The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season is bringing along with it many changes, and we’ll have some more at the end of the year, too. Paul Menard and David Ragan are no longer racing full time. Jimmie Johnson is hanging it up after this year. It’s a contract year for quite a few, including Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, and Clint Bowyer. The series schedule has been completely re-worked. NASCAR is changing the rules packages for road courses and shorter tracks. Oh, and there’s a stellar rookie class coming in that, combined with the youth movement up top, kind of makes this year harder to predict than many any the past. But let’s try to do so anyway.
Below are my top 30 NASCAR Fantasy drivers heading into the 2020 season. This is how I see them performing for the full year over the course of the 36 points-paying races from a Fantasy perspective. Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this page what you agree with, what you disagree with, and anything else you may want to share. Enjoy!
Top 30 Fantasy NASCAR Drivers Heading Into 2020
#1. Kevin Harvick – Did Kevin Harvick experience a little regression in 2019? Yes, he did. Is he poised to bounce back in 2020? Probably, yes. It seemed to have taken Rodney Childers and the #4 team about half of the season last year to get fully acclimated with this new racing package, but the fact of the matter is that Kevin Harvick still won four races in 2019–all of which came in the second half of the season, by the way–and made the Championship Four for the fifth time in the six years that the format has existed. What should have Harvick fans excited is the fact that he was dominant on the 1.5-mile tracks last season, and should continue that this year; in 2019, Kevin had the 2nd-best average finish on that track type, the best average running position, the most fastest laps, and the most laps led. The biggest thing Harvick has working against him now is his age, as he’s going to be 44 this year. Will that affect his 2020 season? Time will tell.
#2. Kyle Busch – Could this be the start of another Jimmie Johnson-like era? Kyle Busch won his second Cup Series Championship last season and this year the title-deciding finale moves to Phoenix Raceway, a track that Rowdy has absolutely dominated at recently. Kyle is only turning 35 years old this year–which is the age in which Johnson already had five Championships won–and will be good for his normal 5+ wins during the season. From a Fantasy NASCAR perspective, Kyle Busch is and has been one of the best plays year in and year out.
#3. Martin Truex, Jr. – Like Kevin Harvick, it took a while for Martin Truex, Jr. to get into his groove last season, although the latter had to deal with an organization change as well. But once the Playoffs started, this #19 team was firing on all cylinders, winning three of the last ten races of the season and finishing 2nd in two others. At the Championship race in Homestead, Truex looked well on his way to another title but a massive mistake by his pit crew (putting the wrong tires on) stopped that from happening. Then the offseason bombshell came: Cole Pearn, who was the crew chief for Truex for five years (and 24 wins), decided to retire. This is definitely something to keep an eye on, because it’d be like Jimmie Johnson losing Chad Knaus in the middle of his championship run. Truex has been a dominating force in the Cup Series for so long that it’s hard to see his performance in 2020 taking that much of a hit, but losing Pearn is enough to make you a little concerned…
#4. Joey Logano – It might be weird to think about, but you have to wonder whether Joey Logano has peaked a bit in the Cup Series. From 2014 through 2016, Joey never had a season with less than 16 top 5 finishes, and over that three-year span he went to victory lane a total of 14 times. In the three years since then, Logano has only won 6 races, and his top 5s have been 12, 13, and 10 (in 2019, 2018, and 2017, respectively). With that being said, the #22 team led the Cup Series in Stage points last year (358) and was 2nd-best in Stage wins (11). In other words, they were good enough to consistently run up front, just had trouble finishing. If a few things go his way next year, Logano could easily get back to winning several races in 2020. One thing to keep an eye on with Joey this year is how well he works with his new crew chief, Paul Wolfe, who should bring a bit more aggressive calling of races.
