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Quarter One: Ranking the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Drivers

The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season has reached 25% completion. Which drivers are off to a hot start? Which drivers need to make adjustments?

Race nine of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series occurred on Sunday, April 14th at Texas Motor Speedway. Only 17 races remain in the Regular Season as full-timers look for their spot in the ten-round, 16-seed Playoffs. Talladega Superspeedway’s GEICO 500 will kick off the second quarter on Sunday, April 21st.

The following list accounts for 35 drivers who have made all nine starts in 2024 (34 full-time, 1 part-time). Stage points, finishing position, average running position (A.R.P.), average finish, laps led, and observable driving prowess were all accounted for. No calculations or metrics were used to create a ranking. A reminder that this is a personal ranking and all lists are subjective.

With the first nine races of 2024 in the books, here are my first-quarter rankings for the NASCAR Cup Series drivers.

*Note – a parenthesis beside Stage Points indicates Playoff Points*

35) Harrison Burton

Standings: 34th | Stage Points: 7 | Laps Led: 7
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 0 | Best Finish: 11th

Things are not looking great for Harrison Burton. Despite being involved in three cautions all year, and although none resulted from self-error, the Wood Brothers Racing driver has only managed one finish inside the Top 25. His average finish of 29.3 and A.R.P. of 27.6 rank 34th and 35th, respectively. Being in his third season, things will need a drastic turnaround for Burton to retain his seat next season.

34) Daniel Hemric

Standings: 31st | Stage Points: 2 | Laps Led: 1
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 0 | Best Finish: 16th

Daniel Hemric returned to the NASCAR Cup Series for his first full-time season since 2019. Unfortunately, things in 2024 have not been off to a great start. He stands as one of two drivers without a Top 15 result with a best finish on a non-superspeedway coming in 19th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Additionally, Hemric has been faced with more races at least one lap down than on the lead lap.

33) Zane Smith

Standings: 35th | Stage Points: 0 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 0 | Best Finish: 13th

Rookie Zane Smith has not had the success he was hoping for. The 2022 Truck Series Champion was signed on to a contract with Trackhouse Racing in a partnership and ride owned by Spire Motorsports. A rough start to the year it has been having a best finish of 13th in the season-opening Daytona 500. Despite a few glimpses of speed including last weekend’s race at Texas, Smith sits as the lowest driver of 35 drivers to have made all nine starts.

32) Kaz Grala

Standings: 33rd | Stage Points: 0 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 0 | Best Finish: 14th

Expectations exceeded? Expectations exceeded. Kaz Grala does not have a full-time ride this year, but he has found a seat for all races so far. Fans took notice with his sneakily-impressive performance at Bristol Motor Speedway where he secured his best Cup Series finish on a non-drafting track or non-road course. Rick Ware Racing is taking steps in the right direction, and although Grala has the lowest A.R.P. of all drivers, his consistency will be the ticket toward growth.

31) Austin Dillon

Standings: 28th | Stage Points: 10 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 1 | Best Finish: 8th

The unluckiest driver in the field has undoubtedly been Austin Dillon. Trouble not of his doing struck in three of the first four races, and the No. 3 has been plagued with ill-handling parts including one of the slowest cars at Martinsville Speedway’s Cook Out 400. Lackluster qualifying results have lined him up behind the eight ball. Finishing 7th at Texas was a hopeful shot in the arm as Dillon looks to dig out of a large hole.

30) Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Standings: 27th | Stage Points: 15 | Laps Led: 1
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 1 | Best Finish: 6th

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JTG Daugherty Racing brought incredible pace to the first half of 2023. Even without his Daytona 500 trophy, the team was fast enough to contend making the Playoffs on points. However, this year has been missing the spunk. 6th at Atlanta Motor Speedway and 17th at Las Vegas, respectively, are his only Top 20 results, compared to seven at this time last year. Quarter two starts with Talladega, the track where Stenhouse Jr. found his first NASCAR Cup Series win.

