NASCAR Draft Kit: 2022 Driver Rankings

NASCAR Draft Kit: 2022 Driver Rankings

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

Below are our driver rankings and outlooks for the 2022 NASCAR season.

  1. Kyle Larson – What Larson accomplished last season is nothing short of spectacular.  He returned from NASCAR suspension, took on a new team and drove his new car to spectacular heights.  Larson's 10-win, 20-Top 5 performance shattered all his previous career-best marks.  His 2,500-plus laps led were nearly more than all the laps led he had in the seven previous seasons combined.  The ultra-dominant performance propelled him to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship.  The campaign was one of the more dominant and impressive in modern NASCAR history, and rivalling some of the championship campaigns of Jimmie Johnson in the early 2000s.  What will Larson do for an encore in 2022?  We believe that the veteran driver has a lot more performance in him similar to what he put on display last year.  With crew chief Cliff Daniels returning to the team and no significant changes, Larson has a good opportunity to remain king of the hill for a while.
  2. Kyle Busch – The two-time Cup Series champion has struggled through what we'd term two challenging seasons of no practice and no qualifying.  Busch may be one of the highest profile drivers to be impacted the most by NASCAR's major change in racing policy.  He went from posting 5.5 wins per season between 2015-2019 to posting just 1.5 wins per season over the last two campaigns.  The impact to his consistency and dominance has been obvious.  In 2022

Below are our driver rankings and outlooks for the 2022 NASCAR season.

  1. Kyle Larson – What Larson accomplished last season is nothing short of spectacular.  He returned from NASCAR suspension, took on a new team and drove his new car to spectacular heights.  Larson's 10-win, 20-Top 5 performance shattered all his previous career-best marks.  His 2,500-plus laps led were nearly more than all the laps led he had in the seven previous seasons combined.  The ultra-dominant performance propelled him to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship.  The campaign was one of the more dominant and impressive in modern NASCAR history, and rivalling some of the championship campaigns of Jimmie Johnson in the early 2000s.  What will Larson do for an encore in 2022?  We believe that the veteran driver has a lot more performance in him similar to what he put on display last year.  With crew chief Cliff Daniels returning to the team and no significant changes, Larson has a good opportunity to remain king of the hill for a while.
  2. Kyle Busch – The two-time Cup Series champion has struggled through what we'd term two challenging seasons of no practice and no qualifying.  Busch may be one of the highest profile drivers to be impacted the most by NASCAR's major change in racing policy.  He went from posting 5.5 wins per season between 2015-2019 to posting just 1.5 wins per season over the last two campaigns.  The impact to his consistency and dominance has been obvious.  In 2022 practice and qualifying will return, albeit in a bit different package than pre-COVID.  Still, the return of pre-race practice and setting the grid by qualifying will be a welcome sight for the Joe Gibbs Racing star.  Busch should claw his way back to the four-to-five win plateau and 18-to-20 Top-5 mark this season.  It means the No. 18 Toyota team will once again be serious championship contenders and not just a face among the Top 10.
  3. Denny Hamlin – The wins were slow to come last season and in the end, he captured only two over the 36-race schedule.  Still, Hamlin had one of his most consistent efforts in 2021.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star captured a career-best 25 Top-10 finishes and posted the lowest average finish of his career at 8.4.  It didn't add up to that long-sought championship, but it kept Hamlin relevant the entire season and in the championship conversation right up until the end.  Now 41-years-old, there appears to be no slowing down in sight for Hamlin.  At least not yet.  The No. 11 JGR team returns completely intact for this season and Hamlin will continue to work with Chris Gabehart atop the team's war wagon.  The 16-season veteran will once again set out in pursuit of that elusive Cup Series championship, and he will win multiple races and challenge once again for NASCAR's highest honor.
