NASCAR superlatives: Chastain, Suárez, Cindric earn first-half awards

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Eighteen points races complete. And 18 to go.

It’s time for some midseason awards for the NASCAR Cup Series. These aren’t predictions for the end of the year. These awards are about the here and now and what has occurred through the first half of the season.

I’ve picked 18 categories to go with this moment 18 races into the season. 

Let’s get to it.

Driver of the year

None. Sorry, I can’t pick one. No one has dominated. There have been great performances, but no driver has been dominant enough to get my pick. Just 35 points separate the top three drivers in the standings, and 80 points separate the top seven.

Surprise driver of the year

Ross Chastain. No one saw Chastain winning two races and vying for the regular-season title.

Is Ross Chastain a legitimate championship contender?

Is Ross Chastain a legitimate championship contender?

Bob Pockrass says Ross Chastain’s second Cup win is a sign of growth for Trackhouse, but it’s still too early to talk about a championship.

Comeback driver of the year

Daniel Suárez. A driver who two years ago looked like he might never get close to winning now has a Cup win.

Disappointing driver of the year

Brad Keselowski. There weren’t high expectations for Keselowski this year, as he joined Roush Fenway Racing as a driver and co-owner. But even with the changes at RFK Racing, you’d think he would have more than two top-10s.

Hard-luck driver of the year

Denny Hamlin. The guy has led laps in 10 events and has threatened in more but has managed only two victories.

Denny Hamlin wins the 2022 Coca-Cola 600

Denny Hamlin wins the 2022 Coca-Cola 600

Denny Hamlin wins the longest race in NASCAR history with a wild overtime finish at Charlotte.

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Frustrated driver of the year

Bubba Wallace. Whether it’s a pit-crew issue, a mechanical failure or driver error, he has had a season in which he has shown more speed but has nothing to show for it.

Happy driver of the year

William Byron. Except for one postrace comment (we’ll get to that later), he always seems to be a driver with a positive attitude.

Enigmatic driver of the year

Kyle Busch. He’s solid in the standings, and he has a win, yet it seems like he could have four or five wins this year, but he just isn’t having a great season.

Move of the year

Austin Cindric to win the Daytona 500. Ryan Blaney wouldn’t agree, but you do what you have to do to win the Daytona 500. And what a way to open a rookie season.

Rookie Austin Cindric ecstatic after winning Daytona 500

Rookie Austin Cindric ecstatic after winning Daytona 500

Rookie Austin Cindric spoke to Jamie Little after winning the Daytona 500, thanking his team and the fans for cheering him on the entire way.

Not-so-much move of the year

Chase Briscoe. Sorry, Chase, but that move at the end of Bristol dirt just wasn’t good.

Best timing of the year

Kurt Busch winning with the Jordan brand logo on his car and his uniform at Kansas. If he’s going to win a race, that would be the one.

Stage winner of the year

This is a tie between Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., who each have five stage wins this year but so far are winless (Blaney won the all-star race).

Best race of the year

Coke 600. Who knew that a race that was so long could be so good?

Best non-racing move of the year

The Clash at the Coliseum. Constructing a track in the L.A. Coliseum wasn’t an easy thing to do. And it was even more difficult to do right. NASCAR did both.

Bob Pockrass on the Clash at the Coliseum

Bob Pockrass on the Clash at the Coliseum

Bob Pockrass shares some quick thoughts on why the Clash at the Coliseum exceeded expectations, earning smiles from both NASCAR executives and the person who unexpectedly joined this video.

Quote of the year

“He’s just a moron” — Byron on Joey Logano. I’m not passing judgment on the move, but it’s rare to see such emotion out of Byron.

Paint scheme of the year

The Chastain throwback to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Coke car (Japan exhibition race) during Darlington weekend.

Organization of the year

Team Trackhouse. No doubt on this one. Hendrick Motorsports has more victories, but for both Trackhouse drivers to have already won in a year when they weren’t expected to contend on a weekly basis is a great story.

Mystery of the year

Wheels. When you need two hands to count the number of wheels that fall off during a season — let alone the first half of a season — it’s an issue. And it’s a problem that doesn’t have a simple solution, but something needs to be done.

Thinking out loud 

Well, I would say this entire column has been thinking out loud. Everyone have a great Fourth of July!

Social spotlight

Stat of the day

The past five truck races have been won by drivers who are not in the series full-time: Ryan Preece, Todd Gilliland, Kyle Busch, Corey Heim and Ross Chastain. 

They said it

“Our cars are so much better in traffic, and you can race so much harder than you could even last year. The difference is that Kyle Busch isn’t a second [per] lap faster. He’s only a tenth faster, and when you’re only a tenth faster, it is really hard to pass somebody.” Michael McDowell

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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