29) Corey LaJoie

Standings: 29th | Stage Points: 4 | Laps Led: 5
Top Five’s: 1 | Top Ten’s: 1| Best Finish: 4th

Entering 2024, many looked to Corey LaJoie as the driver to take charge of the Spire Motorsports camp. Although he has shown the caliber to do so, execution has been below preseason projections. A Top 5 in Daytona International Speedway was a good start. His best run came at Las Vegas, but a late incident relegated the chance at a positive result to a 32nd-place finish. LaJoie’s streak of seven consecutive finishes outside the Top 20 is the second-longest since his rookie year with Spire in 2021.

28) Justin Haley

Standings: 32nd | Stage Points: 0 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 0 | Best Finish: 17th

Shocking news broke in July of last year when Justin Haley announced he would join Rick Ware Racing at the start of 2024. This switch ended his five-year tenure with Kaulig Racing dating back to his three years of competition in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Like his teammate, Haley has thrived in his new seat securing the team’s highest-ever running positions at both Bristol and Circuit of the Americas (the latter later disqualified). How high can his ceiling go this year?

27) John Hunter Nemechek

Standings: 20th | Stage Points: 17 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 2 | Best Finish: 6th

John Hunter Nemechek has done fair in his second full-time Cup Series season and first since 2020. The rookie Legacy Motor Club driver saw a 7th-ranked A.R.P. at Bristol en route to his best finish of the season. However, this has been a lone high as he sits as one of six drivers with more than one DNF (two total) as well as the overall 29th-lowest cumulative A.R.P. If Nemechek can work on taking what the car is capable of achieving, mistakes will be mitigated and results will show.

26) Ryan Preece

Standings: 24th | Stage Points: 11 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 1 | Best Finish: 9th

The good news? Ryan Preece has not finished worse than 30th this year, and he enters the second quarter with two straight finishes inside the top twelve. The bad news? He has the fewest stage points amongst his Stewart-Haas Racing team. Although this is only his second year with the group, it is his fifth full-time season only missing out on 2022 after his tenure ended with JTG Daugherty. Preece needs to find another gear to put himself in Playoff contention.

25) Austin Cindric

Standings: 21st | Stage Points: 28 (1) | Laps Led: 51
Top Five’s: 1 | Top Ten’s: 1 | Best Finish: 4th

Austin Cindric was victim of the sophomore slump phenomenon. 2023 saw few highs with a 24th place in the standings while his team capped the year with a second consecutive Cup Series Title. Unfortunately, 2024 has been off to an equally disappointing start, and although he has claimed needed stage points, he has only two finishes inside the Top 20. While his teammates are currently ahead of the Playoff line, Cindric has to turn things around now.

24) Carson Hocevar

Standings: 22nd | Stage Points: 0 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 1 | Best Finish: 10th

It has been a pleasant surprise seeing newcomer Carson Hocevar run well at NASCAR’s pinnacle. The 21-year-old is one of only four drivers beyond 17th in the point standings with five finishes of 20th or better. Where can Hocevar improve in the second quarter? Stage points, especially, coming in as the only driver inside the Top 30 in points without a single tally. Additionally, his inexperienced aggression has bitten him on numerous occasions.

23) Josh Berry

Standings: 26th | Stage Points: 17 | Laps Led: 28
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 0 | Best Finish: 11th

Another rookie of Josh Berry has not had the ideal start to his Cup Series campaign. Strong showings at Bristol and Richmond Raceway saw what he could accomplish. However, the opportunity has been met with inconsistency as the short-track specialist has struggled on road courses and mile-and-a-halfs. Berry does have what it takes as shown in 2023 driving on a few occasions for Hendrick Motorsports, but nothing has formed this season.

22) Erik Jones

Standings: 19th | Stage Points: 15 | Laps Led: 0
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 1 | Best Finish: 8th

With Legacy Motor Club’s manufacturer switch to Toyota, Erik Jones saw a return to familiarity. The team’s performance as a whole has improved, and a lot of it has been shown by his steadiness piloting the No. 43 car. Jones has finished three straight races 19th or better. Parody’s slight dip has yet to see Jones finish inside the Top 10 aside for the season opener at Daytona. Some strong tracks await in quarter two for the 2015 Truck Series Champion.