  4. Kevin Harvick – 2021 was like a lost season for both Harvick and Stewart Haas Racing.  It was clear that the stable didn't put a whole lot of tech into the old car before the arrival of the Next-Gen car.  SHR seemed to fall way behind in terms of speed and potential to win.  However, Harvick seemed to weather it better than the other drivers of this multi-car team.  Last season was Harvick's first winless campaign since 2009, and his 217 laps led were his lowest total for a season dating back to 2009 as well.  The veteran driver still managed to grab 24 Top-10 finishes, but his Top-5 totals were way down with just 10 for the season.  Harvick and the No. 4 Ford team will hit the reset button in 2022.  The new Next-Gen car will help level the playing field technologically.  That's a huge advantage for a driver as talented as Harvick.  He and crew chief Rodney Childers are two of the best in the business.  It won't take long for 2014 Cup Series champion to rediscover his mo-jo.  We should see multiple wins this season and a serious bid for NASCAR's crown.
  5. Martin Truex Jr. – The departure of Cole Pearn from the team at the end of 2019 left a definite hangover, but it appears Truex and crew chief James Small have returned this team to an elite level of performance.  After a down 2020 campaign the duo built some chemistry last season and grabbed four victories and 20 Top-10 finishes.  While the week-to-week consistency (12.0 average finish) was somewhat lacking, the No. 19 Toyota team still had the punch to lead 865 laps and grab multiple wins.  We expect Truex and Small to only get better and more consistent as they continue to work together in 2022.  Truex was one of the most dominant drivers in the Cup Series between 2017 and 2019 and he could return to that level in the this campaign.  Expect multiple wins and greater consistency in the new Next-Gen car.
  6. Chase Elliott – The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion pulled up a little bit short in his title defense last season.  Elliott only grabbed two wins, a bit surprising considering the large volume of road course racing, and 21 Top-10 finishes.  From a consistency standpoint, it was almost identical to his average finish and Top-10 totals from his championship season.  However, the campaign lacked the late-season victories that pushed him over the top in terms of the championship.  Elliott should be poised for a similar season in 2022.  There will still be a lot of road course racing (six events total) so the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet will have a good opportunity to dominate.  This team returns completely intact for this season with crew chief, Alan Gustafson, still calling the shots.  He and Elliott have built some great chemistry in the last four seasons and they should continue to succeed as a strong pair.
  7. Joey Logano – With the departure of Brad Keselowski from Penske, Logano becomes the senior driver and the primary focus of this three-car stable going forward.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford suffered a bit of a swoon in 2021and posted just one victory and 19 Top-10 finishes for the campaign.  Those were Logano's lowest totals since 2017 and a noticeable downturn from his previous three seasons.  Logano will look to break back into the Top 5 of the driver standings in 2022.  The new Next-Gen car is a bit of an unknown, but the 31-year-old driver should have little difficulty adapting.  He and crew chief Paul Wolfe now have two full seasons together as a duo.  Logano should start building more chemistry with Wolfe this  season.  The pressure to win multiple races and contend for the championship will be high, but Logano should respond to the call.
  8. William Byron – Byron teased us with his potential in 2021, and now he's ready to show out this season.  His one-win, 20 Top-10 campaign led to a career-best 10th-place finish in the championship points.  Byron is ready to ascend to the elite level in NASCAR's top division.  With the return of practice and qualifying in 2022, Byron is the young driver that likely stands the most to gain from the return.  We expect pole positions and multiple wins as a result.  He and crew chief Rudy Fugle are poised for a breakout season and the return of practice will likely make it happen.  Byron was strong on a variety of ovals last year, large and small, and that's a great indicator of his future potential.  That type of strength across the board is what leads to multiple win seasons and contending for the championship.  There's little doubt that's Byron's near future.
