course and, in the subsequent episode of “Actions Detrimental with Denny Hamlin,” Hamlin drew comparisons between him and Bowman.
“When you have a chronic back issue, and I did all throughout 2013 after I had the vertebrae problem. Alex had the same issue. I’m wondering if he’s recovering from that. You have to feel the edge of the car from your underside. If you have back problems and you’re continuously locked down and tense, it prohibits your ability to feel the edge of the car. This guy is coming off an injury. That is significant, and significant to what we do,” Hamlin said.
Going back to Hamlin, the season ended positively. He had three top-10 finishes in the final four races, including a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
For Bowman, he has won at two of the final four tracks – Las Vegas and Martinsville – and almost won at Phoenix.
While history favors championship-eligible drivers in the final four races, Bowman proved at Martinsville in fall 2021 that someone can take the fight to them, as he did to – who else but – Denny Hamlin.
If there is anyone to whom a win would mean the most, it is arguably Kevin Harvick.
Harvick is still winless with four races left in his swansong season but not without some close calls.
A caution with 10 laps to go in the mostly caution-free Phoenix race in March erased his substantial lead and shuffled him back to fifth after leading 36 laps.
In the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington, Harvick was about to make a perfectly timed pit stop to take the lead.
Then, again, a caution fell and prevented Harvick from getting to pit road in time by a margin so tight crew chief Rodney Childers didn’t even know if Harvick made it or not.
Every moment, every close call like at Daytona in August or Talladega recently (before the DQ) feels like sand in the hourglass for a champion whose time in the sun is setting.
Stewart-Haas Racing is running out of time too as, for the first time in organization history, dating back to 2009, they still haven’t won a race this season.
While nine finale winners in a row have also been the champion, the finale is at Phoenix. Harvick could grab No. 10 of his own as he sits at nine wins at Phoenix.
Like Harvick, we have seen Wallace come so close to victory multiple times this season, including almost getting into the Round of 8 at Texas and at Talladega in the spring.
Wallace has put together a more consistent season in 2023 but hasn’t won, like he did the last two years. Still, his average finish is 1.7 positions better, has led 126 more laps and is on track to outpace his top-5 and top-10 marks from last year.
Looking ahead, Wallace won stage one at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before his infamous wreck with Kyle Larson last year. At Homestead-Miami Speedway, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wallace in the top-5 and in contention for the win.
Wallace doesn’t have the same overall statistics as some of the other drivers. However, as a driver with a lot of attention on him from outside of NASCAR, his rise in performance is an interesting storyline to follow.
“I’m pumped for our season. It’s not over yet,” Wallace said after his elimination at the Charlotte Roval. “I’m really excited for next week [at Vegas] and Homestead and Martinsville. Phoenix, eh, I might just go on vacation (laughter). But we’ve still got four races to go out and do it. I’m proud of the team so I appreciate them.”