The Xfinity Series championship race at Phoenix delivered the best finish of the 2023 NASCAR season.
There were several memorable finishes this season across the top-two national series and at a variety of track layouts. Underdog drivers broke through and won races. One driver delivered an early win to his new team. A newcomer stunned the Cup field. The season was full of memorable moments.
Here is a look at the 10 best finishes across Xfinity and Cup in 2023.
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1. Championship race (Xfinity) — The Xfinity season finale at Phoenix was a masterclass in respectful racing with the biggest prize on the line, one that came down to an overtime finish. Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek were on the front row for with Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer behind them. All four drivers were eligible for the championship.
The championship contenders fanned out after taking the green flag, going four-wide at one point while avoiding race-ending mistakes. Nemechek and Allgaier each led during the first lap of overtime but it was Custer who took the lead for good as the white flag waved. He went on to win the first title of his career after two previous runner-up finishes.
2. Chicago street race (Cup) — A caution for Martin Truex Jr. hitting the tire barrier set up a restart with five laps to go in the inaugural Chicago street race. Justin Haley was in the lead. Shane van Gisbergen and Chase Elliott were behind him. What followed was a standout display of racing.
Van Gisbergen passed Haley in Turn 2. Haley passed him back in Turn 3. Van Gisbergen used a crossover to take the lead back entering Turn 4. Van Gisbergen had the lead before a caution for Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent the race to overtime. Once the green flag flew, van Gisbergen led the way to the finish line and became the first driver in 60 years to win his NASCAR Cup debut.
Van Gisbergen wins in Chicago in first Cup start
New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen wins on the Chicago Street Course to become the first first driver since Johnny Rutherford in 1963 at Daytona to win his first NASCAR Cup Series start.
3. Darlington spring race (Xfinity) — Nemechek had a lead of .025 seconds over Kyle Larson with one lap remaining at Darlington. Neither driver had a previous win at The Lady in Black. What followed showed how much ending this winless streak meant to both.
Larson used air to get Nemechek loose entering Turn 2. They were side by side entering Turn 3, banging doors and making contact with the wall. Larson slid up in front of Nemechek in Turn 4 but hit the wall after contact with the front of Nemechek’s car. Larson slammed into the outside wall again on the frontstretch and rebounded into Nemechek. Larson won while Nemechek crashed and finished fifth after sliding across the finish line. Both drivers told NBC Sports it was just “good, hard racing.”
4. Sonoma (Xfinity) — The Xfinity field was full of accomplished road course races. Larson, AJ Allmendinger, Ty Gibbs, Parker Kligerman, Custer and Allgaier were only some of the examples. It was Aric Almirola who delivered a race-winning performance in his first Xfinity start since 2018.
Larson and Almirola lined up on the second row for the final restart behind Daniel Suarez and Alex Labbe, who gambled by staying out. Almirola passed them both on the restart and took the lead. Larson was in a spot to pass Almirola with eight laps to go but he clipped a tire bundle in Turn 11 in a stunning turn of events. Larson damaged the car and finished third. Almirola won the first Xfinity race at Sonoma while Allmendinger finished second.
5. Talladega playoff race (Cup) — The playoff race at Talladega delivered constant action during the final stage, especially as Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney led the two main lanes. Blaney had the lead when the white flag flew but lost it after almost turning when Riley Herbst pushed him. Blaney recovered and used another push from Herbst to dive to Harvick’s inside.
The two Ford drivers were side-by-side through the tri-oval but it was Blaney who won by .012 seconds. NASCAR later disqualified Harvick’s car for an issue with windshield fasteners but there was no denying that the race finish delivered from a fan perspective.
6. Daytona summer race (Xfinity) — The summer race at Daytona was superspeedway racing at its finest. Allgaier was in the lead on the final lap, trying to block both Parker Kligerman and Sheldon Creed as he moved from lane to lane.
A push from Daniel Hemric sent Creed to Allgaier’s outside and led to one final drag race. Allgaier won at the line by a margin of .005 seconds. This was the fourth-closest margin of victory in Xfinity Series history.
7. Las Vegas playoff race (Cup) — The race started with Christopher Bell and Larson at the front of the pack. It ended with a drag race between the two championship contenders as they each tried to lock up a spot in the Championship 4.
A pit stop was the difference. Bell had the best pit stall but Larson’s crew had the best stop. Larson took the lead off pit road and led the final 45 laps. Bell was able to chase Larson down and get to his inside coming out of Turn 4. He just didn’t have enough time to make the race-winning pass.
8. Championship race (Cup) — The field restarted with 31 laps to go. Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones were out front. Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and William Byron were just behind them. There was a three-wide race for the lead with Hamlin, Larson and Chastain. Blaney and Byron jockeyed for position just behind them.
Chastain ultimately cleared for the lead, while Blaney tried to chase down Larson for the championship. There were multiple close calls for Blaney and Larson as they both got loose and nearly wrecked with 20 laps to go in the race after making contact. Blaney was able to pull away from Larson and win the first title of his career while Chastain won his second race of the season.
Highlights: NASCAR Cup Phoenix Championship Race
Watch highlights from the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway.
9. Indianapolis Road Course (Cup) — A race between road course aces stole the show during an afternoon featuring only one caution in the opening stage. Michael McDowell was in the lead with 30 laps to go. Behind him was Chase Elliott, the active leader in Cup road course wins. Both drivers were winless and in a position to reach the playoffs.
McDowell had to deliver a perfect performance to hold off the 2020 Cup champion and make the playoffs. He did just that at the Indianapolis road course. McDowell hit all of his marks on the final laps while Elliott pushed his car trying to catch him. McDowell avoided mistakes and won his first race since the 2021 Daytona 500.
10. Fontana race (Cup) — A speeding penalty on Lap 43 didn’t prevent Busch from scoring his first win with Richard Childress Racing. He passed Ross Chastain, who swept the first two stages, with 34 laps to go in the race and then made his final pit stop. Busch cycled back to the lead by passing McDowell with 21 laps to go and went on to win for the 61st time in Cup after holding off Elliott.
The race was historic for multiple reasons. It moved Busch to ninth on the all-time Cup wins list and it set the NASCAR record for most consecutive seasons with a win (20). Busch broke his tie with seven-time champion Richard Petty while closing out the old configuration of Fontana.