21) Michael McDowell

Standings: 23rd | Stage Points: 24 (1) | Laps Led: 37
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 2 | Best Finish: 8th (x2)

Results have not shown for Michael McDowell, but a majority of it has not been of his doing. Engine failure took him out of contention at the 2024 Daytona 500 while power steering issues ended his day at Circuit of the Americas. Last weekend, McDowell’s strong run at Texas ended in Stage Two as he battled for the lead. Two highs came with 8th-place finishes at Atlanta and Phoenix Raceway. His first Cup Series pole also came at Atlanta, and he enters Talladega with pole number two.

20) Noah Gragson

Standings: 30th | Stage Points: 3 | Laps Led: 5
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 2 | Best Finish: 6th

Noah Gragson has made the most with his game of catch-up. An August suspension last year took away the chance at seat time in the Next Gen car as well as his ride with Legacy Motor Club. Additionally, after the first two races in his first season with Stewart-Haas, the No. 10 team was penalized 35 driver and owner points. Nonetheless, Gragson’s speed has been sound so far with four finishes of 12th or better, and currently rides a string of three straight Top 20s.

19) Daniel Suarez

Standings: 18th | Stage Points: 25 | Laps Led: 39
Top Five’s: 2 | Top Ten’s: 2 | Best Finish: 1st

Can you believe it has almost been two months since Daniel Suarez’s thrilling, three-wide victory at Atlanta? The trip to the winner’s circle was his second in Cup and first since Sonoma Raceway in June of 2022. Between then and last weekend’s Texas race, however, saw disappointing showings with no finish better than 11th. He will enter Talladega searching for back-to-back Top 5 results, but an uptick in race execution is needed.

18) Todd Gilliland

Standings: 25th | Stage Points: 18 | Laps Led: 91
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 0 | Best Finish: 13th

Todd Gilliland gets my vote for most improved in the NASCAR Cup Series. His 91 laps led are ranked second in the Ford camp, and although the majority of those came at Daytona and Atlanta, his competitiveness was a clear increase. His A.R.P. of 17.56 ranks 18th in the field with fair showings at Phoenix and Martinsville. Targeting Top 10s even Top 20s will be focus points for the Front Row Motorsports team across the rest of the Regular Season.

17) Chris Buescher

Standings: 14th | Stage Points: 14 | Laps Led: 20
Top Five’s: 1 | Top Ten’s: 5 | Best Finish: 2nd

Mister Consistency is at it again. Chris Buescher’s tire failure at Las Vegas was his lone DNF in the last 40 events and only one of four results beyond 20th. He also has secured six straight Top 15 finishes including four Top 10s from Race Four (Phoenix) to Race Seven (Richmond). You may ask why Buescher is so low on the list? His stage points are the fewest of any driver inside the Top 21 in the point standings. Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing has been known for their late surge, so we will wait and see.

16) Kyle Busch

Standings: 16th | Stage Points: 26 | Laps Led: 63
Top Five’s: 1 | Top Ten’s: 3 | Best Finish: 3rd

Kyle Busch has not been off to a “rowdy” start. Running position has been sturdy for the two-time Series Champion, but the positioning at the final circuit has been less than ideal. Only one Top 5 at Atlanta and three total Top 10s are to his credit. Busch also had a checkered flag by this point last year, but it was secured at the now-defunct Auto Club Speedway. He enters Talladega as the defending Spring winner, and promising history saw him rally to 5th in the Cup Series standings last quarter two.

15) Alex Bowman

Standings: 13th | Stage Points: 23 | Laps Led: 6
Top Five’s: 3 | Top Ten’s: 4 | Best Finish: 2nd

2023 was a dud for Alex Bowman. The top spot in points had been his after the first six races, but not long after saw an injury forced him sidelined for three races. Bowman’s return for the final part of the year was not the same earning only four Top 10s. This year has been a pick-me-up of sorts with three Top 5s and four Top 10s. He still needs to find more as he has no wins and nearly 20 stage points fewer than his Hendrick Motorsports counterparts.

