The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series grid will feature three rookies, Zane Smith, Carson Hocevar, and Josh Berry. All three drivers bring at least some Cup Series experience to the 2024 grid. However, which driver is set to have the best season?
Josh Berry truly earned his Cup Series opportunity on merit. After much success in late models, Berry finally got his opportunity with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2021, and he took full advantage. Now, he will be replacing Kevin Harvick in the 4-car at Stewart-Haas Racing for 2024.
Of all rookies this season, Berry is on the team with the best historical pedigree. He also has by far the most racing experience with multiple years of experience in late models, and he has driven top Cup Series equipment before with Hendrick Motorsports. In those races, he recorded three top-10s and one top-5.
However, SHR had a down-year in 2023 with no wins and only one driver in the Playoffs. However, Berry joins the one team with SHR that did make the Playoffs, and he has a great crew chief in Rodney Childers. It is far from a perfect situation, but, Berry has some things working in his favor.
If Berry wants to be the best of the rookies in 2024, he needs to improve on bigger race tracks. All of his Cup Series top-10s came on tracks 1.0 miles or less in length, and he only had one top-20 finish on tracks longer than 1.0 miles. If he fails to improve on big race tracks, he will struggle mightily in 2024.
Zane Smith may be a rookie with only 9 career Cup Series starts, but, he is a proven winner. He has spent the last four seasons running full-time in the Craftsman Truck Series for Front Row Motorsports. He won the 2022 Series Championship, 3 poles, and 9 races in those four seasons.
On top of that, Spire Motorsports is an up-and-coming race team. They have support from Gainbridge, and they have a brand-new race shop after buying out Kyle Busch Motorsports. On top of that, Smith has gotten good results in the Cup Series in equipment that may not be quite the level of the top teams. He recorded a top-10 in the Coca-Cola 600 this year for Front Row Motorsports.
Now, Spire’s equipment, especially given that Zane Smith is there on loan from Trackhouse, is going to be a question for Smith. He can drive, and he can drive at the Cup Series level. However, will he have what he needs to get results at the Cup Series level with Spire in 2024?
It’s possible that Smith may have to wait until he moves to Trackhouse full-time for his breakout season. However, he has similar maturity to Josh Berry. Smith should keep a level head, and he knows he has the backing of one of the best teams in the sport behind him. With his contract with Trackhouse, Smith may be best equipped for the future of any of these rookies.
Carson Hocevar does not have quite the winning experience that Josh Berry and Zane Smith have, but, he does have raw speed. That was evidenced by his solid performances in all three National Touring Series this season. He won four races in the Truck Series, had two top-10s in the Xfinity Series, and he had some solid runs in the Cup Series for Spire and Legacy Motor Club.
Hocevar will be teammates with Zane Smith at Spire, so, the same benefits and detractors follow Hocevar to Spire. However, Hocevar is someone Spire will look to build around long term. That is something they cannot do with Smith because he is on loan from Trackhouse.
However, that 77 car for Spire was abysmal in 2024 with Ty Dillon behind the wheel. It calls into question what kind of equipment Hocevar will really be getting in 2024. It could allow Hocevar to fall into the trap of getting more out of the car than it is truly capable of.
On top of that, Hocevar is a very raw prospect. He needs to refine his talent if he wants to be successful at the Cup Series level. If he does not do that, then it is going to be a very long year for him.
Which driver is set to be the sports’ top rookie in 2024? Each driver brings good things and things to work on with them. On top of that, they are all on race teams that are set to prove something in 2024.