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2023 Rookie Roundup: Here’s How NASCAR’s Young Guns Performed This Year

With the 2023 season complete, it’s time to review the rookies’ seasons from the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Craftsman Truck series.

While the Cup Series had two rookies that competed in the first half of the season, Xfinity and Trucks had four and six drivers, respectively, contending for Rookie of the Year.

A few of them even broke into victory lane, while others comparatively struggled in their freshmen years in their respective series.

Here’s a look at each driver’s performance, as well as a quick glance at what’s to come for them in 2024.

Read all of Frontstretch‘s content looking back on 2023 here

Cup Series

Ty Gibbs (ROTY)

It really wasn’t a contest for Rookie of the Year in Cup, even before Noah Gragson’s suspension. Ty Gibbs had earned six top 10s in the first 22 races, including four straight from Atlanta Motor Speedway in the spring through the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race.

He grabbed his first top five of the season at Pocono Raceway and went on to earn three more by the end of the year. Gibbs also improved his average finish from last year; in 15 races, he finished about 23rd on average. This season, he ended about 18th, earning 10 top 10s to claim ROTY.

As he matures in his driving, Gibbs could continue to grow and learn from his Joe Gibbs Racing cohorts and potentially contend for a win. All three teammates won multiple races in 2023, and there’s no reason why Gibbs, who earned 12 wins in the Xfinity Series, shouldn’t find victory lane next year. 

Noah Gragson

Gragson’s season was over right after the July Richmond Raceway event, and it wasn’t looking much better before then.

His best finish in 21 events was 12th at Atlanta — one of two top 20s. 

But his team, Legacy Motor Club, had just gone through some changes from the 2022 season. Not only did it change names (previously Petty GMS Motorsports), it also had a new co-owner in Jimmie Johnson

And teammate Erik Jones also had a down year compared to 2022; he earned just one top five and seven top 10s in 2023, whereas ‘22 saw him win and earn three top fives and 13 top 10s.

If he had any gas left in the tank after Richmond, we’ll never know, as he was granted his release from the car and did not return to NASCAR competition in 2023.

It is not yet known what Gragson will be doing next season, though it’s rumored that he will join Stewart-Haas Racing. After what’s been a less-than-ideal rookie year, Gragson hopes to turn his NASCAR career around and be competitive on the track.

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Xfinity Series

Sammy Smith (ROTY)

Sammy Smith took home his first Xfinity win early in the season at Phoenix Raceway and tallied six top fives and 15 top 10s. The win came somewhat out of nowhere, as he had finished in the teens in the first three races, as well as the following race at Atlanta.

Though he saw some success throughout the first half of the year, he struggled in the latter half, finishing outside the top 10 in seven straight events from Road America through Kansas Speedway. However, Smith turned things around for much of the remaining seven races, snagging five top 10s, including a pair of thirds at Texas Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.

Smith also earned three poles, ending the year with two consecutive first-place starting positions.

But in 2024, Smith is shifting gears, as he goes to JR Motorsports in the No. 8 car. It’s not completely a bad transition, with JRM taking up two spots in the Championship 4 at Phoenix. Though Josh Berry, who’s driving the No. 4 for SHR in Cup next year, didn’t win, he earned 11 top fives and 18 top 10s in the No. 8 in 2023.

Smith will have some veteran drivers to seek advice from in his sophomore season in Xfinity in new teammates Justin Allgaier and Brandon Jones, as well as the slightly more experienced Sam Mayer.

Chandler Smith

Chandler Smith had two more top fives and two less top 10s than Sammy Smith did in 2023. They both also finished about the same on average, in 15th place. 

And like Sammy, Chandler grabbed his first victory within the first several events, leading 83 laps en route to the win at Richmond in April.

The two Smiths nearly mirrored each other’s results, as Chandler, too, struggled for much of the summer months, earning a top 10 here and there. In his final seven races, he took home three top fives and four top 10s, capping the season off with an eighth.

He’s one of the favorites to join JGR in 2024 and rejoin the Toyota camp, which, if it happens, looks promising. JGR’s drivers earned 11 total wins in 2023, with John Hunter Nemechek grabbing seven victories. But with both Nemechek and Sammy Smith joining different teams next year, the transition may not be as smooth for Chandler at first. He’ll look to better his ninth-place finish in the standings.

Parker Retzlaff

What a year it was for Jordan Anderson Racing, with Jeb Burton earning a win at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring. Parker Retzlaff, meanwhile, had one top five and seven top 10s in 2023, finishing about 18th on average. 

Retzlaff’s lone top five came in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He then claimed top 10s at Talladega, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Michigan International Speedway, the summer Daytona race and Martinsville.

There were only three events where Retzlaff crashed out, as well as one in which he had a mechanical issue.

He ended 16th in the standings and will return to JAR in 2024 alongside Burton.

Blaine Perkins 

Blaine Perkins ran all but three races in 2023 — the first five with SS-Green Light Racing and most of the rest with Our Motorsports. 