#5. Ryan Blaney – As part of the Penske shake-up, all three drivers will have new crew chiefs this year, and Ryan Blaney will now be working with Todd Gordon, who led Joey Logano to his Championship in 2018, as well as five finishes of 6th or better in the final Points standings over the last six years. As far as Ryan Blaney goes, he’s poised to be a breakout Fantasy NASCAR driver in 2020 (click here to read that article) and has steadily improved year after year since joining the Cup Series full time in 2016. Last year, Ryan posted his best average finish (13.7) along with a career-high 11 top 5 finishes (his total in the three previous years was 15). Thus far in his young career, Ryan Blaney has won at Pocono, the ROVAL, and Talladega. Over the last couple years, he’s emerged as one of the top short track racers, and we know the Penske cars are capable at the intermediates–although that’s one area where Blaney must improve to have a big year, as his average finish of 17.3 on them last year was 21st-best in the series. Multiple wins out of this #12 team in 2020 honestly shouldn’t surprise many.
#6. Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott could have a big year in 2020 if he gets rid of the bad luck bug that hit him a couple times last year. Average-finish wise, the 2019 season was the worst of Chase’s young Cup Series career, as he dropped to 15.1 from a 12.2 in 2018. Still, though, Elliott has won three races in each of the last two seasons, and has been good for at least 10 top 5 finishes each year. Hendrick Motorsports has been improving over the last three years, and 2020 may finally be the time that they get back to the top-notch performance they’ve been known for over the years. With Chase Elliott and William Byron leading the way, 2020 could be a big season for the Rick Hendrick-owned cars. Both drivers are in position to take things to the next level this year.
#7. Denny Hamlin – Let’s just be honest here…Denny Hamlin drove out of his mind in 2019. He posted career highs in top 10 finishes (24), top 5 finishes (19), average finish (9.5), and collected six wins, which was more than he had in the previous three seasons combined. Now the question is, can he repeat it–or will history repeat itself? The only other times that Denny Hamlin has won five or more races in a season were in 2010 and 2012, and he followed those years up with one win in 2011 and one win in 2013 as well. Further, after starting on the pole and leading just two laps in the finale last year, Hamlin once again showed he doesn’t have the “clutch” gene to be a Champion. In a world where you should buy low and sell high, now may be the time to sell Denny Hamlin.
#8. Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski has really settled in to a consistent groove in the NASCAR Cup Series. Over the last three years, he’s put up three wins in each season, along with 19, 20, and 21 top 10s (in 2019, 2018, and 2017, respectively). He’s also ended up with average finishes of 12.9, 13.4, and 12.4. This year, BK is losing his long-time crew chief Paul Wolfe in exchange for Jeremy Bullins, who has been atop the pit box for Ryan Blaney for the last five years. Could this be the spark that Keselowski needs to get back to legitimate championship contender form? We’ll find out soon enough. It’s worth noting, though, that Kez has just one top 5 points finish in the last five years, and two in the last seven.
#9. William Byron – Here’s another guy in a great position to have a breakout season in 2020 (read more here). Typically the “Sophomore Slump” is real for NASCAR Cup Series drivers, but it definitely didn’t happen with William Byron; after posting an average finish of 22.1 and just four top 10s (and zero top 5s) in his rookie campaign, Byron rebounded with an average finish of 14.9 last season along with five top 5s and 13 total top 10s. He also threw in five poles. Where Byron improved the most, though, was on the 1.5-mile tracks, which make up a lot of the Cup Series schedule. On those, he had an average finish of 14.7 in 2019 (13th-best in the series), and if he can continue to improve that, he has one of the best crew chief’s in the series in Chad Knaus to continue getting better in 2020. Byron could be looking at double-digit top 5s this year if that happens.
#10. Kyle Larson – Ever since Kyle Larson has came on to the Cup Series scene, he’s always been that “next big thing” driver…and then year after year he disappoints. Yeah, Kyle won four races here in 2017, but that was when this #42 team had an absolute stranglehold on the 2-mile tracks, and then they added in a Richmond victory after taking both Michigan races and the Fontana race. The thing with Larson is that we haven’t really seen a lot of improvement since he’s joined the Cup Series full time, so what’s to say that that will start this season? The 2019 season was the first time in four years that Kyle didn’t have double-digit top 5 finishes.
