Race Weekend Central

2024 Preseason Power Rankings: Nos. 20-11

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 the 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. Positions No. 30-21 were posted yesterday (Jan. 30), while the top 10 will be posted tomorrow (Feb. 1).

See also
2024 Preseason Power Rankings: Nos. 30-21

20. Chase Briscoe

After a more-than-disappointing 2023 season for the driver out of Mitchell, Ind., Chase Briscoe finds himself in a completely different situation from 2022. And with the retirement of Kevin Harvick, the fourth-year veteran is now the longest-tenured driver at Stewart-Haas Racing.

After a hot start, Briscoe’s year spiraled into disarray after receiving a 120-point L3 penalty after the Coca-Cola 600. He finished in the top five only once after the penalty after starting the season with three top fives in the first 10 races. Like all three of his SHR teammates, he was unable to find victory lane.

The lack of performance corelates with three of the four cars in the stable along with Nos. 10 and 41, and with the introduction of the Ford Mustang Dark Horse, the entire team will be relying on getting ahead of the research and development curb across the board in order to improve from a dreadful 2023.

With Harvick transitioning to the television booth, it is now up to Briscoe to bear the flag for the team and bring SHR back to where it was previously.

SHR posted on social media about staying true to its DNA and reminding everyone who they are, and this season, the team desperately needs a return to that previous success across the board. -Wyatt Watson

19. Erik Jones

After breaking a three-year winless drought at the 2022 Southern 500, Erik Jones had the worst season of his career in 2023. But despite the down year, there is optimism for a bounce back in 2024. Legacy Motor Club endured an oddball lame-duck season last year, as the team announced it would switch from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2024. Before and after the announcement, Legacy was relegated to a low place on the totem pole with the bowties, and it was obvious when looking at the team’s performance.

Jones went winless with one top-five and seven top-10s, and he finished 27th in points. Now, there is new excitement for Jones and his entire team, as they prepare to embark on their first season under the Toyota banner. The 2024 season will be a homecoming of sorts for the eighth-year Cup driver, who came through the ranks with Toyota and earned two of his three Cup wins and 33 of his 37-top fives with the manufacturer.

A wiser Jones will now seemingly return to more competitive equipment, and Legacy has signed a haul of new sponsors in the offseason. If the team takes the expected step forward with Toyota, what is Jones capable of doing in 2024? He’ll have Dave Elenz on the pit box for the third consecutive year, and he’ll have a new teammate in John Hunter Nemechek to measure himself against.

Competition will be fierce for the final few playoff spots, but rule out Jones at your own risk. He’s proven the ability to overachieve and put together some shockingly good runs. With a fresh, new look team on his side, it would not be a big surprise to see Jones win a race or two and return to the playoffs. -Steve Leffew

18. Daniel Suarez

Trackhouse Racing, arguably the most interesting team in NASCAR at the moment, stands in a peculiar situation with Daniel Suarez, who enters 2024 feeling the heat from within the organization.

Suarez took a step back from his breakout 2022 by not making the playoffs or winning a race in 2023. In the meantime, Shane van Gisbergen had burst onto the NASCAR scene via his win at the Chicago street course. Former Truck Series driver Zane Smith has signed a multi-year Cup contract with the team, and most recently, Trackhouse’s new development driver, 17-year-old Connor Zilisch, was part of the winning LMP2 team at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona.

The pressure seems to be closing in on all sides in the Suarez camp, and without a successful season in 2024, the No. 99 team could certainly be up for grabs once his contract expires.

Although Suarez re-signed with the team last season, Trackhouse’s founding driver can’t feel too safe with the upcoming talent that the team has acquired over the 2023-24 offseason.

The No. 99 had shown the capability and speed to win races last season with three top fives at completely different venues, but the problem for Suarez is that two of the three tracks (the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Auto Club Speedway) won’t be making a return to the schedule. Suarez must find success at other tracks and make the playoffs again to help improve the possibility of continuing his career with Trackhouse. -Watson

17. Michael McDowell

Last season was somewhat of a rebound year for Michael McDowell, as he returned to the playoffs after missing out in 2022. He went to victory lane for just the second time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, putting on a dominating performance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He led 54 of 82 laps and held off one of the best road course racers in this generation, Chase Elliott, in the closing laps.