  9. Ryan Blaney – Blaney took a few more steps in his development last season.  He posted a career-best three victories and 20 Top-10 finishes.  Blaney also tied a career-best mark in terms of standings finish, coming in seventh-place in the final tally.  The driver of the No. 12 Ford will lose Todd Gordon as crew chief and start anew with Jonathan Hassler in 2022.  That could prove to be a minor setback, especially in the early part of the season.  It could take some time for the new duo to develop communication and chemistry.  Blaney is still wildly talented and should continue posting strong numbers as he and his crew chief get some races under their belts.  While we're very optimistic about this season, we still believe Blaney lacks the potential to challenge for the championship.  He and his Penske Racing team will be among the faces just outside the top championship contending teams.
  10. Alex Bowman – The Hendrick Motorsports veteran was a bit of an enigma last season.  While he did win a career-best four races and 16 Top-10 finishes, he lacked the week-to-week consistency that led to his average finish slipping to 15.1 for the campaign.  That inconsistency kept Bowman from a deep drive into the Chase playoffs as he would finish a distant 14th in the championship scramble.  While there's lots of good there's also some bad to examine.  Curiously, Bowman struggled on intermediate ovals which for most of his career have been his best tracks.  Equally curious, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet had his most success last season on the short tracks, which to this point have not at all been his best ovals.  It's difficult to forecast Bowman, but we believe the best odds are that he remains in neutral as we move into the Next-Gen car in 2022.  He and Greg Ives will have to sort some things out and that could take a few races.
  11. Christopher Bell – Bell made some great strides in season two.  The young driver claimed his first-career Cup Series win (Daytona road course) and he posted 16 Top-10 finishes.  His first appearance in the Chase for the Cup playoffs led to a respectable 12th-place finish in the final points.  We'll get to soon see if Bell can step it up a notch this season.  We believe he can.  The driver of the No. 20 Toyota is a prime candidate to breakout in 2022.  Bell is capable of a multi-win season and breaking the 20 Top-10 plateau in his third full season of Cup Series competition.  He'll remain paired with ace-crew chief Adam Stevens, and that is much of the reason for our optimism.  Bell will come cheaper in fantasy drafts than the upper tier drivers, but he could produce upper tier driver returns this season.
  12. Brad Keselowski – The veteran driver suffered his least productive campaign since 2013 with his statistics of last season.  Keselowski registered just one win and 17 Top-10 finishes.  That's well below the 3.3 wins and 21 Top 10s he's averaged over the three previous seasons.  The drop off in performance didn't hurt too much as Keselowski got hot at the end of last season and finished 2021 strong with a sixth-place finish in the Chase for the Cup.  Keselowski moves on from Team Penske this season and lands with his new race team Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing as an owner/driver.  The 2012 Cup Series champion bought an ownership stake in Roush Fenway and will pilot the team's flagship No. 6 Ford this season.  Roush hasn't featured a multi-win driver since 2017 and has only had two multi-win drivers since 2014.  It's been a lean run for this camp for several seasons.  Keselowski will look to reverse that, but there will be some bumps along the way in restoring the prestige of this team.
  13. Kurt Busch – The 21-season veteran was left without a team when Chip Ganassi Racing withdrew from NASCAR at the end of last season. Busch was one of the top free agents in the market when 23XI Racing came calling.  The relatively new team had plans to expand to two cars in 2022 and Busch was the driver they wanted for their expansion plans.   He'll take over the No. 45 Toyota for the Denny Hamlin-Michael Jordan joint venture and look to put them on the right path for growing the team.  Busch brings over 750 Cup Series starts to the table and 33-career victories.  He's the perfect pick to stabilize this new team and to push them to new heights.  Busch's recent trend line indicates about 1 win and 15 Top-10 finishes are a reasonable expectation for this team in 2022.  He'll be paired with Billy Scott at crew chief and the two will look to hit the ground running this season.
  14. Tyler Reddick – Reddick found more consistency in season two with Richard Childress Racing.  The young driver racked up 16 Top-10 finishes in 2021 and lowered his average finish 2.5 spots to a respectable 15.0.  The performance and consistency were very noteworthy.  However, one thing was still lacking and that was victories.  With just 43 laps led for the season, the No. 8 Chevrolet wasn't out front a whole lot.  That lack of speed was the one thing that limited Reddick's success last season.  It's not completely certain that RCR can provide the young driver with that speed to win.  That being said, Randall Burdett returns as crew chief and the new Next-Gen car could be the field-leveling x-factor that provides Reddick a boost.  The future is bright for the RCR youngster and he has the potential to grow and up his performance if certain things can come together.
