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Did You Notice?: Setting NASCAR Cup Series Expectations for 2024, Car Nos. 21-99

Did You Notice? … The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season is at hand?

Hopefully, the Daytona 500 will be off and running without any weather issues on Monday, Feb. 19, after getting postponed from its scheduled time on Sunday.

What are the big questions facing the Cup field this coming season? Let’s take a look at each full-time chartered team below through one stat that gives us an indication of where they are heading into 2024.

For drivers of car Nos. 1-20, click the link below.

See also
Did You Notice?: Setting NASCAR Cup Series Expectations for 2024, Car Nos. 1-20

No. 21 – Harrison Burton

9.3%. The percentage of laps Burton spent in the top 15 last season, just 40th best among drivers who competed in at least one Cup race. Remember, there’s typically 36 cars in the field each week. … It was a disastrous sophomore slump, as Burton wound up 31st in the standings, ahead of only Ty Dillon among full-time drivers. Keep in mind this single-car Wood Brothers Racing team has an alliance with Team Penske, the same organization who won the championship with Ryan Blaney. Burton’s a nice young talent, but it makes me hard-pressed to see a situation where this partnership improves; Burton’s average finish of 24.7 was the worst for the Woods since they returned to full-time competition in 2016.

No. 22 – Joey Logano

18. The number of wins Logano’s collected in even-numbered years since joining Team Penske at the beginning of the 2013 season. Since 2014, he has never missed the Championship 4 in those years, winning two titles (2018, 2022) and leading over 4,000 laps. With no major offseason changes, the reigning champion his teammate within the Penske stable and Logano in the midst of his prime (age 34 this year), there’s little reason to believe 2024 will be anything different.

No. 23 – Bubba Wallace

2,141. The number of quality passes Wallace made last season, good for fifth-best in Cup. A quality pass is defined as passing another car in the top 15 under green-flag conditions, showcasing Wallace’s ability to adjust to track conditions and crank out speed effectively over long runs. Indeed, Wallace appeared to mature last season, earning a career-best 10th-place points finish and notching a career-best 28 lead-lap finishes.

But staying out of trouble is half the battle; closing the deal on victory lane is another one altogether. If Wallace wants to be taken seriously as a true contender, that’s where the 23XI Racing partnership lags behind. His two wins in three seasons pale in comparison to what teammate Tyler Reddick accomplished in just one. Changing that perception of him — a driver who can’t get over the hump — is the key to Wallace’s 2024.

No. 24 – William Byron

1,016. The number of laps Byron led in 2023, going over 1,000 for the first time in his Cup career. Only teammate Kyle Larson led more, as those two Hendrick Motorsports cars were head and shoulders above the competition much of the year. Byron struggled a bit in the Championship 4 race but earned valuable experience that will serve him well in this year, his seventh full-time Cup season. Seeing him build on a career-high six wins would be a stretch, but with crew chief Rudy Fugle at the helm, it’s hard to see this partnership slowing down anytime soon.

No. 31 – Daniel Hemric

57. The number of laps this former NASCAR Xfinity Series champ led over a full season with Kaulig Racing in that division last year. Consider the man he’s replacing in Cup, Justin Haley, led 86 NXS laps while moonlighting in just five starts. Hemric feels like a modern-day Casey Mears to me; personally loved inside the garage and every driver’s favorite sidekick off the track but incapable of delivering the type of performance you need to elevate a team. He’s had his chances, and this feels like the final one for Cup, an opportunity based more on “right place, right time” than actual performance. We’ll see if he can make the most of it.

No. 34 – Michael McDowell

216. The number of starts McDowell has with Front Row Motorsports, making him the longest-tenured driver in their history over David Gilliland. Faced with a choice of turning young or keeping the 39-year-old McDowell, FRM went a different direction they usually do and re-upped the veteran who earned them another win in 2023 (Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course). But McDowell’s Achilles Heel has been the playoffs: his average finish in two Round of 16 appearances is a gaudy 25.5. FRM wants more, and McDowell could be in contention to win not one but two races this year between superspeedways and road courses. It’s just a matter of finishing what he started.

No. 38 – Todd Gilliland

0. Not a single lap led for Gilliland last season, the only full-time Cup driver who failed to do so. Heck, even Cody Ware led one with family-owned Rick Ware Racing before his midseason suspension from NASCAR.

It was a weird 2023 for Gilliland, one that started with Zane Smith replacing him for several starts at FRM, only for the team to turn back toward their youngster once Smith bolted for a better opportunity at Trackhouse Racing/Spire Motorsports. Playing sloppy seconds seemed to have its downside despite an improvement in average finish (+1.2) and top-10 results (up to four) between FRM and a few starts in RWR equipment. Once again, the focus in 2024 needs to be on superspeedways, short tracks and road courses for the No. 38 team to be an unlikely playoff contender; all of Todd’s career top 10s have occurred there and the now-defunct Bristol Dirt Race.

