Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: The Top Debuts Among Active Drivers in NASCAR’s National Series

At Talladega Superspeedway a few weeks ago, Justin Haley was racing like he belonged in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

And that’s not to say he doesn’t; one look at the 20-year-old’s statistics in the NASCAR world, particularly the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and, more recently, the Xfinity Series, show a driver with a resume formidable enough that a move onto the Cup stage was probably imminent.

But at that moment, Haley was racing in his first Cup event, driving the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports. And boy, was he wheeling it, jostling around in the lead pack until the inevitability of superspeedway racing bit him, a crash relegating him to 32nd just eight laps from the finish.

All told, Haley’s had an interesting string of debuts thus far. His first Truck Series race saw him finish a commendable 14th at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2015 with Braun Racing, then back in the sport for the first time in five years. Then came last year’s Xfinity premiere, when he concluded the event at Iowa Speedway 12th while driving for GMS Racing. At his second Xfinity race, Daytona International Speedway, he nearly won the race, pushed to 18th after it was decided by NASCAR officials that he had passed for the lead — and the checkered flag — under the yellow line.

In the record books, however, Haley’s final result won’t necessarily reflect that; instead, he’s got the number 32 to show for it.

But that doesn’t necessarily put him in bad company.

As you’ll see below, some of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history — at least, those who are still driving — have had their share of misfortunes in their first starts. Sure, occasionally someone will rise to the top from the onset, such as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s 11th-place run at Charlotte in 2011. But then there’s Kyle Busch, who finished 41st in his debut in 2004 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Bust? Hardly.

Here’s a rundown of each of the active drivers in NASCAR’s top three series (see: those who have either made a start in 2019 or have announced one) and their finishing spots in each series.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (11th, Charlotte, 2011)
Greg Biffle (13th, Auto Club, 2002)
Kevin Harvick (14th, Rockingham, 2001)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (16th, Charlotte, 1999)
Kurt Busch (18th, Dover, 2000)
Matt Crafton (18th, Daytona, 2015)
Parker Kligerman (18th, Texas, 2013)
Brendan Gaughan (19th, Daytona, 2004)
Brad Keselowski (19th, Texas, 2008)
Morgan Shepherd (19th, Hickory, 1970)
Chris Buescher (20th, Auto Club, 2015)
Ross Chastain (20th, Dover, 2017)
Travis Kvapil (21st, Martinsville, 2004)
Clint Bowyer (22nd, ISM, 2005)
Brett Moffitt (22nd, Dover, 2014)
Alex Bowman (23rd, Daytona, 2014)
William Byron (23rd, Daytona, 2018)
Timothy Peters (23rd, Talladega, 2018)
Cole Custer (25th, Las Vegas, 2018)
Ty Dillon (25th, Atlanta, 2014)
Austin Dillon (26th, Kansas, 2011)
Michael McDowell (26th, Martinsville, 2008)
Jamie McMurray (26th, Talladega, 2002)
Ryan Reed (26th, Talladega, 2016)
Ryan Sieg (26th, Dover, 2017)
Bubba Wallace (26th, Pocono, 2017)
Justin Allgaier (27th, Chicagoland, 2013)
Ryan Blaney (27th, Kansas, 2014)
Casey Mears (27th, Daytona, 2003)
Tyler Reddick (27th, Daytona, 2019)
Paul Menard (29th, Watkins Glen, 2003)
Daniel Suarez (29th, Daytona, 2017)
Stanton Barrett (30th, Las Vegas, 1999)
Norm Benning (30th, Dover, 1989)
Quin Houff (30th, ISM, 2019)
Tanner Berryhill (31st, ISM, 2018)
Bayley Currey (31st, ISM, 2019)
David Gilliland (32nd, Sonoma, 2006)
Denny Hamlin (32nd, Kansas, 2005)
Daniel Hemric (32nd, Richmond, 2018)
Joey Logano (32nd, New Hampshire, 2008)
Ryan Preece (32nd, New Hampshire, 2015)
Chad Finchum (33rd, Bristol, 2018)
Stephen Leicht (33rd, Pocono, 2006)
BJ McLeod (34th, New Hampshire, 2015)
Jeb Burton (35th, Atlanta, 2015)
Matt DiBenedetto (35th, ISM, 2015)
DJ Kennington (35th, ISM, 2016)
Jesse Little (35th, Kentucky, 2018)
Johnny Sauter (35th, Chicagoland, 2003)
Kyle Weatherman (35th, Martinsville, 2017)
Josh Bilicki (36th, Sonoma, 2017)
Jeff Green (36th, Richmond, 1994)
Joe Nemechek (36th, New Hampshire, 1993)
Matt Tifft (36th, Daytona, 2019)
Michael Annett (37th, Daytona, 2014)
Joey Gase (37th, Chicagoland, 2014)
Kyle Larson (37th, Charlotte, 2013)
Martin Truex Jr. (37th, Atlanta, 2004)
Landon Cassill (38th, Michigan, 2010)
Chase Elliott (38th, Martinsville, 2015)
Bobby Gerhart (38th, Pocono, 1983)
David Starr (38th, Texas, 2011)
Gray Gaulding (39th, Martinsville, 2016)
Jimmie Johnson (39th, Charlotte, 2001)
Garrett Smithley (39th, Michigan, 2018)
Cody Ware (39th, Atlanta, 2017)
AJ Allmendinger (40th, Bristol, 2007)
Ray Black Jr. (40th, Chicagoland, 2017)
Jeffrey Earnhardt (40th, Richmond, 2015)
Ryan Ellis (40th, ISM, 2015)
Erik Jones (40th, Kansas, 2015)
Aric Almirola (41st, Las Vegas, 2007)
Kyle Busch (41st, Las Vegas, 2004)
Corey LaJoie (41st, New Hampshire, 2014)
Ryan Newman (41st, ISM, 2000)
Reed Sorenson (41st, Atlanta, 2005)
Timmy Hill (42nd, Las Vegas, 2012)
David Ragan (42nd, Dover, 2006)
Elliott Sadler (42nd, Charlotte, 1998)
Ryan Truex (42nd, Bristol, 2013)