#11. Alex Bowman – In his second full year in the #88 Chevrolet last season, Alex Bowman posted career-best results across the board, from average finish (14.4) to top 10s (12) to top 5s (7), and he finally picked up that first career win too–in legitimate fashion, you may remember, when he outraced Kyle Larson at Chicagoland. Speaking of which, Bowman’s performance on the 1.5-mile tracks last season was very surprising, as he ended up with an average result of 9.3, which was 3rd-best in the series behind only Martin Truex, Jr. (7.7) and Kevin Harvick (8.3). Can the #88 team repeat that this season? If their Hendrick teammates of Chase Elliott and William Byron do it, why not Bowman?
#12. Clint Bowyer – There was another goose egg in the win column for Clint Bowyer at the end of 2019, and you have to wonder whether or not he’s getting close to hanging the helmet up for good. Clint will be 41 years old this year and, going into the season, isn’t signed for 2021. Performance-wise, though, Bowyer might not be getting wins, but he posted 18 top 10s last year, which was his most since the 2013 season, and he’s progressively gotten better in that category over the last five years. He probably won’t win a race once again this season but in Fantasy NASCAR Clint is a solid mid-tier choice.
#13. Kurt Busch – Believe it or not, Kurt Busch now has six straight seasons with a victory after his impressive last-second Kentucky steal of a win last year, but you have to wonder whether or not that streak ends this year. Like Bowyer, Kurt is getting up there in age, and with the huge wave of young talent that is now in the Cup Series, there might not be enough wins to go around. As far as Fantasy NASCAR goes, the elder Busch brother is going to get you solid top 10s about half of the season, but top 5s are becoming harder and harder to come by (he has just 6 each in the last three years). In other words, he’s solid, but Kurt probably isn’t going to win you any trophies.
#14. Erik Jones – This could be a make or break year for Erik Jones. Last September, he signed a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing to continue driving the #20 Toyota, but all indications point to that only being a one-year deal. And with Christopher Bell sitting there at Leavine Family Racing, you have to wonder how impatient the Gibbs organization will get to move him up–meaning Jones could easily be the odd man out there. Thus far in his young Cup Series career, Erik Jones has shown flashes of being very good, but really lacks consistency throughout the year, and he has trouble finishing some races–which is a big reason why his lead lap finish percentage is sitting at 63.9%. Another thing to note for Fantasy NASCAR players: Jones is a notorious slow starter; he’s never been higher than 13th in points after the first ten races of the season, and he’s only posted three top 5 results over those 30 races.
#15. Aric Almirola – After a great year in 2018–his first with Stewart-Haas Racing–Aric Almirola regressed a bit in 2019, as his average finish dipped down to 15.4 from 12.8 the year prior. With that being said, the entire SHR organization took a step back last year, but it’s more than likely that they’ll be able to bounce back in 2020–especially with a solid driver in that #41 and not someone without any talent dragging everyone else down. A positive sign going forward for Almirola was his average finish on 1.5-mile tracks in 2019, which was 12.3 and ranked 9th-best in the series. If he can rank inside the top 10 in that statistic in 2020, he should be able to get back to 2018 form.
#16. Chris Buescher – Chris Buescher will be one to keep an eye on in 2020, and could end up being a very good sleeper in season-long leagues that you set at the beginning of the year and don’t pick every week. Looking back at 2019 with JTG Daugherty Racing, Buescher posted a career-high four top 10s along with a career-best average finish of 17.8–his only season with an average result better than 21st. Now he’s in the #17 Ford for Roush-Fenway and has a very knowledgeable veteran teammate in Ryan Newman to learn from. If Buescher can replicate his 1.5-mile track success from last year–he had an average finish of 14.3, which was 12th-best in the series–there’s no reason it can’t be another career year for him in his new ride for 2020.
#17. Ryan Newman – “The Rocketman” had a rebound year in 2019, posting his best average finish (14.6) since the 2015 season, and his most top 10s (14) since that year as well. What’s interesting is that Newman did that with his worst average starting spot ever in his career (19.9). Like they say, it’s better to have a car that races well than one that is just good for one lap. As mentioned with Kevin Harvick earlier, though, age could come into play here with Newman this season. He’s going to be 42 this year. As far as the Roush-Fenway organization goes, it wouldn’t be surprising if the #17 Ford outruns the #6 Ford in 2020.
