From wall rides to slide jobs and last lap passes, professional motorsports in 2022 served up a wealth of late-race drama. As 2023 approaches, we count down the top ten finishes from the action-packed season in the rear-view mirror.
10. Final four battle in Phoenix — NASCAR Truck Series
This year’s season Truck Series finale in Phoenix was likely what NASCAR executives envisioned when they first unveiled the elimination-style playoff format in 2014. Throughout the season, drivers race for points and wins to seed amid a group of championship-eligible contenders. The playoffs begin at a certain point in the second half of the season, and drivers are eliminated from contention in a cutoff after three races. After a few rounds of cutoffs, four drivers remain to vie for the championship in a highest-finisher-take-all finale.
Unlike ball-sport playoffs, the eliminated drivers—along with the rest of the field—still race. Sometimes they can even spoil the party for contenders or influence the outcome in more subtle fashion.
This year in the NASCAR Truck Series, however, there were no little fish to spoil the prevailing currents. The final four championship hopefuls were the top four trucks from the closing laps at Phoenix. Witness the fender-banging, spinning, and victory snatched by the narrowest of margins.
9. Tomac’s beach blast — Supercross
Heading into Daytona, Eli Tomac was tied with Ricky Carmichael for number of wins at the outdoor course, with five. In the closing minutes of the moto, Tomac chose the correct line through a rhythm jump section. A lapped bike slowed first place Cooper Webb, and Tomac snuck around the outside, securing a historic sixth win at the crown jewel race.
8. Third-to-first for Gragson — NASCAR Xfinity Series
Darlington, one of NASCAR’s oldest and most historic tracks, always serves up intense finishes. Maybe it’s the rapid tire degradation over the porous South Carolina pavement, maybe it’s that the preferred racing line is right against the wall, or just maybe it’s the allure of taming the track known as the “Lady in Black.” This summer, all three ingredients combined to create one of the most epic recipes for a NASCAR Xfinity Series finish.
While Kyle Larson and Sheldon Creed swap body blows, Gragson slips past the two frontrunners.
7. Last lap slide job — USAC Midgets
Midget racing is on the rise. Short races, high excitement—it’s motorsport’s version of TikTok.
In midget racing, a “slide job” is a fundamental maneuver. Basically, a driver takes an aggressive low entry into the corner and washes up in front of another car to complete a pass. At Jefferson County Speedway, in Nebraska, a late-race flurry of slide jobs break out and ends with the front two drivers hooking one another, allowing the third place race to scoot to victory.
6. Punt and politic — Supercars Championship
Shane Van Ginsberg held a narrow lead over De Pasquale during the lap of Supercars’ Round 20 at Townsville. As the two approached the final corner, De Pasquale performed a last-ditch dive bomb and spun Van Ginsberg.
The punt wasn’t not even the most dramatic part. De Pasquale, realizing that stewards would likely penalize him for the reckless move, slows to give Van Ginsberg the spot. The wily veteran that he is, Van Ginsberg slows so that his rival can’t give up the position. Since he was unable to surrender the position, officials had to dole out a time penalty to the punter. Still, the duo were so far out in front of the third place driver, that after the five-second penalty, it was still Van Ginsberg and De Pasquale one-two in the running order.
5. Dixon’s dramatic drive — IndyCar
Over a third of the way into the Nashville Grand Prix, veteran Scott Dixon was in dead last in a damaged car. It looked as though the Iceman would have to wait another weekend to tie Mario Andretti in the win career win column with 53 (second all-time).
An ensuing drive for the ages mounted, with Dixon willing his wounded car to the front of the pack. Fifty-one laps later, Dixon was in victory lane, after surviving a late-race restart and subsequent challenge from Scott McLaughlin. “Kudos to the team,” Dixon said in a post-race interview. “We had a big crash there that took half the floor off the car. We had to take four turns of front wing out, so we had no grip. Nashville is so awesome.” And so was win number 53.
4. Rip the top — World of Outlaws Sprint Cars
$100,000 is a lot of money. It’s also the type of purse that can really help the bottom line of a sprint car team trying to string together a World of Outlaws championship as the crew ping-pongs from coast to coast.
Huset’s Speedway in Brandon South Dakota set the dirt racing world on its ear when it announced that its biggest race of the season would pay $100,000 to the winner. Late in the race, second-generation sprint car racer Sheldon Haudenschild went where the rest of the field wasn’t, locating a thin strip of tacky clay near the top of the 3/8-mile dirt oval.
In the final five laps, it looked like Haudenschild had another gear as he surged from fifth to first, passing the final two cars in one corner.
3. Ride the Miata Train — Mazda MX-5 Cup
If you ever attend an IMSA sports car race, make sure you arrive early in the weekend. Often the best—and closest—racing takes place in supports series. Mazda MX-5 Cup, for instance, delivers on drama, weekend after weekend. Since the cars are so similar in this spec series, drivers—often young and still sharpening their race craft—are forced to make bold moves. Oh, and they draft.
Even at a track like Road Atlanta, the effects of the draft are noticeable. (Shake and bake!) Of the intense Miata finishes this season, the season finale at Road Atlanta arguably shines the brightest as the battle for the overall points championship is added into this volatile buzz-bombing cocktail.
2. Duel in the desert — Formula 1
Formula 1’s new car arrived at the beginning of 2022. For the first time since the 1980s, ground effects became a staple of the novel platform’s design. Two large channels running front-to-back under the car sucked the car to the ground. It was the series’ hope that the trailing vehicles would be less upset by turbulent wake behind the front runner, and therefore racing would be tighter.
This ability to run closer to one another was showcased in the season’s second round at the Saudi Arabia GP. Eventual winner Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc swapped the lead multiple times in the closing laps before finishing less than a second apart.
1. Ross Chastain’s wall ride — NASCAR Cup Series
Hands down, the most insane finish of the season was Ross Chastain’s wall ride at Martinsville. Needing two positions on track in order to transfer into the final round of NASCAR’s elimination style playoffs, Chastain exited the second turn of the paper-clip-shaped oval, grabbed fifth gear, and kept his foot to the floorboard. By positioning his car close to the wall on the entry of the third turn, he surfed the retaining wall, executing a move borrowed from racing video games.
When the smoke and debris cleared, Chastain passed five cars, set a new stock car lap record at Martinsville, and set social media into a tizzy. Memes were made and T-shirts were printed.
The move incited debates about whether NASCAR should police against future wall rides, not to mention if it could be successfully conducted at other speedways. The verdict is still out. We do know that this will go down as one of the most remembered passes in NASCAR history, if not the most outright.
How the MotoAmerica Daytona 200 finish didn’t make this list is unadulterated lunacy. Yes…unadulterated. The drag race down the final straight resulting in Paasch stealing the victory from Petersen by .007 was one of the most insane race finishes in any discipline this year. The entire last lap is one the finest examples of “taking it to the limit” racing that only motorcycle racing can offer. Never mind that Cam Petersen had never once raced Daytona and hadn’t raced a 600 for the better part of a decade before taking the pole and subsequently finishing second by the slimmest of margins…
Two-wheel racing is dramatic enough with the unique risks these insane machines deliver. Add that to this story and this finish and you have the clearest #1 most dramatic finish in motorsport for 2022 by quite a bit more than .007 seconds.
Just YouTubed it. Wow, what a finish! Great suggestion, Kurt.