Kurt Busch (first, Texas, 2006)
Kyle Busch (second, Charlotte, 2003)
Noah Gragson (second, Richmond, 2018)
Matt Crafton (third, Kentucky, 2013)
Christopher Bell (fourth, Charlotte, 2017)
Kaz Grala (fourth, Daytona, 2018)
John Hunter Nemechek (fourth, Atlanta, 2018)
Johnny Sauter (fifth, Richmond, 2001)
Cole Custer (sixth, Richmond, 2016)
Riley Herbst (sixth, Iowa, 2018)
Joey Logano (sixth, Dover, 2008)
Ryan Blaney (seventh, Richmond, 2012)
Erik Jones (seventh, Chicagoland, 2014)
Ben Rhodes (seventh, Iowa, 2015)
Jeb Burton (eighth, Kentucky, 2013)
Ty Dillon (eighth, Dover, 2012)
Denny Hamlin (eighth, Darlington, 2004)
Brandon Jones (eighth, Iowa, 2015)
Elliott Sadler (eighth, South Boston, 1995)
William Byron (ninth, Daytona, 2017)
Brett Moffitt (ninth, Iowa, 2012)
Ryan Newman (ninth, Rockingham, 2001)
Brennan Poole (ninth, Las Vegas, 2015)
Bubba Wallace (ninth, Iowa, 2012)
Harrison Burton (10th, Bristol, 2019)
Matt Tifft (10th, Kentucky, 2015)
Paul Menard (12th, Nashville, 2003)
Gray Gaulding (13th, Bristol, 2016)
Kyle Larson (13th, Daytona, 2013)
Stephen Leicht (13th, Memphis, 2005)
Timothy Peters (13th, Memphis, 2006)
Reed Sorenson (13th, Lucas Oil, 2004)
Matt DiBenedetto (14th, Memphis, 2009)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (14th, Myrtle Beach, 1996)
Dillon Bassett (15th, Richmond, 2019)
Chase Briscoe (15th, Atlanta, 2018)
Chase Elliott (15th, Daytona, 2014)
Quin Houff (15th, Bristol, 2017)
Austin Theriault (15th, Iowa, 2014)
Cody Ware (15th, Mid-Ohio, 2014)
Austin Cindric (16th, Road America, 2017)
Parker Kligerman (16th, Kansas, 2009)
Ryan Reed (16th, Richmond, 2013)
Morgan Shepherd (16th, Hickory, 1982)
Alex Bowman (17th, Chicagoland, 2012)
Ross Chastain (18th, Charlotte, 2014)
Mason Diaz (19th, Richmond, 2018)
Daniel Suarez (19th, Richmond, 2014)
Jairo Avila Jr. (20th, Bristol, 2018)
Joey Gase (20th, Iowa, 2011)
Michael McDowell (20th, Texas, 2007)
Tyler Reddick (20th, Daytona, 2017)
Chris Buescher (21st, Richmond, 2011)
Ryan Sieg (21st, ISM, 2013)
Bayley Currey (22nd, Texas, 2018)
Jeff Green (22nd, Richmond, 1990)
Greg Biffle (23rd, Rockingham, 1996)
Alex Labbe (23rd, ISM, 2016)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (23rd, Nashville, 2009)
Jeffrey Earnhardt (24th, Watkins Glen, 2009)
Tyler Matthews (24th, Richmond, 2019)
