Grading our NASCAR preseason questions: See who won the 2022 edition

In January, a subscriber to The Athletic named Al M. dropped his predictions into the comments section of our annual NASCAR preseason questions post.

Even then, before we’d seen a car on the racetrack, Al seemed to sense this year was going to be a tough one for prognosticating.

“Always appreciate being able to state my thoughts and then have them shoved down my throat at the end of the year when I find out how much I really didn’t know. LMAO!!!” he wrote.

Well, Al, we’ve got some bad news: That comment was your only correct prediction for 2022.

Al, like 23 percent of our 272 participants this year, completely whiffed on getting any of the answers correct to our five questions.

Hey, there’s no shame in that. Not when we’re talking about the 2022 NASCAR season, anyway. A whopping 69 percent of all players had one or less correct answer — including me, who was somehow the defending champion from 2021.

Yes, the outcome of this NASCAR season really was that hard to anticipate for most of us. But one person still managed to get 3.5 points out of a possible five: Craig S., who eked out a win over Aaron F. (3.25 points) to become the new Preseason NASCAR Questions Champion.

How did Craig do it? We’ll recap the questions below, laugh at our pain and reveal the new champ’s path to glory.

Question 1: How many races will Kyle Larson win?

This one was immediately a dud for most participants. Larson was coming off a 10-win season and had one of those most dominant championship runs to date in 2021. Surely, most figured, the new Next Gen car wouldn’t affect Larson that badly… right?

Welp. Larson won only three races this season, which was fewer than 94 percent of players figured he’d have. To be fair, stats were down all across the board in the Cup Series during a parity-filled year.

Only 14 of the 272 participants got Larson’s win total exactly right — a feat even Craig S. cannot claim (he guessed six).

The average of all answers was 5.6 victories for Larson. My prediction was five.

Question 2: What will Brad Keselowski’s average finish be?

While 78 percent of players predicted Keselowski’s average finish in his first season as a driver/owner at RFK Racing would decline over his final year at Team Penske (13.0) — including a commenter who claimed to be Keselowski himself and guessed 14.0 — few expected such a steep dropoff.

The 38-year-old ended up with a 19.2 average finish, the worst since his first full season in 2010 (22.4). That caught most of us by surprise (my guess was 14.5); only three of the 272 entries had Keselowski with a lower average finish in their predictions.

That made it tricky to score this answer, so I gave credit for anyone who was within two positions of Keselowski’s actual average (which was only 9 percent of participants).

Craig S., by the way, got one point for this answer with a guess of 17.5.

Question 3: Who will be the winningest organization and how many victories will that team have?

The first half of this question was pretty straightforward and the vast majority of players picked either Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing. As it turned out, the winner was Hendrick; the 54 percent of guesses who had Hendrick received a half-point for that.

As a bonus, another half point was available for anyone who also guessed the correct number of wins. It turned out 22 people actually nailed the Hendrick/11 wins combo. Nice work!

My guess was JGR with 12, so I got no points. JGR was a distant second with six, just ahead of Team Penske’s five.

A quick note about our winner: Craig S. had Hendrick with 13 wins, so he got a half-point. But the aforementioned Aaron F., who lost to Craig by .25 points, predicted a Hendrick/JGR tie for the top spot. Since that was only half correct, he earned .25 points instead of 0.5 and cost himself a co-championship. Oof!

Question 4: Where will the Clash be held in 2023?

This seems incredibly obvious now that we have the hindsight of a successful stadium event at the LA Coliseum. But when this question was asked in January, it was difficult to anticipate whether it would work at all or if the experiment would be repeated.

While one-third of participants correctly picked a return to the Coliseum (including Craig S., who picked up another point here), there were all sorts of wild guesses. Personally, I went with Tiger Stadium on the campus of LSU; others picked stadiums like the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Wembley Stadium in London and Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

A large number of others thought the stadium concept would flop entirely, so 17 percent guessed on a return to Daytona (some oval, some road course) and others guessed on a variety of street courses (several picked Phoenix, thinking NASCAR might try to follow the Super Bowl host city as it did in 2022).

And then there were seven people who guessed the Clash would be held at North Wilkesboro. Impressive, since it later turned out the All-Star Race will be held there in May. But unfortunately, no credit was given for their foresight.

Question 5: Name a driver who is a lock for the Championship 4

You wouldn’t think this one would have been so difficult: Pick one driver who will make the final four. That’s it!

And yet this is how challenging of a question it turned out to be: Only 18 percent of players got their “lock” correct, and that was spread across two drivers (Chase Elliott, who was chosen by 38 people, and eventual champion Joey Logano , who was chosen by 12).

I actually picked Logano for my only correct answer on this year’s list and got my only point here. But this is where Craig S. clinched the title by going with Elliott.

If you can believe it, Logano was only the eighth-most-selected driver. Larson led the way with 87 votes, another 39 people picked Kyle Busch and 31 chose Denny Hamlin. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney also got double-digit vote totals.

Of course, none of those drivers made the final four. And two of those who did — Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell — received zero votes (which isn’t surprising considering the preseason expectations).

Anyway, this year’s lack of successful picks was certainly reflective of a fascinating season. Let’s meet back here in January, when I’ll have five new questions for you about the 2023 season.

NASCAR Preseason Questions Champions

2020: Aly Osman

2021: Jeff Gluck

2022: Craig S. (Note: I’m not sure which Craig S. this is, so feel free to ping me on Twitter if you can prove it’s you and want your last name included here.)

(Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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