No. 41 – Ryan Preece

25.5. Average finish for Preece over the first 10 races last year, a slump that included four crashes and a few off-track frustrations with other Cup drivers. You wonder what would have happened if his luck broke differently. Preece showed speed everywhere from Circuit of the Americas to Bristol Dirt to a pole run at Martinsville Speedway where he wound up leading a career-high 135 laps. He was never really a factor after that, earning just one top-five finish (fifth at Richmond Raceway) and settling around 25th in points.

2024 is a turning point now for a veteran hired to hustle the underperforming No. 41 driven by the Stewart-Haas Racing president’s son, Cole Custer, only to make things slightly worse. Preece lost out to Custer’s 2022 in virtually every metric, from average start to average finish, while the latter turned his demotion into the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. To keep his ride, Preece needs the same top speed he started last season with and finish the job with a new Ford body style, launching him into playoff contention as the oldest driver remaining in a revamped Stewart-Haas stable looking to surprise a few people. It’s possible if Preece keeps his nose out of those bad situations.

No. 42 – John Hunter Nemechek

15. Wins in the NASCAR Xfinity and Craftsman Truck series over the last three seasons for Nemechek, the most of any driver (yes, even more than Kyle Busch). What a career move for JHN to take a step back, retooling after a mediocre 2020 rookie season running for Front Row Motorsports in Cup.

After contending for the NXS title in 2023, Nemechek had his pick of rides with Toyota and decided to come up this year with Legacy Motor Club rather than wait for a seat at Joe Gibbs Racing to open up. It’s a perfect scenario of low expectations, high upside. JHN can’t do any worse than the Noah Gragson disaster that left the No. 42 sunk until promising performances by Carson Hocevar down the stretch showed Jimmie Johnson is building something with his new program.

At age 26, JHN is older, wiser and has won at every type of oval track during his time away from Cup. It can only get better for a program that has the personnel capable of crashing this year’s playoff party.

No. 43 – Erik Jones

4,908. The number of passes Jones made under green last year, the most of any driver in Cup. It shows how much he battled through adversity, often starting near the back and spending the whole race having to adjust — moving through the pack only for a wreck or some pit problem to leave the No. 43 struggling to scrounge, say, 20th by the finish of the race.

That’s how it was during a LMS season marred by the Gragson departure, the off-track horror of Johnson’s in-law murder-suicide and an announcement they would abandon Chevrolet. A turn toward Toyota and partner Maury Gallagher closing his Truck program leads to new resources, hope and opportunity for a team you know will contend at three places with Jones: Darlington Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway and the superspeedways. But don’t be surprised with this group, led by underrated crew chief Dave Elenz, if they pop up in the top three at an intermediate like Kansas Speedway or Charlotte Motor Speedway and actually win it.

No. 45 – Tyler Reddick

+1.9. Reddick’s improvement in average finish from a surprise three-win season with Richard Childress Racing in 2022 to his two-win, deep playoff run with 23XI Racing in 2023. Building that consistency with what Reddick thought was a better program long-term is why he made the move from RCR. The No. 45 team improved along with him, upping their totals across the board after former champion Kurt Busch built a foundation.

The question, of course, for 23XI is whether they’ll ever be allowed to go toe-to-toe with the Joe Gibbs Racing mothership at Toyota. Reddick is every bit as talented as the four drivers there; he’s also arguably the best on road courses with the Next Gen car, securing three wins on them the last two seasons. But will his own car owner cede a Championship 4 spot if it’s available down the stretch of the playoffs? Reddick also has to improve at Martinsville, the gatekeeper to a ticket at the Phoenix Raceway finale; his 20.9 average finish and zero career laps led won’t get the job done.

No. 47 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

1. The number of Daytona 500 wins for Stenhouse after the 2023 season; the defending champ of that race propelled that run into the best season of his career. But a healthy run to the playoffs, in which JTG Daugherty Racing held its own, left it exposed as a single-car team in the Round of 16, unable to match the speed and resources of a Hendrick Motorsports when it really counted.

See also
Daytona 500 Postponed to Monday Afternoon

Now, Chevy has the oldest body style in the field, and while Stenhouse has learned how to finish (three DNFs were his lowest since 2015 and nine top-10 results tied his career high), you wonder if 2023 will be hard to replicate. Stenhouse is uniquely talented on superspeedways to the point where he could sweep all six of them at Daytona International Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway but also cause the Big One that wipes out the field in each event. It’s that much of a pendulum swing.

No. 48 – Alex Bowman

61. The current winless streak for Bowman in Cup, easily the longest in the Hendrick camp. After a four-win year in 2021 where some lucky breaks tilted his way, Bowman has struggled through the past two seasons, missing a total of eight races with injuries and leading only 226 laps. It’s not a bad number until you compare him to HMS teammates that led well over 4,000 during that same stretch.