Tony Mrakovich (24th, Richmond, 2018)
Ryan Preece (24th, New Hampshire, 2013)
Zane Smith (24th, Las Vegas, 2019)
Jimmie Johnson (25th, Lucas Oil, 1998)
Stanton Barrett (26th, Bristol, 1992)
Austin Dillon (26th, Richmond, 2008)
Colin Garrett (26th, Richmond, 2019)
Ray Black Jr. (27th, Texas, 2015)
DJ Kennington (27th, Memphis, 2006)
Travis Kvapil (28th, Kentucky, 2001)
Casey Mears (28th, Homestead, 2001)
Angela Ruch (28th, Iowa, 2011)
Garrett Smithley (28th, Homestead, 2015)
Ryan Truex (28th, Gateway, 2010
Kyle Weatherman (28th, Bristol, 2019)
Tanner Berryhill (29th, Richmond, 2012)
Spencer Boyd (29th, Iowa, 2016)
Brandon Brown (29th, Richmond, 2016)
Timmy Hill (29th, ISM, 2011)
Vinnie Miller (29th, Chicagoland, 2017)
Caesar Bacarella (30th, ISM, 2017)
Matt Mills (30th, ISM, 2017)
Josh Reaume (30th, Richmond, 2014)
Max Tullman (30th, Iowa, 2018)
Jeremy Clements (31st, Pikes Peak, 2003)
Korbin Forrister (31st, Kansas, 2015)
Mike Harmon (31st, South Boston, 1996)
Daniel Hemric (31st, Daytona, 2017)
Tyler Hill (31st, ISM, 2018)
David Ragan (31st, 2004)
Aric Almirola (32nd, Richmond, 2006)
Ronnie Bassett Jr. (32nd, ISM, 2019)
Landon Cassill (32nd, Gateway, 2007)
Justin Haley (32nd, Talladega, 2019)
Stan Mullis (32nd, Iowa, 2017)
Joe Nemechek (33rd, Rockingham, 1989)
Donald Theetge (33rd, New Hampshire, 2018)
Justin Allgaier (34th, Charlotte, 2008)
Sheldon Creed (34th, Mid-Ohio, 2017)
Chad Finchum (34th, Dover, 2017)
Corey LaJoie (34th, Homestead, 2013)
Chris Cockrum (35th, Charlotte, 2014)
Clay Greenfield (35th, Atlanta, 2011)
Tommy Joe Martins (35th, ISM, 2014)
AJ Allmendinger (36th, Auto Club, 2007)
Jordan Anderson (36th, Bristol, 2015)
Michael Annett (36th, Homestead, 2008)
Clint Bowyer (36th, Texas, 2004)
BJ McLeod (36th, Iowa, 2015)
Jamie McMurray (36th, Memphis, 2000)
Brad Keselowski (37th, Auto Club, 2006)
Josh Bilicki (38th, Road America, 2016)
Martin Truex Jr. (38th, Dover, 2001)
Josh Williams (38th, Michigan, 2016)
Ryan Ellis (39th, Road America, 2012)
Norm Benning (40th, Nazareth, 2003)
Bobby Gerhart (40th, Texas, 2001)
John Jackson (40th, Darlington, 2011)
Scott Lagasse Jr. (40th, ISM, 2005)
Brendan Gaughan (41st, Auto Club, 2001)
Kevin Harvick (42nd, Rockingham, 1999)
David Starr (42nd, Talladega, 2000)
Jennifer Jo Cobb (43rd, Homestead, 2004)
David Gilliland (43rd, ISM, 2005)

