For the first time here at Frontstretch, our staff banded together to vote on who it thinks will be the top drivers of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season in a preseason power rankings format.
Each participating staff member sent a 30-driver ranking before the beginning of the season, taking into account not only 2019 successes (and failures) but also what seems to be ahead for each Cup competitor in 2020.
We didn’t exactly go out on too many limbs here, but we think you’ll find an interesting order nonetheless, from the drivers we don’t expect to contend to those who might be hoisting more than their share of trophies by November.
30. Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell has officially outlasted David Ragan at Front Row Motorsports (well, at least on a full-time basis), but while he’s certainly the elder statesman at the team, don’t think that means he’ll be complacent. That’s because FRM has a new kid on the block in John Hunter Nemechek, who’ll compete for the rookie title for the organization while also acting as McDowell’s only teammate while the team downsizes to two full-time cars. McDowell’s got the experience, but Nemechek has an impressive stat sheet in the lower national series, often in underfunded equipment similar to that of FRM. McDowell is a smaller team’s dream — he tends to keep cars in one piece and can often attract sponsorship. But if he wants to remain the head honcho at FRM, he may need to step it up a bit this year. – Kevin Rutherford
29. Corey LaJoie
Corey LaJoie finished as the second-to-last driver who attempted all 36 races last season, but Go Fas Racing formed a technical alliance with powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing. The alliance could help LaJoie finish on the lead lap more regularly; he only finished on the lead lap in nine of 36 races last season. If he can finish on the lead lap more often, he will finish better. He will likely run similarly to last year, though. – Mark Kristl
28. Daniel Suarez
Daniel Suarez enters this year with Gaunt Brothers Racing after spending his last two seasons in Cup with Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, respectively. This is a big change of scenery after being part of two of the biggest teams of the sport. Although he has not had much success in his first three years, look for him to have a solid season. He may not win a race or compete for wins, but being on a smaller team could benefit him. He has felt pressure since he was thrown into the No. 19 in 2017 for Carl Edwards. Now the pressure is off, and it could be very beneficial for a young driver like Suarez to help a small team like GBR grow throughout the season. It will be fun to see the progression because he has talent, he just needs to find the right home for himself. – Brandon Hauff
27. Bubba Wallace
Unfortunately for Bubba Wallace, 2020 looks like more of the same. It’s not necessarily his fault; sponsorship and equipment woes plague Richard Petty Motorsports. It has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, which is struggling in its own right, and Childress isn’t going to risk anyone outperforming his grandkids anyway, so it might be another lean year. Wallace is a personable driver with some talent behind the wheel when he has good equipment; by rights he should be a hugely popular choice for fans. But his talent with fans isn’t going to put numbers in the top finish columns. – Amy Henderson
26. Ty Dillon
Ty Dillon was good at two things last year: earning surprise stage wins and finishing races. There’s probably more of the same in store for 2020. Another season of Cup experience under his belt should help Dillon, and having old pro Matt Borland on the pit box is a plus. But the No. 13 will not be strong enough to compete for top 10s week in and week out. Dillon’s only realistic path to the playoffs will involve winning a race via strategy. For a single-car team, that’s a tall order and an unlikely outcome. – Bryan Gable
25. Ryan Preece
Although Ryan Preece’s rookie season started with a bang at Daytona International Speedway, that was one of his three top-10 finishes throughout the year. His highlight came at Talladega Superspeedway, when he finished third. But a 26th-place finish in the standings left some to be desired. All things considered, Preece’s rookie season wasn’t too shabby. Plus, moving over to the No. 37 team for 2020 and having Trent Owens at the helm, his results should improve. Add a new teammate in the form of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to the mix and you have the potential for a blossoming at JTG-Daugherty Racing. – Davey Segal
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Austin Dillon
It seems like every year someone claims the pressure is on Austin Dillon to perform in the Cup Series. Color me unconvinced; as long as he’s able to attract some sponsorship and rattle off modest seasons with average finishes inside the top 20, he probably has a ride for life at Richard Childress Racing. But if any year’s going to shake things up at RCR for Dillon, it could be 2020. After all, not only is he coming off his first full-time season without a top five ever, but he’s also joined at RCR by two-time defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick, who’s going to be hungry to produce in his rookie season. Justin Alexander’s return to the pit box on the No. 3 team late last year seemed to steer Dillon in a better direction, so at least there’s that. – K.R.
