It’s actually second-generation driver Harrison Burton. The four-time Xfinity Series winner will become the next member of the Burton racing clan (he’s Jeff’s son) to mix it up with the big boys of the sport. He is slated to drive the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota in this weekend’s (April 25) Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Along with Burton, we have seen eight other Cup debuts this year, up considerably from the four last season, which was the worst for series debuts in quite a while. The increase has been aided by drivers like Stewart Friesen, Chris Windom, Shane Golobic and Mike Marlar, who were called up to tackle the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track. Plus, there are two talented rookies named Chase Briscoe and Anthony Alfredo who are getting their first glimpses of Cup competition this season.
With Talladega being just the 10th race on the calendar this season, there is plenty of time left for more debuts to trickle in. So who’s most likely to make their debut too this season?
It may be a matter of what open seat is available. Less than 40 full-time Cup rides do not leave very many openings to newcomers, especially with many of them being occupied by full-time drivers. Although options may be limited, there could be some more surprises.
Noah Gragson is not afraid to ruffle any feathers. At every level of his racing career, Gragson’s path to the top has been littered with scraps, punches and more hurt feelings than you could count. What he does undeniably have is talent, including a pair of wins in both the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series, and has dozens of top 10s to go along with them.
Gragson fell short of making the Daytona 500 this year (which would have been his first career start) driving for Beard Motorsports. With team owner Mark Beard’s passing not too long ago, it is uncertain if the Beard team will ever be back to the track with Gragson.
If it does not return, Gragson still has ties to Rick Hendrick through his Xfinity team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Will Hendrick roll out a fifth car for Gragson at some point this year? Unlikely, but there are some other bowtie rides available.
The dark horse in the Xfinity Series this year might just be Myatt Snider. He has not made too much noise, but he is sitting very comfortably inside the playoff cutline. He scored his first career win at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this season with Richard Childress Racing, a ride he earned after splitting time between an RCR ride and the No. 93 for RSS Racing and Reaume Brothers Racing last season.
Snider has been known to take up shop at underfunded and less competitive teams (like he did in 2020) to try to get more experience for when his big break comes. The are a few Cup teams who have a rotation of drivers. Is it possible Snider continues his trend?
Aside from Gragson, Snider is likely the best NXS driver who has never made a Cup start at this time. Prospective team owners could get some value out of the dependably consistent and conservative Snider.
Maybe this is way too soon, but if his three career NXS starts are any indication, Ty Gibbs looks like he may well be ready for the big leagues. It is only a matter of time before he gets there, and the grandson of legendary car owner and football coach Joe Gibbs already has a win, runner-up and a fourth-place finish in the series on his resume.
His victory at the Daytona International Speedway road course in his first career start was something that had not been done since 2006. With the exception of Joe Ruttman, every other driver who won in their first start notched over 20 victories in their illustrious Cup careers.
His Joe Gibbs Racing team has never pulled out a fifth part-time Cup car before, but with this projected generational talent, it might have to. That Gaunt ride also may be appealing.
Grant Enfinger may have the best shot of anyone to go Cup racing. This Truck stalwart has strong ties to Go FAS Racing. Although it sold its Cup charter that guaranteed it a spot in every Cup race last year, GFR announced before the season that it’s hoping to enter about five or six races this season.
If it does, Enfinger could be an easy choice to fill the driver’s seat. The Alabaman has competed in several late-model races for GFR recently, including the Snowball Derby. With Enfinger also reducing his Truck schedule to part time, it frees up plenty of space for a possible Cup debut, something he has already tried to do once in 2011.
With teams facing so many new road courses on the schedule this year, why not just hire a road course specialist? Although the days of the bona fide road-course ringer have come and gone, some smaller or newer teams might want to put a driver in that has some left- and right-turn experience.
There are a multitude of drivers you could pick from both inside and outside of NASCAR. Jade Buford likely has the most road course experience of any driver in the lower series. The 33-year-old has competed primarily in sports car road racing since he was a teenager. This season, Buford has begun to learn stock cars driving full time for the fledgling Big Machine Racing Team in Xfinity.
In the few starts he made last season on Xfinity road courses, Buford often shined in underfunded equipment and raced his way into the top 10. If teams have taken note, Buford might already be on some short lists.