Though it may be arguable these days, the NASCAR Cup Series Championship is still considered by many to be the most coveted prize in motorsports. To win the Cup is to solidify a driver’s legacy as one of the all-time greats of the sport. But for some drivers, great drivers by all or most measurable statistics, it’s just not in the cards.

Here are 3 drivers I think whose days as a competitive NASCAR Cup Series driver are numbered. For these drivers, 2024 could be their last year to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

Austin Dillon

Let’s not kid ourselves, Austin Dillon is, at best, an outside contender for the Cup on years he makes the Playoffs. Like WAY outside. At worst, he’s more of a Playoff pretender than a Playoff contender. In his 10 years as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, he has made the Playoffs a total of 5 times. That’s a 50% success rate. Of those 5 times, he was eliminated in the Round of 16 4 of them. In 2020, he made it past the opening round but was ultimately eliminated in the Round of 12.

To put it bluntly, Austin Dillon isn’t anyone’s pick to win the 2024 title. But, with the winner-take-all system, stranger things have happened, especially in the lower series. The reason I include him on this list is primarily because he might be in the latter phase of his career. Rumors online have swirled over the offseason that 2024 may be Dillon’s last year behind the wheel of the RCR No. 3 as he looks to take a position at the front office of his grandfather’s legendary NASCAR team.

Think about it: Austin Dillon was largely credited for the massive signing of Kyle Busch. He clearly has a mind for the business side of things. This reality begs the question: How long is RCR willing to give him a ride rather than thinking about their own future? Richard Childress won’t be around forever and, at some point, somebody is going to have to take his place. Why not Austin Dillon?

For this unknown variable, 2024 could be the last real shot Austin Dillon has to make the Playoffs and run for his first Cup Series Championship.

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Michael McDowell

Over the last couple of years, Michael McDowell has seemingly had a breakout year. That’s wild considering that he is 39 years old going on 40, and has been a full-time competitor in the Cup Series since 2011. By all accounts, McDowell appears to be entering the peak of his driving career. But how much longer will that peak last? Most NASCAR drivers retire between 42 and 45 years of age but even before that point, they suffer a steep career falloff before ultimately hanging it up.

The best year of McDowell’s career is hands-down 2023. Not only didn’t he qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs for the second time in his career, he won in dominating fashion at the Indianapolis Road Course. Despite a disappointing showing in the Playoffs, with Front Row Motorsports’ jump in performance and their new technical alliance with Team Penske, many fans see them trending at an undeniable upward trajectory.

Will Michael McDowell win the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series title? It’s doubtful. Maybe that is even too kind of a word. But will he constantly be in the conversation for playoff contention? I think that if he isn’t, 2024 will ultimately be a disappointing year. I could totally see him making the playoffs, even without a win, and possibly even advancing to the Round of 12. And, who knows? He could be an outside favorite to sneak into the Round of 8.

Only time will tell what the future holds but it sure as heck does look bright.

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Denny Hamlin

There is an argument to be said that Denny Hamlin jinxed himself when he called 2023 “his year” on his podcast, Actions Detrimental. And, for a lot of the 2023 season, it did look like it could be Hamlin’s year. Then, just like the Dallas Cowboys each and every year, it all fell apart in the Playoffs. He performed respectable, don’t get me wrong, but it was just shy as good enough to take the Cup. That pretty much sums up his whole career: he’s always been just shy enough from winning it all.

In 2024, Denny Hamlin will turn 44 years old. He has competed full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series since the 2006 season. For 18 years, he has competed at NASCAR’s top level, and, in more recent years, he has always been considered a serious championship threat. He just never could carry that season-long momentum into Homestead or Phoenix.

In ’24, Denny Hamlin’s biggest hurdle will be father time. He’s approaching that age and that point in his career where drivers tend to experience a severe falloff in performance. It’s not a matter of if but when he will experience a downturn of his own. Could it be 2024? Maybe 2025? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure: time is running out for Denny Hamlin to capture The Cup.

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Conclusion

That’ll do it for us, Daily Downforce readers. Who do you think will win the 2024 Cup Series title? Do you think anyone on this list will be a serious challenger? Let us know by commenting and following us on all of our social media platforms (Facebook, X, Instagram, etc.) Tell us what you’re most looking forward to heading into this new season. We’d love to know!

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