Ryan Newman (first, Atlanta, 2008)
Kurt Busch (second, Daytona, 2000)
Joe Nemechek (second, Watkins Glen, 1996)
Chase Briscoe (third, Daytona, 2017)
Austin Theriault (fourth, Daytona, 2015)
Christopher Bell (fifth, Iowa, 2015)
Greg Biffle (fifth, Walt Disney World, 1998)
Zane Smith (fifth, Gateway, 2018)
Michael Annett (sixth, Milwaukee, 2008)
Ryan Blaney (sixth, Bristol, 2012)
Chase Elliott (sixth, Martinsville, 2013)
Timmy Hill (sixth, Talladega, 2013)
Clint Bowyer (seventh, Martinsville, 2006)
Spencer Davis (seventh, Daytona, 2018)
Vinnie Miller (seventh, Talladega, 2017)
Christian Eckes (eighth, Iowa, 2018)
Riley Herbst (eighth, Gateway, 2018)
Derek Kraus (eighth, ISM, 2018)
Ben Rhodes (eighth, Martinsville, 2014)
Matt Tifft (eighth, Martinsville, 2014)
Kyle Busch (ninth, Lucas Oil, 2001)
Matt Crafton (ninth, Auto Club, 2000)
Erik Jones (ninth, Martinsville, 2013)
Parker Kligerman (ninth, Texas, 2010)
Ross Chastain (10th, Lucas Oil, 2011)
Denny Hamlin (10th, Lucas Oil, 2004)
Kyle Larson (10th, Kentucky, 2012)
Alex Bowman (11th, Michigan, 2015)
Paul Menard (11th, Milwaukee, 2003)
Brennan Poole (11th, Las Vegas, 2015)
Cole Custer (12th, Martinsville, 2014)
Austin Dillon (12th, Iowa, 2009)
Justin Haley (12th, Iowa, 2018)
Robby Lyons (12th, ISM, 2017)
Bubba Wallace (12th, Daytona, 2013)
AJ Allmendinger (13th, New Hampshire, 2006)
Jeb Burton (13th, Martinsville, 2012)
Landon Cassill (13th, Kansas, 2008)
Tyler Dippel (13th, Eldora, 2018)
Cory Roper (13th, Martinsville, 2018)
Justin Haley (14th, Bristol, 2015)
Raphael Lessard (14th, Martinsville, 2019)
Brett Moffitt (14th, Kentucky, 2013)
Gus Dean (15th, Daytona, 2019)
Daniel Suarez (15th, Talladega, 2014)
Sheldon Creed (16th, Eldora, 2016)
Noah Gragson (16th, ISM, 2016)
John Hunter Nemechek (16th, Martinsville, 2013)
Codie Rohrbaugh (16th, Bristol, 2018)
Reid Wilson (16th, Martinsville, 2018)
Anthony Alfredo (17th, Atlanta, 2019)
Dawson Cram (17th, Martinsville, 2018)
Chris Fontaine (17th, Mansfield, 2005)
DJ Kennington (17th, Martinsville, 2010)
Corey LaJoie (17th, Kentucky, 2014)
BJ McLeod (17th, Martinsville, 2010)
Stefan Parsons (17th, Bristol, 2018)
Ryan Reed (17th, Las Vegas, 2012)
Myatt Snider (17th, ISM, 2016)
Tyler Ankrum (18th, Martinsville, 2018)
Ty Dillon (18th, Kentucky, 2011)
Ryan Ellis (18th, Daytona, 2014)
Timothy Peters (18th, Martinsville, 2005)
Garrett Smithley (18th, Atlanta, 2015)
Reed Sorenson (18th, Pocono, 2016)
Gray Gaulding (19th, Martinsville, 2014)
Austin Wayne Self (19th, Daytona, 2016)
Martin Truex Jr. (19th, Milwaukee, 2015)
Todd Gilliland (20th, Dover, 2017)
Tyler Hill (20th, Dover, 2019)