  15. Aric Almirola – Of the Stewart Haas Racing drivers who suffered through a long, lean 2021 campaign, Almirola was most-affected.  The veteran driver seemingly fell off the cliff in terms of performance.  The driver of the No. 10 Ford did capture a surprise win at the New Hampshire short track, but the rest of the season was subpar malaise in terms of performance.  Almirola only logged five Top-10 finishes and saw his average finish balloon 6.5-spots to 19.9 over the previous season.  He did make the Chase playoffs thanks to his victory at Loudon, but it was otherwise a disastrous campaign and his worst since 2017.  This driver and team will hit the reset button in 2022.  Almirola is too good to be this poor on a season-long sample.  The new Next-Gen car will be an equalizer as all teams will be adapting.  Almirola and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz should climb back to the double digit Top-10 plateau this season.
  16. Cole Custer – The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year was another greatly-affected Stewart Haas Racing driver last season.  This team's power outage hit all four of their drivers, but Custer especially hard.  After a 16th-place finish in the points and a win in his rookie season, Custer regressed to 26th-place in the points and logged only two Top-20 finishes in all of 2021.  The lack of performance saw the young driver tumble precipitously down the driver standings. Custer and his team return intact this season.  They'll go to work immediately on a rebound performance closer to what Custer experienced in his rookie campaign.  He was a nine-time winner in the Xfinity Series and finished runner-up in the championship twice in that division of NASCAR.  Custer's talents are obvious, and it shouldn't be too difficult for him to rebound in 2022.
  17. Austin Dillon – Dillon has been a model of consistency over the last two seasons.  While his chances to win races during his career have been far and in between, Dillon has dialed up the consistency in the last two campaigns.  The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet grabbed eight top-10 finishes in 2021 and he posted his best-ever average finish for a season and a very respectable 14.4.  Dillon really is a weekly face inside the Top 15.  While those aren't eye-popping stats they are a good security blanket of consistency and competitiveness.  The non-flashy consistency should continue well into this season.  Dillon will stay paired with crew chief Justin Alexander.  The new Cup Series car is a bit of an x-factor, but the two should adapt quickly.  Alexander and Dillon are a good team and seem to communicate really well.
  18. Chase Briscoe – Last season was a tough rookie campaign for Briscoe.  Given the things that were happening at Stewart Haas Racing, there were plenty of headwinds to his first Cup Series season.  Briscoe labored to just three Top-10 finishes, but most of his good performances came in the final third of the season.  The No. 14 Ford team seemed to get things together going down the stretch and that's a hopeful sign this season.  We expect some modest growth for Briscoe in season two.  He and crew chief John Klausmeier should take some steps together in 2022.  Briscoe's excellent road racing skills are a real asset with the road-course heavy schedule that lies ahead.  Those along with the larger ovals seemed to be the real sweet spot for this driver and team.  Briscoe has a lot of talent and potential to climb the driver standings.
  19. Austin Cindric – The 2020 Xfinity Series champion will take over the iconic No. 2 Ford of Penske Racing this season and go to work on potential Rookie of the Year campaign.  It's going to be a big step for the talented youngster.  Filling the shoes of Brad Keselowski is no easy task.  There will be a lot of expectations and associated pressure with this promotion.  For a 23-year-old rookie to take over a flagship ride is never easy.  Fortunately, Cindric got in seven Cup Series starts last year and that will help with his transition.  He showed some flashes of ability in those starts, and the experience will help in 2022.  Cindric will be paired with crew chief Jeremy Bullins and the two will look to quickly figure out the new Next-Gen car and get to work on some good finishes.  It will be an up-and-down typical rookie season for sure, but Cindric should have the inside track on winning the ROTY award this season.
