Race Weekend Central

2024 Preseason Power Rankings: Nos. 30-21

It’s the end of January, which means that the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season is almost upon us. Cars will take to the track this weekend for the Busch Clash at L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 4, and the 66th running of the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway is less than three weeks away.

With a wide array of driver and team changes from the offseason alongside more minor personnel tweaks — or even a few lineups that stayed exactly the same — there’s a lot to discuss as the Cup Series moves into the third season of the Next Gen era.

For 2024, the Frontstretch staff each voted on a top-30 ranking, taking into account each driver’s 2023 season as well as their outlook for 2024.

Below is where we landed. Check back tomorrow (Jan. 31) for position Nos. 20-11, followed by the top 10 on Feb. 1.

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30. Noah Gragson

After eight wins in his 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series campaign, 2023 was a year to forget for Noah Gragson. His rookie campaign with Legacy Motor Club was disastrous, as the Las Vegas native had just two top-20 finishes against 10 finishes of 30th or worse in 21 starts. He was on the sidelines at Sonoma Raceway after showing concussion-like symptoms from a crash a week prior, and his season was cut short after his suspension — and ultimate release — from Legacy in August.

After questions persisted about whether Gragson would be back in the Cup Series after his Legacy, he signed a contract in December to drive Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 car for the upcoming season.

But after several years of success, SHR appears to be an organization in decline. The team went winless in the Cup Series for the first time ever last year, and SHR looked like the fourth-best Ford team behind Team Penske, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports for much of the season. Only Kevin Harvick made it into the playoffs, while its three other cars finished outside the top 20 in points. The season was a far cry from 2018, when SHR won 12 races and put all four of its cars in the playoffs.

With limited sponsorship (only Rush Truck Centers has been announced as a sponsor for the No. 10 car so far), 2024 could be a make-or-break year for Gragson’s Cup career. Matching Aric Almirola’s 2023 performance — five top 10s and 20 top 20s — would be a success. But most importantly, Gragson needs to perform well enough to show that his poor 2023 season was simply an aberration. – Steve Leffew

29. Todd Gilliland

Against the odds, Todd Gilliland is back with Front Row Motorsports in 2024. Following a strange 2023 season in which he lost his ride to Zane Smith for a few select races, Gilliland signed a full-time deal with the team late last season. So too, did his teammate and race winner Michael McDowell, who was expected to be a hot commodity on the free agent market this offseason. Front Row committed to McDowell as the leader and finally rewarded Gilliland’s perseverance by committing to him as the future. 

I certainly believe FRM is building something special if McDowell wants to stay, so I believe that will directly benefit his teammate. Gilliland quietly put together a pretty magical season, considering he spent some time in Rick Ware Racing equipment. He improved on his average finish, pulling it up to 22.0 from 23.6 in 2022, and he had two more top ten finishes than he did in that same year as well. Gilliland has proven himself a pretty adept road racer in his first two seasons in the Cup Series, so he could be a dark horse candidate for a playoff run, much like McDowell was last season. 

I believe that Gilliland could very well find himself in the Top 25 in these very rankings for 2025. He certainly has the talent and the team behind him to pull off a special 2024. -Garrett Cook

28. Carson Hocevar

Carson Hocevar is the poster child of a boom-or-bust NASCAR prospect. He has the highest ceiling of the Spire Motorsports trio, but also the lowest floor. Maturity Is a big question for Hocevar; he had been involved in numerous questionable incidents in the lower NASCAR divisions and a couple from the Cup Series in 2023 as well. On the other hand, he impressed with his strong run in the Bristol Night Race in Legacy’s No. 42 car. He had multiple Top 20 runs on speed, outpacing Gragson in the same equipment. 