The plus side for Bowman is his best track type, intermediates, continues to dominate the NASCAR schedule. HMS has continued to back him, a three-year contract extension taking the heat off immediate performance. Can he sneak through with an early win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (the site of his last one in 2022) to catapult him back into at least the playoff conversation? He’s one of the toughest wild cards in the field to predict this year.

No. 51 – Justin Haley

1. The number of career top-five finishes earned by Rick Ware Racing in the history of its time in the Cup Series, spanning eight years and 590 starts. Yet Haley chose this team as the place to land, perhaps as much of an indictment on his previous employer (Kaulig) than anything else.

The future does appear better at RWR, aligned with RFK Racing, who’s made clear it’s planning to expand to three teams in the near future. It appears a temporary situation is in order here until RFK figures it out, along the lines of what Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer did in recent history before moving over into top-tier equipment.

Can Haley surprise? He’s a lightning-in-a-bottle guy who’s at his best at road courses (second at the Chicago Street Course last year) and superspeedways, the type of race you need to sneak into the playoffs with a team that often runs 30th or worse everywhere else. But we haven’t seen the type of talent yet that indicates he’s going to ever be one of the final 16. Then again, we weren’t seeing that with Chris Buescher, right? And look where he is now under RFK guidance.

No. 54 – Ty Gibbs

102. Laps led for Gibbs during the playoffs at Bristol, a miniscule stat in the grand scheme of things but a confidence builder for a rookie who needed to learn how to run up front in Cup. Since then, he finished with just two top-10 finishes in the final seven races. But remember, his JGR teammates were gunning for a title. In 2024, we’ve already seen Gibbs lead the most laps at the Clash at the Coliseum earlier this month and mix it up with Logano, a sign this 21-year-old’s getting a bit more comfortable competing at racing’s top level.

Once the win comes, watch out. Remember, Gibbs had 11 victories in just 51 Xfinity starts, a 21.5% clip that reminds you of a Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch. It’s not a matter of if but when, and, like most generational transitions, you don’t really know they’ve happened until you’re in the midst of it. 2025 feels like the year it will happen — that would be perfect timing for Hamlin and Truex — but they can’t control the development of Joe Gibbs’ grandson.

No. 71 – Zane Smith

-3.8. The difference between Smith’s average start and average finish in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last season, a hidden warning sign in the midst of what was otherwise an outstanding championship defense.

That said, Smith propelled six victories in two years and a 2022 title into a great Cup opportunity with Trackhouse; it’ll start in a third team at Spire while Trackhouse prepares to retool, perhaps by removing Daniel Suarez at the end of the 2024 season. It means this whole setup has an unknown future and there’s expansion within an organization that has never seriously contended for the NASCAR playoffs.

It leaves Smith a wild card, but he’s been competitive in his few Cup opportunities, 10th at the 2023 Coca-Cola 600 in the No. 38 for Front Row Motorsports (no small feat). 20th in the standings and Rookie of the Year feels like the ceiling, but remember, Chip Ganassi was bending over backwards at one point to get Smith before a deal fell apart. This kid has talent.

No. 77 – Carson Hocevar

11th. Hocevar’s finish with a Legacy Motor Club No. 42 team at Bristol last fall, one of his first Cup efforts that wound up being the No. 42’s best finish in an otherwise disastrous season.

Hocevar brought the type of effort and energy to underfunded rides that makes him a perfect full-time choice for Spire. In his first start at World Wide Technology Raceway before crashing, Hocevar was putting a car typically 30th into position for a top 15. The issue, as we saw in the Truck Series finale, remains his aggression at the wrong times. Too many “I’m sorrys” while gunning for a title there mean he’s put himself in too many bad positions, getting drivers riled up to the level Logano did when transitioning to Cup in the late 2000s.

Don’t be surprised if it’s a learning year of Hocevar being “put in his place.” But the upside would be the first playoff appearance in Spire’s Cup history.

No. 99 – Daniel Suarez

-2.5. The regression in Suarez’s average finish from 2022 to 2023, a tough season at Trackhouse that left him a disappointing 19th in the standings. It was a step back Suarez seemed to never recover from while teammate Chastain did, winning in the Phoenix finale and providing a reset within his No. 1 team for 2024.

It feels Suarez is in the opposite position, on the hot seat with Smith hired behind him and no full-time Cup ride to go to at the shop. Every single metric you think of trended down, from top-five finishes to laps led. And Suarez vented frustration a few times during the playoffs, out of character for one of the most joyful drivers in the Cup garage.

It feels like Suarez is already in a familiar spot, auditioning for another opportunity after he’s filtered through so many in a short career. But a strong first 10-12 races gives him a chance to change the trajectory here. We’ll see.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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