David Ragan (20th, Texas, 2004)
Chad Finley (21st, Michigan, 2015)
Clay Greenfield (21st, Martinsville, 2010)
Tyler Matthews (21st, Martinsville, 2018)
Harrison Burton (22nd, Martinsville, 2016)
Ray Ciccarelli (22nd, Eldora, 2017)
Grant Enfinger (22nd, Talladega, 2010)
David Gilliland (22nd, Las Vegas, 2005)
Mason Diaz (23rd, Martinsville, 2017)
Scott Stenzel (23rd, Kansas, 2012)
Max Tullman (23rd, Chicagoland, 2018)
Kyle Weatherman (23rd, Homestead, 2015)
Jason White (23rd, Canadian Tire, 2018)
Jordan Anderson (24th, ISM, 2014)
Ray Black Jr. (24th, Martinsville, 2014)
Chris Cockrum (24th, Atlanta, 2011)
Brendan Gaughan (24th, Las Vegas, 1997)
Jamie McMurray (24th, I-70, 1999)
Brandon Brown (25th, Iowa, 2014)
Austin Cindric (25th, Martinsville, 2015)
Bayley Currey (25th, Martinsville, 2017)
Jesse Iwuji (25th, Canadian Tire, 2019)
Travis Kvapil (25th, Daytona, 2001)
Josh Reaume (25th, Iowa, 2013)
Johnny Sauter (25th, Bristol, 2003)
David Starr (25th, ISM, 1998)
Justin Allgaier (26th, Milwaukee, 2005)
Korbin Forrister (26th, Martinsville, 2014)
Bobby Gerhart (26th, Flemington, 1996)
Austin Hill (26th, Martinsville, 2014)
Joey Logano (26th, Talladega, 2008)
Brandon Jones (27th, Bristol, 2013)
Kevin Harvick (27th, Mesa Marin, 1995)
Matt Mills (27th, Bristol, 2016)
Cody Ware (27th, Talladega, 2014)
Spencer Boyd (28th, Martinsville, 2016)
Stewart Friesen (28th, Eldora, 2016)
Morgan Shepherd (28th, Nazareth, 1997)
Stanton Barret (29th, Talladega, 2015)
Elliott Sadler (29th, Richmond, 2000)
Mike Affarano (30th, Eldora, 2014)
Aric Almirola (30th, Memphis, 2005)
Jeffrey Earnhardt (30th, Gateway, 2010)
Scott Lagasse Jr. (30th, Auto Club, 2006)
Stephen Leicht (30th, Michigan, 2012)
Jesse Little (30th, Dover, 2015)
Michael McDowell (30th, Martinsville, 2007)
Tyler Reddick (30th, Rockingham, 2013)
Angela Ruch (30th, Martinsville, 2010)
Daniel Sasnett (30th, Martinsville, 2019)
William Byron (31st, ISM, 2015
Joey Gase (31st, Atlanta, 2018)
Kaz Grala (31st, Martinsville, 2016)
Norm Benning (32nd, Nashville, 2002)
Natalie Decker (32nd, Daytona, 2019)
Daniel Hemric (32nd, Martinsville, 2013)
Ryan Truex (32nd, Martinsville, 2012)
Jennifer Jo Cobb (33rd, Kansas, 2008)
Jeff Green (33rd, Richmond, 1997)
Brad Keselowski (33rd, Martinsville, 2004)
John Jackson (34th, Charlotte, 2009)
Jimmie Johnson (34th, Bristol, 2008)
Ryan Sieg (34th, Martinsville, 2009)
Josh Williams (34th, Martinsville, 2014)
Mike Harmon (35th, Dover, 2001)
Bryan Dauzat (36th, Bristol, 2014)


About the author


Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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