NASCAR Draft Kit: 2017 Driver Rankings

NASCAR Draft Kit: 2017 Driver Rankings

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

1. Joey Logano - Over the past three seasons you would be challenged to find a more dominant driver than Logano in NASCAR's top division. He's combined to win 14 races and average 25 Top-10 finishes per season during this three-year span. The Penske Racing star has been a serious threat to win the championship in each of those campaigns, but as a function of the Chase format, he's not been rewarded yet for this excellence. Logano came the closest to winning the championship yet last season. He was within the final 10 laps at Homestead before his fortunes turned sour. From a fantasy racing standpoint, Logano has eclipsed Kevin Harvick as the top stat-grabbing driver in NASCAR. It's just a matter of time before the driver of the No. 22 Ford hoists the championship trophy.

2. Kevin Harvick - Harvick had a bit of a slip in consistency last season, but he still posted monstrous numbers. His four-win and 27 Top-10 season was right on par with what we've seen in recent years for the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team. However, Harvick had some shocking power outages in the latter third of the season which led to his being punted prematurely from the Chase. The net affect caused his average finish over the season to balloon to 11.7, when it's been closer to 8 or 9

1. Joey Logano - Over the past three seasons you would be challenged to find a more dominant driver than Logano in NASCAR's top division. He's combined to win 14 races and average 25 Top-10 finishes per season during this three-year span. The Penske Racing star has been a serious threat to win the championship in each of those campaigns, but as a function of the Chase format, he's not been rewarded yet for this excellence. Logano came the closest to winning the championship yet last season. He was within the final 10 laps at Homestead before his fortunes turned sour. From a fantasy racing standpoint, Logano has eclipsed Kevin Harvick as the top stat-grabbing driver in NASCAR. It's just a matter of time before the driver of the No. 22 Ford hoists the championship trophy.

2. Kevin Harvick - Harvick had a bit of a slip in consistency last season, but he still posted monstrous numbers. His four-win and 27 Top-10 season was right on par with what we've seen in recent years for the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team. However, Harvick had some shocking power outages in the latter third of the season which led to his being punted prematurely from the Chase. The net affect caused his average finish over the season to balloon to 11.7, when it's been closer to 8 or 9 over the previous two years. Stewart Haas Racing makes the big change from Chevrolet to Ford in 2017. That could be some mixed news for Harvick. Over the long haul it could be a good move, but in the short term it could lead to some early-season struggles. However, make no mistake, Harvick is an elite class driver no matter the situation.

3. Kyle Busch - The 2015 series champion was unable to defend that title last season. Still, Busch had an incredible year, and one that easily ranks in the Top 3 of his career. The Joe Gibbs Racing star piled up four victories and a career-best 25 Top-10 finishes. The veteran driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota wound up third in the final driver standings, and he was in the hunt for the championship until the final laps of last season. We expect the status quo to continue with this driver and team this season. Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens have built the No. 18 team into something very special over the past two seasons. The level of performance is good enough to warrant multiple win seasons, and championship contention for the foreseeable future.

4. Jimmie Johnson - The competition may have caught up to Johnson and the No. 48 team in many respects, but the old dog showed the new dogs he still had plenty of tricks up his sleeve last season. The Hendrick Motorsports star led the team to an incredible seventh championship with a brilliant season and even more brilliant performance in the championship finale at Homestead. Johnson won five events during 2016, although he posted a career-low in Top 10s with only 16. It was still good enough to win the championship thanks to the Chase for the Cup system. From a historical perspective, Johnson has placed his name alongside the likes of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with the seven titles. From a fantasy racing standpoint, realize that Johnson is now on the lower end of the elite tier of drivers.

5. Brad Keselowski - The Penske Racing star finished a distant 12th in the driver standings last season, but that was a function of two variables. Going cold at the wrong time, and the Chase playoff format led to his early exit from the Chase. He really had a much better season than his final standings position shows. Keselowski racked up four victories and 22 Top-10 finishes. Those numbers are on par with what he's averaged the last three seasons. He had crew chief Paul Wolfe will continue forward with the success they've built in the No. 2 Ford team in 2017. Keselowski has one championship in the bank and he's looking for more, so that makes him both a talented and hungry driver.

6. Martin Truex Jr. - The upstart little racing team from Colorado can no longer be looked at as a second-tier operation. Truex has taken the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team to the next level, and the move to Toyota appears to have been a good decision after one season. The veteran driver has combined to win five races in the last two seasons, with four of those coming in 2016 alone. Now with two Chase appearances in tow, Truex is racing alongside the elite in the sport each weekend and rubbing fenders for wins. Crew Chief Cole Pearn may be one of the more gifted and up-and-coming chiefs in the Monster Energy Cup Series garage. Truex, Pearn and this entire team returns intact for this season, so we expect big things. We wouldn't even rule out a run at the championship in 2017.

