On Wednesday ESPN’s Bob Pockrass posted his Top 20 NASCAR prospects list sending Twitter into a tizzy.
Bob is one of the hardest working, most thorough guys in the sport. He’s our Woj, Schefter or Olney. Truly an “insider” in more ways than one. Bob has watched drivers come and go, he knows what it takes to win at the Cup level. His list, however, left some things to be desired but ranking prospects isn’t easy. You’ll always have that Casey Atwood that ruins your credibility.
Since lists require you to have no expert training and all essential opinion based on numbers we put together our own Top 20 list.
Who Qualifies & How We Quantify:
Like Bob, we’ll go with driver’s that have under 10 cup series starts.
In terms of how we determine where a driver ranks is solely based on their driving ability. We’re not interested in how much money a driver can bring only on their past results and where we think their ceiling is.
1) Christopher Bell (age 23): Currently driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Bell is the hot pick for everyone. His dirt background has translated exceptionally to NASCAR, his truck series championship in 2017 was indicative of that. A near win in his second Xfinity start last season led to a win at Kansas. Now driving full time for JGR in the Xfinity Series in 2018 Bell is considered a favorite to win the championship in Homestead. Bell’s career numbers consist of 7 truck series wins in 53 starts, 5 of those coming in 2017. One Xfinity win in 10 starts, 3 ARCA wins in 6 starts and 4 CARS Super Late Model wins in 6 starts. Bell can win races, but he can get a good finish when a winning car isn’t there. He finished in the Top 10 77% of the time in the truck series, and so far 60% in the Xfinity Series.
2) Ryan Preece (age 27): Ryan Preece is an anomaly on this list. He’s the same age as Joey Logano and he’s on this list. Preece got his break last year, instead of running mid-pack for JD Motorsports he put his money into 4 starts for Joe Gibbs Racing. The Late Model champ turned those four races into a rocket ship thrusting him up everyone’s rankings. Four starts resulted in four Top 5’s and 1 win at Iowa. He nearly beat Kyle Busch at New Hampshire. Those runs turned into at least a 10 race deal for him in 2018 with JGR in the Xfinity Series. Preece’s age is a factor against him but a team looking for a mature driver capable of winning should definitely give this guy a hard look.
3) Daniel Hemric (age 27): A lot of the same things we said about Preece apply to Hemric. The biggest difference is Hemric has a clear shot to a cup ride with RCR when Newman retires. He overachieved in 2017 by making the Championship 4 in RCR equipment. He has a ton of upside still.
4) Cole Custer (20): Kurt Busch’s future replacement makes his Cup debut this weekend in Las Vegas. His win at Homestead in the Xfinity finale last season was the culmination of a great second half turnaround for Custer. He’s a winner in both the trucks and Xfinity series now. When Ryan Newman retires Custer can take over the short and stocky segment of NASCAR.
5) John Hunter Nemechek (20): Some people might think he is high on this list but there is a reason for that. He has won 5 times in NEMCO equipment against KBM, GMS, Thorsport and other heavy hitters. The ability to do that reportedly got the wheels turning inside JR Motorsports before his incident with Cole Custer in Canada. JHN impressed everyone with a 4th place finish last weekend in his first Xfinity start.
6) Todd Gilliland (17): David’s kid has been dubbed the next can’t miss talent. With 13 K&N West wins, 6 K&N East wins, 1 ARCA win the 17 year old certainly knows where victory lane is. He’s Toyota’s next big name but where will they put him? He’ll race for the truck series championship this season full time when he turns 18.
7) Chase Briscoe (23): Briscoe is potentially the best young talent Ford currently has next to Custer. Briscoe won 6 ARCA races in 2016, he won the Homestead finale in the truck series last season. He will run a partial schedule for Roush Fenway’s Xfinity team in 2018 while his former BKR teammate somehow gets a full season? Briscoe has a high ceiling and has proven he can adjust a car to get the most out of it.
8) Tyler Reddick (22): JR Motorsport’s next big name in the #9 car started off his season with a win at Daytona. He won Kentucky’s fall race last season driving for Ganassi. Two Xfinity wins combined with 3 truck wins with BKR has shown Reddick has the talent to get this done. The last two drivers of the #9 car have gone on to Hendrick Motorsports cup rides, will Reddick be the next?
9) Austin Theriault (24): Last seasons ARCA champ is somehow without a ride for 2018. It’s not talent that’s keeping him out of a car but rather money. If a sponsor wants to fund a driver, fund someone like Austin who wins. Forget the Brandon Jones of the world, fund actual talent your ROI will be so much better.
10) Harrison Burton (17): Jeff’s kid can get the job done but I’m personally not sold on him yet. A K&N East championship is fantastic but Dylan Kwaskinesksiesisksie did the same thing and he’s selling real estate now while those Royal Purple commercials live on in infamy.
11) Kyle Benjamin (20): The most forgotten about prospect is quietly laying the foundation for his career. Kyle currently serves at JGR’s fill-in driver but needs more consistent seat time to make a career in the sport. The 3 time ARCA winner and 5 time K&N East winner is coming off a Top 10 at Atlanta.
12) Jesse Little (21): Why Jesse Little is part of a manufacturer’s development program is head scratching. He’s coming off at top 10 finish at Atlanta driving for his own truck team with 2 employees. Someone put this kid in a car. John Deere, sponsor Chad’s kid.
13) Dalton Sargeant (19) With 4 ARCA wins, 1 K&N West win a number of solid runs Sargeant has the talent to get it done in NASCAR. He is in a GMS truck this season so we can see what he can do.
14) Cayden Lapcevich (18) From behind the northern wall, Cayden Lapcevich has been a force in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series for the last two seasons. NASCAR needs a solid Canadian in one of the national touring series. Get the Canada Boys down here to support Cayden. With 6 wins in 31 starts before turning 18, Cayden could get some things done in America given the chance.
15) Christian Eckes (17) Basing this solely off the fall Salem ARCA race in 2017 where Eckes drove a smart first half the race before car failure kept him from battling for the win. He’s still young, he doesn’t have a ton of major series starts but he has a lot of upsides. Also 9 Top 10’s in 10 ARCA races last season is certainly something to build off of. Also he won the 2016 Snowball Derby.
16) Ty Majeski (23): I feel like we’re supposed to hype Majeski up but in his starts with RFR last year he didn’t dazzle anyone and hit literally everything at Iowa. We’ve been peer pressured into thinking he’s good. Maybe the Markelle Fultz of driver rankings if you will.
17) Noah Gragson (19) Left off Bob’s list for some reason, Gragson has a truck series win at Martinsville against Matt Crafton. He won the Winchester 400 last year and ran really well to close out the truck season. He should be a championship 4 favorite for Homestead. Money helped him get into KBM but he matured in 2017 and figured out how to drive. Look for him to improve more this season. He’s also NASCAR’s horniest driver meaning he needs to win.
18) Ben Rhodes (21) He went head to head against Kyle Busch at Kansas last season in the truck series and would have won if the engine didn’t expire. He won Las Vegas last fall to finally break through, look for him to keep improving in 2018.
19) Kyle Weatherman (20) Zach is high on Weatherman. Majority of his career has been spent in the ARCA series in 50 starts he has 25 Top 5 finishes. Weatherman just has to weather the storm and find a ride. Get it?
20) Justin Haley (18) Justin is a weird pick. He has shown some promise but at times he looks completely lost. 2018 is going to be a telling year for him in terms of development but the talent is there, can he manage it is the question.
Guys like Brett Moffitt have huge upsides but have a fair amount of cup starts, don’t overlook him though.
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