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The Top NASCAR Cup Series Prospects (Early Season)

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What’s Happening?

NASCAR’s feeder system works similarly, but not exactly, like Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League. Drivers work their way up through the lower series before getting their big shot in the NASCAR Cup Series. With a feeder system like this, we feel it is perfect to put together an early season top-10 NASCAR prospects list with plans to update it as the season progresses.

  • To be eligible for this list, a driver must not be either a current or former full-time Cup Series driver. Drivers who intend to compete part-time in the Cup Series are eligible.
  • While emphasis will be placed on the higher levels of the ladder such as Xfinity and Trucks, lower levels will also be considered. Drivers in series like ARCA, the CARS Tour, or the Weekly Series amongst others will be considered as well.
  • Criteria considered include performance, funding, and investment from race teams farther up the food chain. Simply performing well is only part of the battle for NASCAR Cup Series prospects.

10. William Sawalich

William Sawalich may be very young, but he is fast. In the 2023 ARCA Menards Series season, he was the only other driver aside from Jesse Love to garner multiple victories. Sawalich also has 3 top-10s in 6 Craftsman Truck Series starts. He will make his Xfinity Series debut this fall for Joe Gibbs Racing once. he turns 18. That connection to JGR is what makes Sawalich such an intriguing prospect.

9. Riley Herbst

Riley Herbst is coming off of a season where he missed the Playoffs, but, he did earn a big win at Las Vegas last fall. He also started the 2024 season off with 2 top-10s and a top-5 in three races. He also has major funding behind him from Monster Energy, and some solid one-off runs in the Cup Series on superspeedways. There are flashes of talent there, and the funding is absolutely there for him to make a big run.

8. Layne Riggs

Layne Riggs got off to a tough start in 2024, but, he has shown flashes of brilliance on the way up. He nabbed a top-10 in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing in 2023, and he won the 2022 NASCAR Weekly Series Championship. However, if this trend continues, he might find himself off of this list.

7. Christian Eckes

Christian Eckes finally had his breakout season in 2023 with 4 wins for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing. It was a long time coming for the 2019 ARCA Menards Series Champion. The big issue with Eckes is funding. He has primarily relied on Napa Auto Care, which has historically been a McAnally sponsor, so, if Eckes cannot find his own funding, he may struggle up the food chain.

6. Nick Sanchez

Nick Sanchez finally broke through for his first career Truck Series win at Daytona, and he seems to be getting better and better as the years wear on. He is arguably the best equipment in the Truck Series thanks to Spire Motorsports’ alliance with Rev Racing. Sanchez still has only one Truck Series win, so, he needs to find victory lane more consistently to work his way upwards.

5. Sammy Smith

Sammy Smith is a 20-year-old who already has an Xfinity Series win under his belt. The funding from Pilot Flying J also gives him a leg up on many other prospects on the way up the ladder. However, he still has only one Xfinity Series win, so, he needs to find victory lane more consistently. He is in JRM equipment, so, he is in the perfect position to do so.

4. Jesse Love

Jesse Love burst onto the scene with 10 wins in the ARCA Menards Series in 2023, and he continued to impress with 2 poles and 191 laps led in his first two Xfinity Series races. While the finishes have not been stellar, the speed is definitely there. While he does not bring much funding, he is in the Richard Childress Racing pipeline. All of the tools are there as long as Love can put the final pieces of the puzzle in place.

3. Rajah Caruth

Rajah Caruth burst onto the scene early in 2024 with his win at Las Vegas. He also has the support of arguably the best race team in American Motorsports thanks to his HendrickCars.com sponsorship. It is still early in the year for Caruth, but, he is the hottest young prospect in NASCAR currently. It’s all about whether or not he can maintain.

2. Chandler Smith

Chandler Smith has everything working in his favor right now. He has a seat at Joe Gibbs Racing, good funding backing him, and a clear path to the Cup Series. With the future of Martin Truex Jr. uncertain, Smith may be the first driver in line to replace Truex Jr. Add to that Smith has gotten off to a torrid Xfinity Series start with 3 top-5s in the first 3 races.

1. Corey Heim

Corey Heim was the driver with the best overall performance in the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with 19 top-10s in 22 races. He has followed that up with 3 top-5s and an absurd average finish of 2.7 in his first three races of 2024. While he is not in a position to pounce into the Cup Series quickly like Chandler Smith is, Heim’s performance cannot be ignored. He will find his way upward at some point, and he may have the highest ceiling of anyone.

This list will be updated twice throughout the 2024 season. Once at the halfway point, and again when the season concludes.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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