Similar to what Ty Gibbs did in 2023, Hocevar’s goal for 2024 is to not make any enemies and run as many laps as possible. His incident with Corey Heim in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series finale has not been forgotten, nor have his prior run-ins with Colby Howard and Gibbs. We have seen what Hocevar is capable of when he keeps the truck clean, and he typically outperforms his equipment. However, respect Is earned in the Cup Series, not given, and a clean season will help him more than trying to get more out of the No. 77 than what it is capable of each week. -Kevin Nix

27. Ryan Preece

Stewart-Haas Racing had another difficult year in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023, and Ryan Preece was the weakest of the team’s four drivers statistically. After putting up a few lackluster seasons for JTG-Daugherty Racing and driving part-time across all three series in 2022, Preece was given a second chance with SHR.

He only scored two top-10 finishes, but it was only his first full-time Cup Series season in the Next-Gen car. And with SHR’s performance woes, it is quite hard to truly gauge his potential in Cup.

That said, Preece showed flashes of brilliance on a few occasions. He showed winning speed and a ton of talent at short tracks in particular, leading laps at Martinsville Speedway and the Busch Clash at the Coliseum. He grabbed his lone top five on the year at Richmond Raceway, took the pole at Martinsville in April and was consistently fast on superspeedways. There is talent radiating out of Preece; he can clearly drive a race car and do it well. It’s a longshot, but if SHR can capitalize on that and win just one race, Preece could be a surprise threat for a deep playoff run just like his teammate Chase Briscoe in 2022. -Taylor Kornhoff

26. John Hunter Nemechek

John Hunter Nemechek’s three-year-long odyssey back to the Cup Series is finally complete. After a rough 2020 rookie season in the Front Row Motorsports’ No. 38 Ford, Nemechek bet on himself and took a demotion to the Truck Series in 2021, driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Seven Trucks Series wins, eight Xfinity Series wins, and two Championship 4 appearances later, Nemechek — now 26 — has earned his way back into the upper echelon of NASCAR.

Nemechek joins a Legacy Motor Club No. 42 team that is in flux after a 2023 campaign with no top-10 finishes and six different drivers behind the wheel. Nemechek was one of those drivers, putting up a respectable performance at Homestead-Miami Speedway before getting caught up in a late wreck and finishing 32nd.

With the backing of Toyota and his Xfinity Series crew chief Ben Beshore, Nemechek hopes to make the most of his Cup Series second chance, but it will take time for him to adjust to the Next Gen Car and for Legacy to dig out of the hole they dug for themselves in 2023. -Andrew Stoddard

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25. Austin Dillon

The driver of the modern-day version of the No. 3 car for Richard Childress Racing is looking to rebound after missing the postseason in 2023. As much as there is to say about how Kyle Busch elevated the fortunes of RCR last year with his three wins, that did not trickle over to Dillon; he recorded a career-low average finish of 21.8, and he finished a miserable 29th in points, his first full-time season lower than 21st.

Dillon has shown that he can win some of the sport’s biggest races. His four career wins include the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, and he has also made the Cup Series playoffs on five separate occasions. He’ll need to do that again this season if the No. 3 team wants to avoid the drama and anxiety of pointing its way in at the end of the regular season. Dillon can win races, and if the steps taken forward by RCR can combine with the No. 3 having more consistent finishes, Dillon will return to the postseason after missing out last year. -Brad Harrison

24. Corey LaJoie

Corey LaJoie’s loyalty to Spire Motorsports is paying off in a big way, as the organization is now on the upswing. With two rookies joining the team in 2024, LaJoie is now the team’s flagship driver, and he now has the highest expectations of his NASCAR Cup Series career. He was the only full-time Cup driver to finish all 36 points-paying races in 2023, and he nearly won the fall Talladega race, tying his best Cup finish of fourth. His 20.8 average finish in 2023 far exceeded his previous best of 24.3 in 2022, and it provided a solid foundation that the team as a whole can build from. 

With Spire’s expansion near the end of 2023, expect his consistency to continue in 2024, which should manifest itself into multiple top-15 — maybe even top 10 — runs on speed. While LaJoie is not expected to contend for the playoffs on points, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he nabbed a win at a superspeedway. He is in a prime position to take Spire to the next level for the long haul, especially now that two drivers will be leaning heavily on him for support and guidance. This will be the first time in his career that he is considered a veteran, and an equal amount of his leadership can be shown off the track as well as on it. -Nix

23. Austin Cindric

Not too many drivers can win a Xfinity Series championship, come within a bumper of a second title, and follow it up with a Daytona 500 victory. Austin Cindric did exactly that to kick off his full-time Cup Series rookie campaign in 2022.