Though McDowell made the playoffs and placed 15th in the standings, he had four fewer top 10s than in 2022. He also finished about 19th on average, a bit of a drop when compared to his 16.7 average in 2022.

The 2021 Daytona 500 champion did have some bright spots, earning a sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway and closing out the season with a ninth at his home track of Phoenix Raceway.

In 2024, the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports driver will look to build on his success and chemistry with crew chief Travis Peterson. McDowell could very well take the checkered flag once again at any of the three road courses prior to the postseason. He was especially good at Sonoma Raceway, earning a top five last year. He also appeared to be on his way to a good finish at Watkins Glen International after leading 17 early laps, but he ended up retiring due to an electrical issue. Watkins Glen is now in the first round of the playoffs, so if McDowell does make it, he’ll have a good chance of advancing to the Round of 12.

Of course, he’s a favorite for superspeedways and Atlanta Motor Speedway as well. And though the race in Indianapolis is back on the oval, McDowell could finish up front like he did the last time Cup took on the 2.5-mile track. -Joy Tomlinson

16. Alex Bowman

2024 is officially a “prove it” year for Alex Bowman. In a 2023 season where the glass truly was half full or half empty for Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman landed on the empty side. 

The first 10 races of 2023? Bowman led the series in average finish and even had the points lead after the sixth race. However, a sprint car crash sidelined Bowman for three races with a fractured vertebrae in April, and he was clearly not the same after he returned. In the final 23 races of the season, Bowman only had four top 10s, and he missed out on the playoffs for the first time since joining HMS. 

As Bowman readies to embark on his seventh season for Rick Hendrick, he has shown flashes of brilliance. Since 2019, he has earned seven wins, and his hot start to 2023 signaled potential title contention. On the flip side, two of Bowman’s teammates have won the championship in the past four years (Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson), and William Byron led the series in wins last year. All three have at least 10 wins at HMS compared to Bowman’s seven. 

The 30-year-old had his contract extended through 2026 earlier in 2023, but now is the time for him to assert himself as a title contender. Bringing more speed and avoiding prolonged slumps would solve several problems throughout the season, and grabbing a couple of checkered flags would help return the No. 48 to weekly contention. But if 2024 is similar to 2023, the hot seat might become boiling for Bowman. -Luken Glover

15. Ty Gibbs

After a meteoric rise through the NASCAR ladder, Ty Gibbs did not make the playoffs in his rookie NASCAR Cup Series season in 2023. Yes, he was a rookie, but he had been dominant in every other racing series to that point.

Now in his second full-time Cup season, Gibbs is poised to compete for a playoff spot. In fairness to him, he just missed out in 18th last season.

Gibbs enters the 2024 season with 51 career Cup starts. Comparing his part-time 2022 stint to his 2023 rookie campaign, he improved both his average starting and finishing positions.

Gibbs’ main difference in 2023 was that he was not involved in any significant feuds or massive on-track incidents in Cup, save for a run-in with McDowell in the All-Star Open; he had a proclivity for such actions in the lower series. He not only stayed away from those, but he also likely learned some humility as he ran around the playoff cut line for much of the season.

Can Gibbs win in his sophomore Cup season? Yes. Where at then? The Irish Hills of Michigan International Speedway has been good to him.  He has a Xfinity and ARCA Menards Series win there, and it was the site of his first career top 10 result in Cup. With this playoff format, it’s a win and you’re in. Gibbs will be a contender more often in 2024, en route to making the playoffs with a 15th-place finish. -Mark Kristl

14. Bubba Wallace

The 2023 season may have been the best yet for Bubba Wallace in the Cup Series. Sure, he did not win a race last year, but he posted a career-best 15.9 average finish and equaled his top five and top 10 totals from 2022. He also made the playoffs for the first time last year, and he showed some grit during his postseason run. After the No. 23 team had a disastrous race at Kansas Speedway, one of Wallace’s best tracks, he scraped together just enough points at Bristol Motor Speedway the following week to advance to the Round of 12. Had he managed to close out the next race at Texas Motor Speedway after leading a race-high 111 laps, Wallace might have gone to the Round of 8.

