NASCAR Prospect Rankings: Top 20 drivers to watch

Ranking prospects in NASCAR isn’t easy. If it were just about talent, the task would be difficult enough. Age as well as the ability to land funding also have to be considered. But based on those factors, here’s a shot at a list of the top 20 driver prospects.

Who qualifies:

  • These are drivers who could eventually make it to the Cup series but aren’t currently there.
  • This list does not include anyone with more than 10 races in Cup, which means drivers such as Ryan Truex and Brett Moffitt aren’t on it.

We will update this list periodically throughout the year.

1. Christopher Bell (age 23): The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, currently in the Xfinity Series, has a truck title, an Xfinity race win and back-to-back Chili Bowl championships in the past 14 months. Of all the decisions on this list, this was the easiest.

2. Todd Gilliland (17): He won back-to-back NASCAR K&N West titles — he has 19 K&N Series wins in 49 starts across the east and west series — and will step into a full-time truck ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports once he turns 18 in May.

3. Cole Custer (20): His Xfinity Series win at Homestead last year showed what he can do. He makes his Cup debut this weekend at Las Vegas.

4. Ryan Preece (27): If he can make the most of his Joe Gibbs Racing starts in the Xfinity Series this season, he’ll be hard to ignore. Four top-5s in four Xfinity starts last year — including a win at Iowa — make the 2013 modified champion a good bet, but he turns 28 later this year.

5. Harrison Burton (17): He won the K&N East title last year and, like Gilliland, has a former NASCAR Cup driver as a father.

6. Daniel Hemric (27): With roots in late models, Hemric has steadily progressed in the NASCAR ranks. 2018 is a pivotal year for him — his second driving in Xfinity for Richard Childress Racing.

7. Tyler Reddick (22): Driving full time for JR Motorsports, this is a key season for him. He has already won at Daytona.

8. Kyle Benjamin (20): He needs more consistent seat time, but he has not done anything to keep people from questioning his talent.

9. Chase Briscoe (23): He’ll need to make the most of his limited races in a Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity car. He’s one of those drivers who you feel just needs more seat time and will progress nicely.

10. John Hunter Nemechek (20): A fourth-place finish for Chip Ganassi Racing in his Xfinity debut last week in Atlanta shows his potential. With five truck victories, he has proved he knows how to win.

11. Ty Majeski (23): The four-time ARCA Midwest Tour champion with a healthy late-model résumé gets a shot in a Roush Fenway Xfinity car this year.

12. Chandler Smith (15): He’s turning heads on the late-model circuit, scoring a big January win in Georgia.

13. Austin Theriault (24): He’s the 2017 ARCA champ but doesn’t have a ride.

14. Austin Cindric (19): He made the truck final four last year. He’s inconsistent, but prior to last season he didn’t have much experience in stock cars on ovals, so a full year in Xfinity this season is key.

15. Will Rodgers (23): Rodgers has shown ability out West, especially on road courses, as he finished second to Kevin Harvick last year in the K&N West race at Sonoma and won two K&N East road-course events.

16. Sheldon Creed (20): The X Games gold medalist in off-road truck racing is running a full ARCA season this year.

17. Tanner Thorson (21): The successful midget racer will get his shot in a truck this year.

18. Ben Rhodes (21): Rhodes has one Truck series win and 62 combined career starts in trucks and Xfinity. He needs to lead more laps and win races to remain on this list.

19. Justin Haley (18): He didn’t have a great truck season last year, but a 2016 K&N East title and two ARCA wins show his potential.

20. Natalie Decker (20): She was on the pole for the ARCA race at Daytona as a rookie. There’s a lot of potential but a lot of unknowns.

Ten others to watch (alphabetical): Spencer Davis, Hailie Deegan, Brennan Poole, Chase Purdy, Dalton Sargeant, Holly Shelton, Zane Smith, Myatt SniderMatt Tifft, Ryan Vargas.