  20. Chris Buescher – The 29-year-old veteran had another dependable and consistent season of racing last year.  The Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing driver tied a career-best with eight Top 10s last season and set a respectable mark of 19th-place in the final driver point standings.  Buescher was consistent and dependable in laying down a career-best 17.3 average finish mark.  While it wasn't spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, it was good enough to please most everyone involved and provide something to build on for Buescher heading into a contract season of 2022.  He'll once again be paired with crew chief Scott Graves as the two look to solve the new Next-Gen race car together.  Intermediate ovals were this team's true strength last season, and that's great news heading into a new season.  Buescher limited his DNF's to just 4 last year, and that's performance that comes in handy in deeper fantasy racing leagues.
  21. Bubba Wallace – With 23XI Racing's first season now in the rearview mirror, Wallace can move on and just build on the performance he had in 2021.  While just three Top 10s dotted his results from last season, he did manage to collect career victory number one with his big win late in the season at Talladega.  For what the campaign lacked in consistency, the No. 23 Toyota team teased with potential.  Wallace led a career-best 62 laps during the season and he and crew chief Bootie Barker will see if they can increase that number this season.  An all-star sponsor lineup returns to help fund this team's efforts and the organization grows to a two-car operation with the addition of Kurt Busch in 2022.  Wallace will benefit greatly from the addition of that experience and feedback that Busch brings to the table.  While we're cautiously reserved about too much expectations, there certainly is room to grow for this driver and team.
  22. Erik Jones – Jones' move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Petty Motorsports had the expected downturn in performance.  The young driver had his Top-10 totals halved from the previous season with just six total.  He also failed to register a single Top-5 finish en route to a 24th-place finish in the points.  New for 2022 is the acquisition of his race team.  Over the off-season, Petty was purchased by GMS Racing to form the newly-branded Petty GMS Motorsports.  The team will expand to two-cars this season with the addition of Ty Dillon in the No. 42 Chevrolet.  This can only be a boosted to the talented Jones.  The team will get an infusion of new energy, new sponsors and new money which will help matters some.  Dave Elenz has been promoted to crew chief, and he will pair with Jones to get the ball rolling in 2022.
  23. Harrison Burton – Wood Brothers Racing closed the book on a two-season run with Matt DiBenedetto at the end of last year.  Now they're looking to rookie Burton to carry them into the future.  This team has produced steady results since 2015 with drivers like Ryan Blaney, Paul Menard and DiBenedetto.  They may take a few steps back in this campaign turning to the relatively untested Burton.  The 21-year-old talent has two Xfinity Series seasons under his belt and just one full truck series campaign.  Results have been a bit sporadic and uneven in his experience in the lower divisions of NASCAR, but the Wood Brothers team was not phased in parting ways with DiBenedetto and signing Burton to drive the team's No. 21 Ford.  Brian Wilson comes onboard with the team to serve as crew chief, and he will quickly look to form a bond with Burton so they can make a serious challenge for Rookie of the Year in 2022.
  24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The Mississippi native has fallen into a bit of a predictable rut the last three seasons.  Stenhouse has averaged about three Top 10s and a 23rd-place slot in the driver points for the last three years.  While he improved his average finish slightly in 2021 (19.7), the Top 10 totals failed to impress and he finished 22nd-place in the final standings.  The big news at JTG Daugherty Racing during the off-season is the reduction from two to one race team as Ryan Preece and the No. 37 Chevrolet are now no more.  The change could be good for Stenhouse as he'll receive all the support and attention this race team can muster.  There are no changes to the crew chief or team lineup, so chemistry should continue to improve.  The lone x-factor would seem to be how quickly Stenhouse adapts to the new Next-Gen race car.  From most feedback it's more difficult to drive and that favors veteran drivers like Stenhouse.