22. Tyler Reddick
Don’t count Reddick out of the rookie of the year conversation; the most recent and back-to-back Xfinity champion is a wheelman. He proved that in the 2019 spring event at Kansas Speedway in the Cup Series, when he raced his way to a ninth-place finish. Reddick, who will pilot the No. 8 for RCR, may be at a disadvantage due to equipment. However, he’ll still compete for top fives and 10s and earn his first Cup victory – if not this year, then next. – Joy Tomlinson
21. Cole Custer
Coming off an incredible season in the Xfinity Series, Cole Custer enters the 2020 Cup season in arguably the best equipment out of the rookies. He’ll bring a familiar face, Mike Shiplett, with him to call the shots atop SHR’s No. 41 pit box. This year’s rookie class is shaping up to be one of the best, and Custer will lead the hunt for rookie of the year. Expect Custer to learn from his SHR teammates and contend for wins. – J.T.
20. Matt DiBenedetto
Matt DiBenedetto moves to Wood Brothers Racing to begin the decade, filling the seat vacated by Paul Menard. After a near-victory at Bristol Motor Speedway last fall and several top-five finishes, the Cup journeyman looks to start the year off on a high note. He ran well at the Daytona 500 until a crash ended his day but showed speed throughout 2019; look for DiBenedetto to continue that to a higher degree in 2020. He could very easily score his first win in any NASCAR touring series this season. – Adam Cheek
19. Christopher Bell
Despite coming up short in his pursuit of the 2019 Xfinity title, Bell heads to a Leavine Family Racing operation that is on the upswing thanks to Toyota backing and the work of DiBenedetto behind the wheel last year. The dirt ace steps into the best situation of any Cup rookie this season; with Joe Gibbs Racing allowing crew chief Jason Ratcliff to follow Bell to LFR, the No. 95 will be more JGR than a year ago. Assuming Bell can translate his dirt-racing prowess to the Cup Series’ slot cars, a win and a playoff run aren’t out of the question given the strength of the JGR Toyotas. – Bryan Keith
18. Chris Buescher
17. Ryan Newman
Newman enters his 19th full-time Cup season in 2020, marking his second year with RFR. 14 top-10 finishes and a razor-thin runner-up finish at Talladega in the fall highlighted 2019 for the Rocketman, and having a new teammate in Buescher should boost both the drivers’ seasons. The veteran elevated the No. 6’s average finish almost eight spots from its 2018 struggles. Newman will continue running very well, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he visits victory ;ane once or twice in 2020. – A.C.
16. Aric Almirola
After the highs of 2018 that saw Aric Almirola win his first race in four years and finish fifth in points, 2019 was a bit of a letdown. But only slightly so; he still managed three top fives, 12 top 10s and made the playoffs before being eliminated in the first round. So entering 2020, Almirola isn’t too terribly far off his championship-contending pace of 2018, and that has to be encouraging. Welcoming Mike Bugarewicz to the No. 10 as its crew chief could be the shot in the arm Almirola needs to return to victory lane, and Almirola’s offseason comments about not being satisfied with a simple playoff berth are encouraging as well. He’s hungry. It’s a contract year. Let’s see what he’s got. – K.R.
15. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson enters 2020, his last full-time season, with a change in attitude. He’s not worried about a record eighth title, and for the first time since he entered the series as a rookie, he’s taking the pressure off himself. It’s not as if Johnson, the best driver of his generation and one of the best ever, has anything to prove. His stats chart says it all in that regard. His new attitude doesn’t make him a title threat; he’s no longer the focus at Hendrick Motorsports, but it does make him dangerous on a week-to-week basis, because you’d better believe he’ll drive whatever cars he gets with everything he has — and what he has is still better than a lot of the field. – A.H.
14. Erik Jones
13. Clint Bowyer
2020 looks to be more of the same for Clint Bowyer and the No. 14 team; it’ll likely make the playoffs and contend for the occasional win. There’s nothing, however, to suggest 2020 will be a breakout season that will return the No. 14 to the title-contender it was with owner Tony Stewart behind the wheel. Plus, with longtime Haas driver Custer’s promotion to Cup, the question has to be asked whether Bowyer will remain the second driver on the SHR ladder. – B.K.
12. Alex Bowman
After earning his first NASCAR Cup Series win last season, Alex Bowman is ready to consistently contend for wins this season. He showed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL that he can race aggressively and will use that tenacity this season. Bowman has confidence that crew chief Greg Ives will give him a fast No. 88 Chevrolet. Two prime opportunities for Bowman to win this season are the last two races in May, at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Bowman will win a race before the Cup Series returns to the site of his first win, Chicagoland Speedway. – M.K.