14) Chase Briscoe

Standings: 12th | Stage Points: 27 | Laps Led: 9
Top Five’s: 0 | Top Ten’s: 4 | Best Finish: 6th

Chase Briscoe has been the quietest of all drivers. Without much notice, he has accumulated a string of six consecutive finishes of 18th or better with three Top 10s and a best seasonal finish at Texas. Most notably, his A.R.P. is ranked 11th among the 35 Cup Series drivers who have made all nine starts. A monumental points penalty last year resulted in a horrible 30th place in the standings as Briscoe leads the Stewart-Haas camp so far in 2024.

13) Brad Keselowski

Standings: 17th | Stage Points: 32 | Laps Led: 6
Top Five’s: 3 | Top Ten’s: 4 | Best Finish: 2nd

Year three for Brad Keselowski as team owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing has seen its best start yet. Finishes of 4th, 3rd, and 2nd at Phoenix, Bristol, and Texas, respectively, have made the No. 6 look like the vintage contender we once knew. The Fords need to gain some speed as they have not found victory lane yet this season. Unfortunate it is for Keselowski who has been winless since Talladega in 2021. Can he get back to the winner’s circle on Sunday?

12) Joey Logano

Standings: 15th | Stage Points: 35 | Laps Led: 177
Top Five’s: 1 | Top Ten’s: 3 | Best Finish: 2nd

Five races into the 2024 season and many were worried about Joey Logano’s chance at making the cut. That concern for the two-time Champion was followed by four results of 11th and better including a 2nd at Richmond. Logano has led the most laps of all Fords with the second-most stage points. Moreso, Playoff points are his biggest worry entering the second quarter, but Fords will unquestionably bring pace at tracks like Talladega and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

11) Bubba Wallace

Standings: 9th | Stage Points: 52 | Laps Led: 28
Top Five’s: 3 | Top Ten’s: 4 | Best Finish: 4th

Bubba Wallace is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Three Top 5s and four Top 10s have moved the 23XI Racing driver to 9th in the standings. Two more finishes of 5th or better will already best any other season dating back to his rookie year in 2018. First place has been the trickiest task as Wallace has not seen the checkered flag since Kansas Speedway in September of 2022. The likelihood, however, is strong as his driving prowess is the strongest it has ever been.

10) Ross Chastain

Standings: 10th | Stage Points: 35 (1) | Laps Led: 59
Top Five’s: 1 | Top Ten’s: 4 | Best Finish: 4th

Last year ended in style for Ross Chastain at Phoenix as he fended off the Championship-contending drivers for his fourth victory. Entering this season, expectations were higher than usual as the Trackhouse Racing group was looking for some of the regular-wining speed they did have. It is not here yet, but Chastain is getting closer as shown at Texas. However, a big loss of points came after a 2nd-to-32nd incident on the final lap with a driver to be mentioned.

9) Christopher Bell

Standings: 11th | Stage Points: 42 (7) | Laps Led: 120
Top Five’s: 3 | Top Ten’s: 5 | Best Finish: 1st

Three Top 5s, five Top 10s, and a first place at Phoenix have all made Christopher Bell look like a definite Championship contender. Shockingly, his A.R.P. ranks at only 15th amongst his competition. Incidents at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Martinsville, and Texas all play culprits in that statistic, and the inconsistency can be a slight worry. On the bright side, Bell has the fourth most Playoff points entering Talladega.

8) Ty Gibbs

Standings: 6th | Stage Points: 39 | Laps Led: 200
Top Five’s: 3 | Top Ten’s: 5 | Best Finish: 3rd (x2)

One driver not faced with the sophomore slump has been Ty Gibbs. The rising youthful star has finished all nine races inside the Top 20 including a stretch of Top 10s from Race Two’s Atlanta to Race Six’s Circuit of the Americas. Gibbs dominated the first half at Bristol before experiencing tire fatigue like the majority of the field. A win is going to come this year, and a Playoff birth seems certain, as he adapts to the longevity of these races.

7) Tyler Reddick

Standings: 8th | Stage Points: 53 (1) | Laps Led: 111
Top Five’s: 3 | Top Ten’s: 6 | Best Finish: 2nd

Last weekend at Texas, Tyler Reddick accomplished something he had never done in the Cup Series. For the first time, he had finished four straight races inside the Top 10. The fact is mind-boggling for many as we all know how incredible of a driving talent the 23XI Racing driver is. This speaks to how important consistency is, and hopefully, this is a sign of better performances to come. Reddick enters Talladega as one of only two athletes with six Top 10s.