His season did not go as well as he hoped, as he only earned four top-20 results. His best finish was a 13th at Martinsville. He finished 29th in the standings.

Most notably, Perkins had a scary crash at the spring Talladega race in which his car barrel-rolled several times. He was hospitalized and kept overnight, and he missed the following race at Dover Motor Speedway for concussion-like symptoms. He returned to racing at Darlington Raceway, sporting a Kevin Harvick throwback.

It is not yet known where Perkins will be driving in 2024. Our has also not announced its plans.

Truck Series

Nick Sanchez (ROTY)

Nick Sanchez placed sixth in points in 2023, earning the ROTY title. The driver of the No. 2 for Rev Racing grabbed two top fives and 12 top 10s in 23 races.

Sanchez’s best result was runner-up at Atlanta. He had a good summer, with four straight top 10s from Charlotte through Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Sanchez also closed out the season strong, snagging four top 10s in the final five races and taking his fifth pole of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Sanchez was also known for getting in a fight with Matt Crafton after the race at ‘Dega (filmed by Frontstretch). Sanchez was fined $5,000 and Crafton $25,000.

He’ll be back again with Rev in 2024, albeit with a slight change; while Kyle Busch Motorsports assisted the team in 2023, this time it’ll be Spire Motorsports, which bought KBM, for the partnership.

Jake Garcia

Jake Garcia placed 13th in the standings despite not running the season opener. Driving for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, the 18-year-old earned three top fives and nine top 10s this year.

Garcia first brought home a top five at Texas; at Richmond in July, he was fourth, and in the season finale at Phoenix he survived the chaos and finished second behind teammate Christian Eckes. He finished 14th on average.

Garcia’s joining ThorSport Racing, a team that somewhat underperformed in 2023. Ben Rhodes won the championship, but he also earned just one of the team’s two wins among its drivers.

Could Garcia contend for wins next year? If he keeps running the way he did this year, I don’t see why not.

Taylor Gray 

Taylor Gray mimicked his brother Tanner Gray, even though he ran three less races than Tanner. Taylor earned three top-five results and six top 10s, finishing on average about 15th (which is also where he finished in the standings).

The No. 17 driver for TRICON Garage came ever so close to a win at Kansas, finishing just behind winner Eckes. He also earned a third at Pocono and a fifth at Bristol, his last top 10 of the season.

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All four drivers — the Gray brothers, Dean Thompson and Corey Heim — are returning to TRICON and look to improve on their performance this season. Heim especially was a contender all year, earning three wins, 12 top fives and 19 top 10s.

It’s yet to be seen whether Taylor Gray will have the same kind of runs that Heim has, but with his ride staying the same, at least he’ll be used to the team when the 2024 season kicks off in February.

Rajah Caruth

Rajah Caruth, who was 16th in points, had a rough start to his rookie campaign. Driving for GMS Racing, he had just one top 10 in the first 16 races, a sixth at Darlington. 

However, he took home a seventh at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park and earned two more top 10s at Bristol and Homestead.

Caruth also ventured into Xfinity for several events this year, mostly for Alpha Prime Racing. His best result there was a 12th at Martinsville; he followed that up with a 14th at Phoenix for Hendrick Motorsports.

With GMS closing up shop, it’s unknown where Caruth and Grant Enfinger will land.

Daniel Dye

Caruth’s GMS teammate Daniel Dye finished 18th in points in 2023, earning just one top 10 on the year. He drove from 29th to sixth at Talladega. 

Dye did earn a few top 15s in his first full Truck season — four, to be exact. One of his best results was 11th at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

Like Caruth, Dye drove a couple of races in Xfinity, too, both for Alpha Prime. He was scheduled to run the season finale as well, but wasn’t medically cleared to compete after a crash in the Truck race the night before.

Next season will be important in his young Truck career, as he’s joining MHR — the same team with which Eckes won four events. After Dye finished second in points in the ARCA Menards Series, expectations are high for him to perform well in his sophomore year.

Bret Holmes

Bret Holmes ran 21 races, skipping the last two dates of the season, and finished 23rd on average. He closed out the year 23rd in points driving for his own team.

Holmes’ best finish was a 13th at Atlanta, one of four top 15s. The Alabama native also earned eight top 20s.

It was a bit disappointing for the 26-year-old, who earned a top five and two top 10s in eight events in ‘22.

Holmes is slated to run the full year in 2024.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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sdelfin

On the Cup side of things, both of them are talented drivers as we saw from the 2022 Xfinity Series season. Both have maturity issues to work through. Gibbs ended up in a better situation overall being the grandson of a top team owner and getting Kyle Busch’s old seat. Gragson’s deal with Legacy was always going to be tougher, and I always questioned if it was a good fit, as it was a weaker team that was building for the future which takes time. I didn’t think Gragson had the mentality yet to go out there shooting for top-20 finishes. I think that showed because, even before the suspension, Gragson looked and sounded absolutely defeated and completely used up.

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