  25. Michael McDowell – The 37-year-old veteran not only won last year's Daytona 500 in a shocking upset, but he went on to have a career-best season in the Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford. McDowell would get off to a good start last season after the Daytona victory and collect five Top-10 finishes and wind up a career-best 16th-place in the final points.  The down side of last season was that the veteran driver would fall into a rut in the second half of the season and struggle to produce competitive results.  The last of his five Top 10s would come in May of last year and he'd only grab four Top-20 finishes in the final 17 events.  McDowell will look to reverse those results in 2022, but he'll have to do it with a new crew chief.  Drew Blickensderfer announced he was leaving the team to pursue other opportunities.  At the time of this writing it's not been announced who will be pairing with McDowell this season.  That uncertainty and the growing youth movement have us a bit reserved on McDowell's 2022 campaign.
  26. Ross Chastain – With the closure of Chip Ganassi Racing, Chastain had to scramble to secure a new ride this season.  He landed squarely on his feet at Trackhouse Racing.  The relatively new team is expanding to two cars in 2022 and Chastain will take over the team's new entry, the No. 1 Chevrolet.  The move is a tough one considering that Chastain posted career best numbers in his one campaign with CGR last year.  The veteran driver grabbed three Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes to post a respectable 20th-place points finish in his first full Cup Series campaign.  He'll be challenged to reach those marks with his new team.  Phil Surgen will serve as crew chief and the team will field Hendrick Motorsports' powered Chevrolets.  Chastain's 115-career Cup Series starts will help with the growing pains, but this is a new race team and bound to encounter a steep learning curve with the new Next-Gen car.
  27. Daniel Suarez – Suarez had a pretty decent campaign in season one with Trackhouse Racing.  The No. 99 team posted one Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes as Suarez raced competitively to a 25th-place points finish.  Good finishes became a bit tougher to come by in the second half of last season, but overall it was a strong first season of racing with this new team.  It was certainly a good start to build on going forward.  As Trackhouse expands to two cars in 2022 it will be interesting to see how much Suarez benefits from new teammate, Ross Chastain.  The young duo has nearly 300-combined Cup Series starts and that experience and communication should begin to pay off.  Travis Mack will return as crew chief for the No. 99 Chevrolet team and he will continue developing chemistry with Suarez.  Considering that Trackhouse Racing absorbed a great deal of Chip Ganassi Racing after their closure, there should be better racing days ahead.
  28. Ty Dillon – Dillon returns to full-time Cup Series racing in 2022.  The acquisition of Richard Petty Motorsports by GMS Racing has opened the door to a newly merged, two-car team.  Erik Jones will still pilot the No. 43 Chevrolet, and Dillon comes in to drive the team's No. 42 entry.  The veteran driver spent 2021 racing a part-time Cup Series and part-time Xfinity Series schedule.  It was pretty light on the starts, so Dillon was looking for a better opportunity.  GMS has had quite a bit of success in the Xfinity Series and they'll hope to make some waves in season one racing at NASCAR's top level.  Jerame Donley will serve as crew chief and he will work with Dillon to figure out the new Next-Gen car.  Dillon's wealth of driving experience will serve this new team well.
  29. Justin Haley – Haley returns for season two at the Cup Series level.  However, he makes the move from Spire Motorsports to his more familiar Kaulig Racing stable.  This is the same team that gave Haley his big break in the sport and has put an Xfinity Series car under him for 98 starts and four victories in that division of NASCAR.  The 22-year-old driver collected just two Top-10 finishes in 31 starts with Spire Motorsports last season.  Haley will hope for better results in the team's No. 31 Chevrolet.  Kaulig is a very successful Xfinity Series team and they're hoping to make a smooth transition to the Cup Series in 2022.  Haley's youth and extensive experience in all three of NASCAR's top divisions should be a good asset for this team.  There will be some growing pains to be sure, but Haley is one of the up-and-coming talents in the sport.