#18. Jimmie Johnson – The farewell tour for Jimmie Johnson starts with this year’s Daytona 500, as the seven-time Cup Series Champion will hang it up at the conclusion of 2020 (at least full time). Unfortunately for Johnson fans, it doesn’t look like he’s going to go out on a high note. Over the past three years (108 races), Johnson has posted a total of just nine top 5 finishes–a mark that he used to hit by August in one season–and he hasn’t won since 2017. Looking at his average finishes, Johnson has ended with 17.4, 16,7, and 16.8 over the last three seasons. Don’t expect much better in his finale year.
#19. Christopher Bell – High expectations: that’s the theme for Christopher Bell’s rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series. After winning 15 races in the Xfinity Series over the last two years, Bell will jump up to Leavine Family Racing’s #95 Toyota in 2020. Supposedly, this car will be just like a fifth Joe Gibbs Racing car, but keep in mind that this still isn’t a real JGR car–LFR just has access to much of the same that the other Gibbs teams do. There’s no doubt that Christopher Bell has the talent to run well in the Cup Series, but success coming in his first year is nowhere near guaranteed. Even a guy like Joey Logano took several years before he started running well in NASCAR’s top series. In other words, just temper your expectations with Bell from a Fantasy NASCAR perspective, and he’s bound to be a popular pick, so fading him in season-long pool games is definitely an option if you feel like being contrarian.
#20. Cole Custer – The big question of the year: which rookie is going to be better? We have a total of four guys that will be making their first attempt at full-time Cup Series racing, and Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have the superior equipment and most potential. As far as Custer goes, he’s taking over Daniel Suarez’s #41 Ford this season and bringing his Xfinity Series crew chief (Mike Shiplett) with him. Those two posted seven wins in that series last year and finished runner-up for the Championship (for the second year in a row). That was Custer’s only Xfinity season with more than one win, so we’ll have to see how the transition treats him. He definitely has the equipment to be better than 19th-best.
#21. Matt DiBenedetto – Matt DiBenedetto was the ‘feel good’ story of the year in 2019 after he nearly won at Bristol while also being a contender on the road course races as he ended up 4th at Sonoma, 6th at Watkins Glen, and 11th at the ROVAL. Unfortunately, Leavine Family Racing had to let DiBenedetto go to make room for Christopher Bell in their ride, but soon after, Paul Menard announced his retirement and the Wood Brothers scooped up DiBenedetto to take over the famed #21 Ford. As far as expectations for the 2020 season goes, it’s all going to come down to the 1.5-mile tracks with DiBenedetto. He had an average finish of just 23.7 on them in 2019–just 25th-best in the Cup Series–but really excelled at the shorter tracks. With the Wood Brothers, their best tracks have historically been the 1.5-milers, and they haven’t been great at the shorter tracks. Additionally, with the rules package change to short tracks and road course this year, that could end up hurting DiBenedetto; was the 2019 season just a perfect timing of a favorable rules package and a race team that was gearing up to be really good in 2020?
#22. Austin Dillon – The 2019 season was a rough one for Austin Dillon with the new rules package, as he posted zero top 5 finishes for the first time in his Cup Series career, while his average finish dipped down to 19.5–the lowest it has been since his “sophomore slump” season in 2015. What’s even more concerning is that his results sputtered while his qualifying efforts were the best they have been in the last three years (he had a career-high three poles in 2019, and an average start of 16.5–his best since 2016). Austin has another new teammate at Richard Childress Racing this year (Tyler Reddick), but it’s hard to imagine either of them finding much on-track success in 2020.
#23. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. lost his ride at Roush-Fenway Racing to Chris Buescher, but the two basically just swapped rides because Stenhouse will be piloting the second JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet alongside Ryan Preece in 2020 (although Preece is moving to the #37 while Stenhouse will take the #47). Performance-wise, expect a step back by Ricky this year. Roush-Fenway equipment is just a tad better than the JTG Daugherty cars, and the only reason Buescher excelled here last year is because he gets more out of the car than it has. Stenhouse doesn’t.