Flash forward one year, and his 2023 season is one he’d like to forget. Even though Cindric didn’t contend much after that win to start 2022, he still put up five top-five finishes and nine top 10s, finishing 12th in points. As for 2023, the No. 2 team went winless and only clocked one top five and five top 10s, averaging a finish south of 20th en route to 24th-place finish in points.

Combatting last season is going to take some doing, and it’ll require Cindric to lean into his strengths, since more than a third of his 13 Xfinity wins came on left-and-right-turn layouts. Superspeedways are a wide-open opportunity, but road courses are where he can best excel. In his 15 Cup starts on those track types, Cindric has finished in the top 10 seven times, including a couple near-wins. COTA in late March might be his first, and best, shot of winning on a depleted road course slate.

On a team with two champions — a seasoned veteran and dual title holder in Joey Logano and NASCAR’s most recently crowned king in Ryan Blaney — Cindric’s drive to further prove himself, especially when compared to his teammates, is going to be immense in 2024. – Adam Cheek

22. Josh Berry

Josh Berry is a driver that is particularly hard to read going into 2024. It makes sense when considering that he is about to run his first full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, but regardless, he has been a successful Xfinity Series driver with JR Motorsports as well as an extremely capable late model champion.

While he is driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, a team that has struggled in the past three years to amount to even a shadow of its former self, he will be replacing Harvick in the No. 4 car with Rodney Childers, the winningest active Cup crew chief. Continuing on the upside, Berry put up some extremely good results in his part-time stint in the Cup Series last year with three top 10s — including a runner-up finish at Richmond Raceway — and an All-Star Open victory at North Wilkesboro Speedway. All of that was in Hendrick Motorsports equipment, however, the very best in the garage.

Berry’s rookie season with SHR could go either way. He could fall victim to SHR’s recent downward trend, or he could pull off a surprising rookie campaign. A long year of learning, trials, and tribulations is ahead of Berry, and while SHR is in an era of change, there is a chance that he just might surprise people at the track. -Kornhoff

21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

A new year generates new goals and a new vision, but if 2024 starts out the same way 2023 did, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wouldn’t mind.

Stenhouse wore the glass slipper in an upset win at the Daytona 500 last year to give JTG-Daugherty Racing its second win as an organization. That sparked a resurgence year for the Olive Branch, Miss., native, who earned nine top 10s (tying his career high), a second playoff appearance (finished 16th in points) and his best average finish since 2017. Stenhouse also was running at the finish of 33 races, up from just 27 in 2022. 

Entering his 12th full-time season and fifth with JTG-Daugherty, the No. 47 team proved it can piece results together and be legitimate contenders. Stenhouse will look to build on his versatility after he netted career-best finishes at six different tracks in 2023. All three of the 36-year-old’s wins have come on superspeedways, and he has excelled on rough surface tracks in recent years, with mixed results at other track types. 

The additional goals are pretty clear for the team. Earning at least five top fives and double-digit top 10s would be the next level for Stenhouse, who has yet to accomplish either tally in his Cup career. Finding more consistency and capitalizing on strengths are key for the team to get past the Round of 16 if they return to the playoffs. Ultimately, getting Stenhouse into victory lane again would be the cherry on top. – Luken Glover

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

Garrett joined Frontstretch as a news writer in 2023, and became a fantasy racing and betting writer in 2024. Hailing from the heart of coal country in southern West Virginia,  he's a married father of three and currently enrolled in the Physical Therapy Assistant Program at New River Community Technical College in Beaver, WV. He has been a racing fan since 1998, primarily watching NASCAR, but branching out to F1 and IndyCar as his love for motorsports has grown.

Follow on X @Cook_g9

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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