11. William Byron
William Byron and crew chief Chad Knaus had a solid season in 2019, making the playoffs and finishing second in both the July Daytona and October Martinsville Speedway races. Byron has matured as a driver and is clearly listening and learning from his veteran crew chief. Expect Byron to improve in every metric this year, running constantly in the top five, notching has first race win and possibly a few more. He’ll also make a deeper playoff run this year and may sneak into Phoenix Raceway as a championship contender. – D.G.
10. Kurt Busch
One of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season was Kurt Busch. The 2004 champion had moved to Chip Ganassi Racing in the offseason, and many expected him to be taking a step back after leaving one of the bigger teams in the garage, SHR. Instead, Busch was the best Chevrolet driver for much of the regular season. An awful September, however, knocked Busch out of the playoffs early. While not quite as good as his brother, Busch still has plenty left in the tank. He just needs to be better come playoff time. – Michael Finley
9. Ryan Blaney
This season, Ryan Blaney has the opportunity to work with a fresh face — Team Penske has arranged for Todd Gordon to move over from the No. 22 to serve as his new crew chief. Since joining Penske, Blaney has often showed good speed early in races but struggled to close them out with strong finishes. Having a championship-winning crew chief in his corner will help Blaney finish as well as he races. His pairing with Gordon should lead the No. 12 to several wins this year and maybe an appearance in the final round of the playoffs. – B.G.
8. Brad Keselowski
7. Kyle Larson
2020 may be the most pivotal year of Kyle Larson‘s career as his future beyond the upcoming season is quite perplexing. With a contract expiring at the end of the year, an open seat at Hendrick Motorsports, a talented Ross Chastain in the Chip Ganassi Racing farm system and rumors of a departure from NASCAR, Larson has something to prove in 2020. With all eyes on him, 2020 might be one of his best seasons yet in what is possibly his last year with CGR. Expect him to be in victory lane at least once this year. Larson could also be very sneaky in the postseason. – Zach Gillispie
6. Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott is now inarguably the face of Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet’s NASCAR efforts in general. The second generation driver also turned into a bona fide road course ace in 2019, becoming the best in the discipline in the series. Elliott has proven over the past two years that he can win. And his playoff performance last season proved that he was clutch. Now the next step is to start truly competing for a championship, and with Chevrolet potentially taking a big step forward this season, the sky is going to be the limit for the Georgian. – M.F.
5. Joey Logano
4. Denny Hamlin
2019 was going to be Denny Hamlin‘s year! Until it, uh, wasn’t. Thoughts and prayers and such. Look, fourth place in the preseason rankings still feels right. Six wins, 19 top fives and 24 top 10s are some strong stats for 2019, but it followed a no-win year, and the last seasons Hamlin was a championship favorite but faltered when it mattered, he took about a year to fully recover. That’s not to say 2020 will be an off year for him, but the simple fact that it could happen based on past happenings drops his stock a bit. But just a bit. Chances are he’s probably going to be just fine — veteran experience and all that. A Championship 4 return is absolutely in the cards. – K.R.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
If the last several years are any indication of what is to be expected out of Martin Truex Jr. in 2020, watch out. Piloting an entry for one of NASCAR’s most potent and prolific teams, a deep playoff run is likely on the horizon for Truex. Proven to be a championship-caliber driver, expect Truex to collect several wins throughout the 36-race season. However, it is plausible that the 2017 champion may stumble out of the gate. After the sudden departure of longtime crew chief Cole Pearn, there may be some growing pains with James Small, the new face on top of the box, but don’t expect it. – Z.G.
2. Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick goes into the 2020 season as a championship favorite once again. Coming off another Championship 4 berth, he will be poised to capture his second career title this season. Nothing has changed for Harvick and his team; the only change is within the SHR organization with the addition of Custer in the No. 41, along with crew chief swaps elsewhere. Expect Harvick to flex his muscle in the early portion of the season, and do not be surprised if he goes on a run similar to 2018, when he won eight races. He will be a force to be reckoned with this year, no doubt about that. – B.H.
1. Kyle Busch
Welcome to the KB Show. That’s what was said most of 2019 en route to Kyle Busch’s second Cup championship. Despite a lackluster postseason, Busch and his No. 18 JGR team came up big when it counted the most, and that’s the mark of a champion. A five-win season with 17 top-five finishes will be tough to top in 2020, but Busch enters this season as the favorite to win it all once again for good reason. The aerodynamic package has hardly changed, his team remains intact and his confidence has never been higher. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the talent of Rowdy. That’ll certainly be on display again this year. – D.S.
Others receiving votes: John Hunter Nemechek, Landon Cassill, Ross Chastain, Timmy Hill, Brennan Poole, JJ Yeley