#24. Ty Dillon – The king of average consistency got back to his normal self in 2019, posting an average finish of 20.6, which mirrored his rookie year’s number fo 20.7. Ty had that typical Sophomore Slump in 2018 where his average result dipped down to 24.1, but moving forward, you should expect him to be around a top 20 finisher week in and week out. Ty was able to post a career-high three top 10 finishes last season but all of them were on the superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega), so there’s a little asterisk mark beside that statistic. The biggest thing holding Ty Dillon back is the team he races for.
#25. Tyler Reddick – It’s always hard to judge how rookies are going to perform in the Cup Series, and Tyler Reddick is no different. But there is some underdog potential for him in his first full season in NASCAR’s top series. Reddick is the defending (and back-to-back) Xfinity Series Champion and is coming off a six-win season in that series. He’s also bringing his crew chief with him to his new ride at Richard Childress Racing. One thing to note is that this RCR car didn’t perform very well last year, but it did have speed in terms of qualifying up front. If Reddick and his crew chief, Randall Burnett, are able to build upon that early weekend speed, Tyler could end up being very valuable in the NASCAR Fantasy world. That could also help bump up Austin Dillon’s performance as well.
#26. John Hunter Nemechek – We have a relatively small sample size to go off of, but John Hunter Nemechek looked really impressive in his limited seat time in the Cup Series in 2019. When Matt Tifft had his medical issues, JH Nemechek jumped in the #36 Ford for the final three races and was able to post finishes of 21st at Texas, 27th at Phoenix, and 23rd at Homestead. That’s pretty impressive. This year, he’ll be driving David Ragan’s old car (the #38 Ford), which should be marginally better than what he took over for Tifft. Front Row Motorsports constricting to just two race cars should help them focus on speed.
#27. Bubba Wallace – Bubba Wallace is getting the most out of his race cars, but when you drive for an organization that refuses to put any money into getting better, you’re pretty much stuck. The good news is that from his rookie year to his sophomore year, we saw Bubba’s “running at finish” statistic jump from 30 to 33 races, while his lead lap finishes went from 6 to 9. His overall average finish improved from 24.5 to 23.9. This upcoming season could be the time that Chevrolet takes another step forward, and if that happens, guys like Bubba Wallace will see a small bump in performance.
#28. Michael McDowell – It was much of the same for Michael McDowell during the 2019 season, as he posted his third average finish between 24.2 and 24.5 in the last four years, with the only exception being the 2018 year when he ended up at 22.2. For a low-tier driver, Michael McDowell is one of the most reliable, but as far as being able to put up a ‘wow’ performance, you can’t expect that more than once or twice a year (excluding the races at Daytona and Talladega).
#29. Ryan Preece – Ryan Preece is entering is second full-time Cup Series season and will have a new teammate in Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. after spending the first year with Chris Buescher. In 2019, Preece was able to average a finish of 23.1 but had just ten lead lap finishes. He was able to grab top 10s at both Daytona and Talladega, as well as a very surprising 7th-place run at Michigan, but other than that there wasn’t much to like about Preece from a Fantasy NASCAR perspective. We’ll have to see how the switch in teammates from Buescher to Stenhouse affects Preece. He’ll also have to battle off that common “Sophomore Slump” that tends to hit drivers more often than not.
#30. Corey LaJoie – In 2019, Corey LaJoie went from a guy that could always be counted on to probably be the next caution, to one that was running at the finish almost every week. In fact, LaJoie was running at the end of 32 of the 36 points-paying races last season, which is a big reason why he posted a career-best average finish of 25.9 (and also grabbed his first two career Cup Series top 10s, at Daytona and Talladega). The thing with LaJoie is, GO FAS Racing is an underfunded team, so even a good day for them isn’t that good for Fantasy NASCAR players.
BONUS: #31. Daniel Suarez – This guy failed not once, but twice in some of the best equipment the Cup Series has to offer (at Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing). Some people want to continue to give this guy a pass and say he’s still a great driver, but great drivers don’t have an average finish of 17th and a measly eight top 5s in 108 Cup Series starts. Now Suarez will be racing the #96 Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing, an organization that will attempt to run full-time in NASCAR’s top series for the first time ever. There’s no reason you should get your hopes up here.