For the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series, Frontstretch writers voted on their top 30 drivers as the 36 charted teams prep for Daytona International Speedway later this month.
Today, we’ve got Nos. 20-11 on tap, with the top 10 hitting the website tomorrow, Feb. 4.
20. Aric Almirola
Aric Almirola publicly stated in January that 2022 will be his final full-time season in the Cup Series. The 37-year-old veteran driver went through a mostly down season in 2021, same as Stewart-Haas Racing in general. But he has enough optimism left in the tank to give it one last hurrah.
Through the first 21 races of 2021, Almirola sat a distant 27th in the standings with five crash-related DNFs and only two top-10 finishes. But with all the lemons he was dealt, he made lemonade by winning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for his third Cup win, vaulting him into the 2021 playoffs. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep up the momentum once the playoffs began and was eliminated in the round of 16. He ended the 2021 season 15th in points with one win, one pole, two top fives and five top 10s.
Although he’d like to savor every moment of his final season, his bigger goal at hand will be putting the pedal down hard and driving his heart out. There’d be no better way for him to close out his career than to have one more shot at a championship. ~ Jesse Johnston
19. Bubba Wallace
Bubba Wallace can now say he’s a Cup winner. But that doesn’t necessarily mean 2022 has an exponentially more positive outlook for the fifth-year Cup driver than 2021 did.
Even if he doesn’t visit victory lane, chances are his overall stats will improve somewhat, though. Not only does 23XI Racing enter its second season, giving both the organization and Wallace himself much-needed familiarity vs. the learning curve that was 2021. He’s also got, for the first time in his Cup career, a bona fide teammate, with Kurt Busch joining the fray.
Busch’s veteran presence should pay dividends for Wallace. Don’t expect anything too flashy, but an improvement on one lone non-superspeedway top five (or top 10, for that matter) is likely. ~ Kevin Rutherford
18. Austin Cindric
Oh so close to repeating as NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, Austin Cindric now climbs into the famed No. 2 Ford after debuting in the Cup Series last year with seven starts.
Yes, Cindric only finished on the lead lap in three of those seven races. But he continued his NASCAR education by finishing five races, running all the laps. Most impressively, Cindric earned his first top 10 with a ninth-place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Cindric will not replicate Brad Keselowski’s success overnight. As a road course ace, though, he can challenge for a win, and he has the knowledge and tenacity necessary to excel as a Team Penske driver. ~ Mark Kristl
17. Chris Buescher
Chris Buescher‘s 2021 season featured his best points finish since his playoff appearance in 2016, outrunning teammate Ryan Newman while scoring eight top-10 finishes and a best finish of third at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. The Prosper, Texas, native’s season highlight came at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March, where he fended off Keselowski and won stage one while leading 57 laps overall.
The No. 17 driver improved on his 2020 debut effort with RFK Racing, bettering his 2020 average finish by nearly two full positions and consistently showing speed. Buescher won a pair of stages overall while almost tripling his career best in laps led, mostly keeping his Ford equipment intact throughout the season. The 2016 Pocono Raceway winner also led as late as the final restart in the summer’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, though Ryan Blaney passed him heading into turn 1 and Buescher was later disqualified from a second-place finish after inspection. ~ Adam Cheek
16. Ross Chastain
In 2021, Ross Chastain finally got his wish. The watermelon farmer from Florida at long last earned a full-time competitive Cup ride with Chip Ganassi Racing after years of racing for low-budget teams and filling in warm seats for lower-tier series’ drivers.
After CGR sold the team’s assets to Trackhouse Racing Team at the end of 2021, Chastain now faces the challenge of getting used to new management. Thankfully, because Trackhouse kept much of Ganassi’s assets, the equipment and faces are the same — kind of.
In addition, Chastain, who racked three top fives in his first full-time Cup year, including nearly race-winning performances at Nashville Superspeedway and Darlington Raceway, will be joining a team that was able to earn a top five and four top 10s in only its first year. That’s a good combination — maybe race-winning good. ~ Dalton Hopkins
15. Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon is a rarity in this era of NASCAR, one of few in the sport’s top division that is actually from the state of North Carolina, a far cry from 25-30 years ago.
Since joining Cup, Dillon’s proven an ability to win some of the sport’s biggest races, as he has delivered Coca-Cola 600 and Daytona 500 wins to the Richard Childress Racing stable.
The bottom line is that Dillon and his team are not shy during big moments, and that should serve them well if they look to do what they did in 2020 and ram their way into the playoffs by way of a win. That would give the No. 3 team lots of breathing room this season to avoid sweating it out down the stretch to see whether or not a playoff spot happens, as has often been the case in recent seasons. ~ Brad Harrison
14. Christopher Bell
In his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Cup Series team, Christopher Bell checked off a few important boxes. He scored his first Cup win very early in the season, effectively locking up a playoff spot. Bell also battled through a tough first round of the playoffs to reach the Round of 12, something that the No. 20 team had not accomplished since 2017. But week to week, it was clear that Bell was still learning the ropes of the Cup Series.
Bell’s biggest challenge in 2022 is to go from occasional contender to a weekly threat for wins. With three veteran teammates, Gibbs’ deep pockets, and a fantastic crew chief in Adam Stevens, Bell will not lack for resources. The No. 20 team should return to the playoffs this season, but will Bell be a serious title contender or another longshot only there to fill out the field? The 2022 season could go a long way toward determining Bell’s future with JGR. ~ Bryan Gable
13. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski’s won at least one race every Cup season since 2011. He hasn’t dipped below double-digit top fives since 2015. At 38 years old by the time the 2022 season starts, there’s good reason to believe he still has more than enough gas left in the tank before the twilight of his career.
Brad Keselowski is also driving for someone that isn’t Team Penske for the first time in his full-time Cup career. And he’s moving to a team he now co-owns, RFK, which under its former Roush Fenway Racing banner has not won a Cup race since 2017 and last emerged victorious on a non-superspeedway in 2014.
So understand that Keselowski’s stock has fallen a bit for 2022 in terms of immediate production vs. his peers. But that’s something of which one of NASCAR’s newest team owners is probably aware, and it’s certainly nothing he can’t overcome. Watch for him to bring RFK back to victory lane at some point in 2022 and perhaps even become a regular top-five contender by season’s end. ~ K.R.
12. Kurt Busch
Busch had a rough start to the 2021 season, as he recorded just two top 10s in the first 15 races. He then followed it up with a consistent summer stretch, capitalized by a dominating win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July after passing his brother Kyle in the closing laps for the victory. The win put Busch into the playoffs, and he ended 2021 with a respectable 11th-place points finish in his third and final season at CGR.
Busch’s 2022 season will bring a lot of questions, as he will slide into the brand-new No. 45 car for 23XI Racing as a teammate to Wallace. While it’s hard to predict how Busch will perform with the Next Gen car, he will help elevate 23XI and guide it to becoming a consistent contender for the future. ~ Stephen Stumpf
11. Tyler Reddick
Tyler Reddick had to get everything last inch of performance out of his car in the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway to best RCR teammate Dillon for the last playoff spot in 2021. Unfortunately for Reddick, he was eliminated following the Round of 16 in his first postseason appearance.
Despite this, his 16 top 10s should raise eyebrows for 2022. With the Next Gen car expected to put more control in the drivers’ hands, Reddick has to be one to watch with his talented driving style. The Corning, Calif., native has broadened his repertoire on all track types, including significant improvement on road courses.
After having performances to compete for wins in 2021, expect Reddick to finally break through for his first career win, if not several. If he climbs that next rung up in 2022, keep an eye on him as a dark-horse title contender. ~ Luken Glover
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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