If Wallace and 23XI Racing match their pace from last season, he will be right in the thick of the battle to make the playoffs again. The key to success will be for Wallace to keep a cool head when fighting for wins in the closing laps of a race. He and the No. 23 team have a good handle on the high-speed tracks but are still seeking the week-to-week strength of their Toyota teammates. If they take that next step forward, Wallace should be back in victory lane before long. -Bryan Gable

See also
Mobil 1 Sponsoring Multiple Toyota Drivers in 2024

13. Chase Elliott

If there was one word to describe Chase Elliott’s performance last season, it would be shocking. After a championship in 2020 and three straight appearances in the Championship 4, Elliott not only went winless in 2023, but he missed the playoffs entirely.

It didn’t help that he had to play catchup all season after a snowboarding accident in late February left him sidelined for six races with a broken tibia. But when Elliott returned to the car in April, it became clear that something was off with the No. 9 team.

Elliott ended the year with 195 laps led, a career low. He also recorded a career low in top fives with seven and equaled his career low in top 10s with 15. All those counting stats were hurt by missing seven races (the injury plus a one-race suspension in June), but even then, his performance was well below expectations when considering that Byron and Larson both made the Championship 4 and combined to win 10 races.

If there was one thing that Elliott excelled at last year, it was bringing the car home to consistent, solid finishes. He may not have won or led often, but he finished 13th or better in 20 of the 27 races after his return from injury. It didn’t matter if the No. 9 car was lacking in speed; if Elliott reached the end of the race in one piece, he always found a way to bring the car home in the first third of the running order.

It was a disappointing season, yes, but off years happen. Look no further than last year, as Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. rebounded with a championship and a regular season championship, respectively, after going winless in 2022.

With a points reset and an offseason shoulder surgery, look for Elliott to return to his winning, title-contending ways in 2024. -Stephen Stumpf

12. Brad Keselowski

There is no doubting it now: RFK Racing is back. But can the same be said about Brad Keselowski the driver? True, he did return to the Cup Series Playoffs after a one-year absence, and he even made the Round of 8.

Yet, there is still one goal that has eluded Keselowski since his career change two years ago: a checkered flag. Then, there is the specter of Father Time. Keselowski will be 40 years old when the green flag waves on the Daytona 500, and whenever an elite driver reaches that age, the whispers of retirement are not far behind. Keselowski has definitely made it as a Cup Series owner, but 2024 will be a critical year for Keselowski the driver. If he maintains that late-season form that resulted in four straight top 10s to start the playoffs, then Victory Lane and another deep playoff run will likely await in his near future. -Andrew Stoddard

11. Kyle Busch

Last year marked the end of an era, as it was Kyle Busch’s first Cup season without Joe Gibbs Racing or Toyota since 2007. Now with Chevrolet and Richard Childress racing, Busch picked up right where he left off in winning.

He was one late-race caution and overtime away from his first Daytona 500 triumph in February, and he rebounded the following week to win at Auto Club Speedway in the track’s final race on the 2.0-mile oval. The victory, Busch’s 61st, marked his 19th consecutive Cup season with a win, breaking Richard Petty’s record of 18 seasons in the process. Busch also broke a tie with Harvick to stand alone as the Cup Series’ ninth-winningest driver.

He then made a last lap pass in April to score his first win at Talladega Superspeedway in 15 years, and he dominated at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in June to win after finishing runner-up a year prior.

After scoring just four wins between 2020 and 2022, Busch almost tied that mark in 2023 alone. And after the 19th race of the season in July, he sat third in points.

However, despite the wins, Busch recorded a career low with 241 laps led on the season, beating his previous low of 334. The second half of the season was one to forget for the No. 8 team, as Busch led a combined 15 laps and scored just five top 10s against nine finishes of 20th or worse. That led to a 14th-place points finish for Busch, the worst since his rookie year in 2005.

Despite the second-half difficulties, Busch showed that he still has what it takes to regularly compete for wins at RCR. Now it’s just a matter of putting everything together in year two. -Stumpf

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.

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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.

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.

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.

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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.

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