6) Ryan Blaney

Standings: 7th | Stage Points: 69 (1) | Laps Led: 74
Top Five’s: 4 | Top Ten’s: 4 | Best Finish: 2nd

Only one Ford has appeared to contend on a weekly basis. Defending NASCAR Cup Series Champion Ryan Blaney has done the best for the situation, but he has yet to go out and dominate as he did at times last season. At times, though, he has had the pace to get there including at tracks like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Martinsville. Blaney is the winner of the last Talladega race in October as well as the last Coca-Cola 600 victor. Can he find the extra juice to squeeze?

5) Martin Truex Jr.

Standings: 2nd | Stage Points: 75 (1) | Laps Led: 352
Top Five’s: 2 | Top Ten’s: 5 | Best Finish: 2nd

Hot and cold has been the nature of the game for Martin Truex Jr. in 2024. Although the win has yet to come, moments of opportunity did present themself at Bristol and, most notably, Richmond. His A.R.P. and laps led both ranks at 3rd, and his average finish of 9.9 ranks 1st. Why is Truex Jr. ranked at 5th on my list? He and his team have to do a job of finishing these races. Missing wins and missing Playoff points are not going to do it when it comes to a Series Title.

4) Chase Elliott

Standings: 4th| Stage Points: 50 (6) | Laps Led: 126
Top Five’s: 3 | Top Ten’s: 4 | Best Finish: 1st

A turnaround of a season it has been for former Cup Champion Chase Elliott. Last season’s injury, suspension, and dip in performance all seem like a thing of the past after how well the fan-favorite Hendrick Motorsports driver has done so far in 2024. He has yet to finish worse than 19th, and he actively rides a three-race streak of Top 5s. Winning last weekend at Texas was Elliott’s first since Talladega in the fall of 2022. How will his form look in quarter two?

3) Denny Hamlin

Standings: 3rd | Stage Points: 76 (12) | Laps Led: 395
Top Five’s: 2 | Top Ten’s: 3 | Best Finish: 1st (x2)

Denny Hamlin has been a force to be reckoned with every week. His 2024 started with a bang taking the checkered flag at the L.A. Coliseum’s Busch Light Clash. Points-paying victories at Bristol and Richmond add to his bank of 53 Cup Series wins. Leading the field has been a notable statistic as Hamlin has paced in first in all nine races; the only individual to do so. Additionally, after Texas, Hamlin became the second driver to lead over 2,000 laps in the NextGen.

2) William Byron

Standings: 5th | Stage Points: 42 (15) | Laps Led: 149
Top 5’s: 4 | Top 10’s: 6 | Best Finish: 1st (x3)

Is there a weekend where William Byron does not find himself in the mix? What has set him apart from the competition is his unmatched consistency, having finished all but one of the last 22 races inside the Top 20. Wins at Daytona, Circuit of the Americas, and Martinsville added to his Next Gen-leading stat of the most in the car since its beginning in 2022. His 8th-ranked A.R.P. is a slight concern, but Byron and team somehow always find a way.

1) Kyle Larson

Standings: 1st | Stage Points: 102 (10) | Laps Led: 531
Top 5’s: 4 | Top 10’s: 4 | Best Finish: 1st

Any of my top three can be rotated, but the most dominant force of all has been Kyle Larson. He is the only driver to have led over 400 laps including his race-high 181 laps resulting in a dominant Las Vegas win. Getting turned at Circuit of the Americas and a wheel falling off at Texas ruined chances of additional victories or Top 5s to his four so far. A few slight polishes by the team as a whole and Larson will find great success in quarter two.

As previously mentioned, the NASCAR Cup Series will return to competition on Sunday, April 21st with the GEICO 500 from Talladega Superspeedway. My list will be updated following the next nine completed races (after New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, June 23rd). What parts of my list do you agree and/or disagree with? Tweet us @LWOSMotorsport. Stay tuned here at LWOS Motorsports for NASCAR news, results, updates, and more.

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