The highest 20 up-and-coming prospects in NASCAR
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR reporter
Wondering which Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series drivers will eventually make it into the NASCAR Cup Series?
Here’s a look at 20 prospects from a number of development series that Cup teams are likely to see this season, and another 25 that should be on the radar.
This list consists of drivers up to the age of 28 who have no more than a handful of cup races (so drivers like Daniel Hemric, Jeb Burton and Justin Allgaier are not on the list). It’s all subjective and mostly talent based, but the ability to get sponsorship is also taken into account, using my research and some input from some driver scouts.
Here we go:
1. Austin Cindric (Age 22): Team Penske’s defending Xfinity champion already knows he will be in the Cup in 2022, driving for Wood Brothers Racing. He has eight wins in the Xfinity series, six of them last year. His victories were achieved on street courses, short distances and intermediate distances.
2. Sam Mayer (17): Mayer won a truck race in Bristol, five national ARCA series races and five ARCA East races last year. The ARCA East Champion will race in an Xfinity car at JR Motorsports when he turns 18 on June. As with any driver under the age of 18, it is difficult to know how they will behave on routes longer than a mile.
3. Zane Smith (21): Smith has two truck wins and did well with JR Motorsports in 2019 on a limited Xfinity schedule. In ten starts he achieved two top 5 and seven top 10. 2018 ARCA runner-up, Smith, returns to GMS Racing in a truck this year. As a driver without significant funding or sponsorship, he knows that wins are required to land a cup ride.
4. Jesse Love (16): Love has been on the rise on the west coast for several years, winning the ARCA West Series title last year with three wins and nine top-5s in eleven races. He will defend his series title this year and continue to run for Bill McAnally Racing.
5. Justin Haley (21): Haley has three Xfinity series wins and a cup win after winning the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July 2019 by not pitting in the rain. As third in the Xfinity classification last year, he stays with Kaulig Racing and has one title in mind. He will also host select cup events for Spire Motorsports.
6. Sheldon Creed (23): Creed won five truck races on the way to the 2020 title last year. A versatile driver with rally experience, he won the 2016 Stadium Super Trucks title. He is returning to GMS Racing to defend his truck title this year.
7. Chandler Smith (18): Smith has eight top-5s in 16 career truck starts on a limited schedule with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the past two years. With nine ARCA wins in 33 career starts, this Toyota development driver will drive a full truck season (now that he is 18) for KBM this season.
8. Harrison Burton (20): Burton, the 2017 East Series champion, bounced back from a boring 2019, winning four Xfinity races in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing last year. Harrison, son of former NASCAR star Jeff Burton, is returning for another Xfinity season at JGR.
9. Noah Gragson (22): Gragson won two Xfinity races last year and has four career wins at Xfinity and Trucks. He promises to maintain an aggressive attitude even if it leads to mistakes. Gragson is second in the truck classification in 2018 and fifth in Xfinity in 2020. He is starting his third full season with JR Motorsports.
10. Ty Gibbs (18): Ty Gibbs, the grandson of Joe Gibbs, has won eight national ARCA races in 27 starts over the past two seasons. He’ll be driving a mix of races this season, including several Xfinity events for JGR.
11. Derek Kraus (19): Kraus, the 2019 West Series champion, had a respectable year in 2020. He just missed the truck playoffs and finished 11th overall when he drove for a new team owned by Bill McAnally. He returns to the team this year.
12. Austin Hill (26): He has taken six truck wins in the past two years and is returning to Hattori Racing Enterprises for another full truck season this year. He has shown talent, but at the age of 26 he will soon have to start moving.
13. Hailie Deegan (19): Deegan became the first woman to win a race in the West Series, and she finished third overall in 2019. She finished third in the ARCA overall standings last year, but four top-5s in 20 races are not enough to make her a race not-miss. She will drive a full truck season with David Gilliland Racing. The Ford development driver and the daughter of Moto X star Brian Deegan have to show improvements on the intermediate routes.
14. Todd Gilliland (20): Gilliland was once a top prospect but has only won one truck race in three full-time years in the series. Before 2020 he moved from Kyle Busch Motorsports to Front Row Motorsports, which is a member of the Gilliland family team. He made the truck playoffs last year.
15. Raphael Lessard (19): The Canadian Lessard won in Talladega last year and finished 12th in the truck standings for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He is moving to GMS Racing for the 2021 truck season.
16. Taylor Gray (15): He’s very young, but he had eight top-5s in 12 national ARCA series races last year. Obviously he hasn’t been on a 1.5 mile track for a race, but he has demonstrated the ability to get through races without major mistakes. His grandfather is a co-owner of David Gilliland Racing and he will be racing for the team in several races this year.
17. Corey Heim (18): The winner of last year’s ARCA race in Kansas and third on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour will complete a full ARCA season for Venturini Motorsports.
18. Nick Sanchez (19): Sanchez finished third in the ARCA East Points last year and is returning for a second season with Rev Racing, the team NASCAR dubbed the Driver for Diversity.
19. Derek Griffith (24): Most of the time Griffith gets in the car, he gets solid results. The problem is, he doesn’t sit in a car often enough to get a good idea of whether he’s the whole package. He had seven top 10 finishes in eight national ARCA starts last season.
20. Ben Rhodes (23): He’s starting his sixth season in the trucks, and while he has three wins, he should have done so now if he’d been promoted to another series full-time. But he’s still a little young and will turn 24 later this month.
25 others to see: Tyler Ankrum, Toni Breidenger, Brandon Brown, Rajah Caruth, Drew Dollar, Christian Eckes, Kaz Grala, Tanner Gray, Carson Hocevar, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst, Bret Holmes, Carson Kvapil, Alex Labbe, Jesse Little, Ty Majeski, Stefan Parsons , Blaine Perkins, Layne Riggs, Sammy Smith, Myatt Snider, Gracie Trotter, Ryan Vargas, Josh Williams and Kyle Weatherman
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