  30. Todd Gilliland – Gilliland gets a bit of a surprise promotion to the Cup Series this season.  Front Row Motorsports parted ways with Anthony Alfredo at the end of last season, and they will put Gilliland in the No. 38 Ford for 2022.  The 21-year-old driver will be one of the few drivers who have directly promoted from the Camping World Truck Series directly into NASCAR's top division, while bypassing the Xfinity Series completely.  We're a bit reserved about Gilliland's chances for success given this quick promotion.  Although, he does have 93 starts in the truck series with two victories, so there's something to work with here.  The big burden will lie with veteran crew chief, Seth Barbour, as it will be his task to quickly acclimate Gilliland to the Cup Series.  It will be the most interesting of the rookie campaigns this season, to be sure.
  31. Corey Lajoie – Lajoie is expected to return to Spire Motorsports for another season in NASCAR's top division.  The 30-year-old veteran is now up to 164 Cup Series starts and has quite a bit of experience at this point in his career.  Lajoie peddled to just one Top 10 in 2021, but finished a career-best 29th-place in the points with a career-best 24.9 average finish.  All expected marks for a small, underfunded race team.  Spire returns the No. 7 Chevrolet squad fully intact with the same faces and crew chief Ryan Sparks.  Lajoie will try to build on the good things they did, and emphasize those going into the 2022 campaign with the new race car.  The return of practice and qualifying will help in that regard.  Still, due to team size/sponsorship, Lajoie has a low ceiling and small potential to take a big leap from here.
  32. AJ Allmendinger – The 13-season Cup Series veteran will be the hub of Kaulig Racing's expansion into NASCAR's top division.  The team will field two cars, and Allmendinger is expected to be the primary pilot of the No. 16 Chevrolet.  He'll share driving duties with both Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson, but it's not clear at the time of this writing how much that split will be for 2022.  If Allmendinger gets a majority of the starts it could be as many as 15-to-20.  The veteran driver brings a lot of experience and performance to the table.  He grabbed a victory (his second-career win) and three Top-10 finishes in just five starts with this team in a very limited schedule last season.  Allmendinger's big gifts in terms of performance are superspeedway and road course racing, and to a much lesser extent on short tracks and intermediate ovals.  His part-time campaign is all that limits his standing in the driver rankings.
  33. Josh Bilicki – The 26-year-old Wisconsin native is expected to return to Rick Ware Racing in 2022.  Bilicki should pilot one of the team's two full-time Cup Series entries this season.  The young driver had arguably the best campaign of any RWR driver last year.  The hallmark achievement was a hard-fought Top-10 finish in the Summer Daytona race.  It marked Bilicki's first-career Top 10 in his five seasons of mostly part-time Cup competition.  He's likely tabbed for driving duty in the team's No. 52 entry for 2022.  If there, Bilicki will likely be teamed with crew chief, Jason Houghtaling.  The two spent most of last season together and should have little trouble picking up where they left off.  The biggest limiting factors for this driver and team are funds and equipment.  At least the second half of that equation is expected to improve this season, thanks to an alliance with Stewart Haas Racing.
  34. Cody Ware – Rick Ware Racing has hammered out a technical alliance with Stewart Haas Racing and that should help them with performance in 2022.  Ware is coming off his first near-full season of Cup Series competition last year.  In 32 starts he had some highlights and low lights, but generally a performance to build on going forward.  Ware will pilot one of two full-time entries for RWR this season.  He'll be paired once again with veteran crew chief, Mike Hillman Sr., and the two will continue to build on their chemistry from 2021.  Ware didn't manage any Top-20 finishes last year, but that could change this season.  The new technical alliance with SHR and the switch to Fords could pay some noticeable dividends right away.  Still, he only has a 31.1 average finish from last season to build on, so anything will be an improvement.
  35. James Davison – The 35-year-old Australian raced most of last season's schedule with 20 starts to his credit by the time the Cup Series reached Phoenix in November.  Most of last season Davison raced in the No. 15 Chevrolet Rick Ware Racing entry.  While he shared this ride with other drivers, it was pretty clear they were getting their best results when Davison was behind the wheel.  He would not crack the Top 20 at any point, but he would come close on a couple occasions.  Davison labored to a hefty 31.3 average finish, but would be the best of the driver lineup in the No. 15 car.  He should return for another similar schedule with this team in 2022.  Davison will likely share the car with Joey Gase, Garrett Smithley and maybe some others, but should get the bulk of the 36-race schedule of starts.  The seasoned driver has improved incrementally each season since his Cup Series debut in 2020, and he should continue with small gains this season.
  36. BJ McLeod – McLeod will return to Live Fast Motorsports as primary driver and co-owner of this small race team.  The 38-year-old Floridian took on his biggest Cup Series plate last season with this team and raced to one Top-10 finish in 28 starts.  The surprise ninth-place finish in the Summer Daytona race was his first-career Top 10 in his 85-start career.  McLeod will likely continue in about the same capacity with this team in 2022.  Look for a handful of starts by other drivers, due to sponsorship issues, but it will be McLeod primarily running the show.  He'll team with crew chief Frank Kerr once again and see what other surprises they can whip up in the team's No. 78 Ford.
  37. Garrett Smithley – Smithley's plans for 2022 have yet to be announced as of this writing, but it's expected that he'll be back in a part-time capacity with Rick Ware Racing once again.  He drove for this team last year and made a surprising 27 starts rotating between RWR's No. 15, No. 51 and No. 53 cars.  While that was a lot of racing, there were little results to show for as he would finish with a lofty 31.3 average finish and no Top 20s to his credit.  With just one DNF, Smithley kept his cars in action for most of the season and did not retire to the garage early very often.  That was a big bonus for a back-marker team.  However, the ceiling with many of the Rick Ware Racing drivers is very low due to the team's limited equipment and potential.
  38. Daniel Hemric – The 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion will get another crack at NASCAR's top division in 2022.  Hemric will share the Kaulig Racing No. 16 Chevrolet with both A.J. Allmendinger and Noah Gragson.  The 30-year-old driver had a cup of coffee in the Cup Series with Richard Childress Racing in 2019, racing a full rookie schedule that year and collecting two Top-10 finishes.  However, he would be released and sent straight back to the Xfinity Series in 2020.  It's been a bit of a climb back for the talented driver, but he'll get to show his growth in some part-time action this season.  We don't know how many starts Hemric will get with this team, but it won't likely be more than a handful.  As usual he should impressive in some limited starts, but his fantasy racing impact is very limited due to the unknown, and likely light schedule for 2022.
  39. Noah Gragson – Gragson will be tabbed for full-time action in the Xfinity Series once again this season, but he'll also make some forays into NASCAR's top division this season.  The 23-year-old talent is expected to make a handful of starts in the Kaulig Racing No. 16 entry.  Gragson will share that ride with both A.J. Allmendinger and Daniel Hemric, so he will likely get the least of the part-time starts.  The five-time Xfinity Series winner and contender for the championship in that division of NASCAR has some obvious driving talent.  Short tracks and intermediate ovals appear to be his bread-and-butter, so we expect his starts to be focused on those venues.  Gragson has zero experience racing in NASCAR's top division, so 2022 will be a bit of a baptism by fire.
  40. Matt DiBenedetto – The veteran driver was cut loose by Wood Brothers Racing at the end of last season, and as of this writing he's not landed anywhere just yet.  DiBenedetto has expressed the desire to continue racing, and at the Cup Series level if possible.  He seems the most likely of the drivers currently without a ride to land somewhere with a small race team.  One of the more likely possibilities is that of the No. 77 team of Spire Motorsports.  They operated two full-time cars last season and should do so again in 2022.  That car was primarily piloted by Justin Haley in 2021, but is currently without a driver.  DiBenedetto might make the perfect fit.  He's collected 27 Top-10 finishes over the past three seasons with Wood Brothers and has close to 250 Cup Series starts to his credit.  DiBenedetto should be a driver that lands somewhere with a small race team in 2022.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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