7. Matt Kenseth - Kenseth was consistent last season, just not as excellent as he would have liked. The Joe Gibbs Racing star posted two victories, but he only came up with eight Top-5 and 19 Top-10 finishes when all was said and done. The veteran driver was good enough at the end of the season to post a fifth-place finish in the standings, but it really didn't reflect the lack of speed that the No. 20 team suffered most of the season. Kenseth has the potential to improve on these numbers this season, but a number of variables will have to fall into place. He and crew chief Jason Ratcliff are going to have to work hard to get more speed and better handling out of their cars, and at that point some momentum and consistency can develop. A return to 2015 numbers (five wins and 12 Top-5 finishes) is possible but will demand a lot of work.

8. Chase Elliott - Although the rookie didn't win any races in 2016, Elliott was far better than most imagined with two poles, 10 Top-5 and 17 Top-10 finishes in his rookie campaign. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet had a couple near brushes with victory throughout his first full season of racing at NASCAR's top level, so it wasn't like Elliott was way off from winning. He'll return to an intact team, and the same crew chief in 2017 to build on what they started last season. Alan Gustafson gave this young driver some great guidance and will again get to mentor with Elliott in the crew chief-driver relationship. Although most could be wary of a sophomore slump, we really don't see this driver and team in that realm of possibility. Elliott should continue his upward trajectory this season and challenge the 10th-place finish he posted in last year's final driver standings.

9. Denny Hamlin - The Joe Gibbs Racing star is one of the streakiest driver's in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Hamlin is known for his classic hot and cold streaks throughout each season. He can go on a tear for several races and be the best driver in the series or he can go completely stone cold for a period. However, it all seems to work out in the end and he'll post 2-to-3 wins and 20-22 Top 10s with a Top-10 finish in the final driver standings most of the time. 2016 was a high point in some ways as Hamlin managed a career-best 11.8 average finish. This was due in large part to much better qualifying than Hamlin typically does over a season. Hamlin and crew chief Mike Wheeler will be reunited in 2017 and they'll get right to work on improving on what was a pretty good campaign last season. This is a contract year for Hamlin, so motivation to push even higher will be priority.

10. Kurt Busch - Busch is the second-best driver in the Stewart Haas Racing stable. He's been very consistent since his move to this team three seasons ago. The veteran driver has averaged 1.5 wins, 10 Top-5 and 21 Top-10 finishes over the last two seasons alone. That's been good enough to earn eighth- and seventh-place finishes respectively in the driver standings those two years. The SHR stable is moving from Chevrolet to Ford in 2017, so there could be some growing pains early in the season. However, crew chief Tony Gibson and Busch have some excellent chemistry and they should be able to work through these challenges. We expect another season with a win or two for the No. 41 SHR team and yet another berth in the Chase for the Cup once we get to Chicago in September.

11. Kyle Larson - We've always known that Larson had some major potential and we got to see glimpses of it in 2016. He grabbed his first-career victory with a thrilling win at Michigan in the late summer. Larson also posted a career-best 10 Top-5 finishes to go along with his first-ever Chase for the Cup berth. Yes, the Chip Ganassi Racing youngster really turned some heads after starting last season a bit slowly. The area where Larson needs to improve would be his consistency from week to week. Last season it seemed he could finish runner-up and contend for the win one week, and the very next he'd struggle to finish in the Top 20. We believe this to be more on the team and less on Larson if we had to guess. The Chip Ganassi No. 42 team needs to step it up to give this young driver better cars on a week-to-week basis, but it's clear they're heading in the right direction.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - The devastating concussion and balance/vision impairment issues that Earnhardt suffered due to multiple crashes last season took the NASCAR icon out of the driver's seat at mid-season in 2016. He only completed 18 of the 36 events before being sidelined. It was a season lost for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet. However, the good news is that Earnhardt is much better and has received medical clearance to race again as of early December. Before the injury the veteran driver had been performing at his highest level in years with great campaigns in 2014 and 2015. While all would appear to be all right physically with Earnhardt, we'd be a bit leery about building a fantasy race team around him, with Earnhardt being the anchor driver. As it goes with drivers and concussion histories, all it takes is another major wreck to put your driver on the sidelines for multiple races.

13. Clint Bowyer - Bowyer will be the driver to beat in 2017 for the rebound driver of the year award. You couldn't have a much more frustrating season than what he did in 2016 at HScott Motorsports. Bowyer struggled to only three Top 10s the entire year and a career-low 27th-place finish in the driver standings. Now that the Michael Waltrip Racing and HScott Motorsports chapters of his career are now behind him, Bowyer can get headed back towards the elite tier in NASCAR. This driver won three races, captured 23 Top 10s and finished runner-up the driver standings in 2012, so that potential is there. Those would be overly lofty goals for 2017, but taking over the No. 14 Ford of Tony Stewart at Stewart Haas Racing does inspire some thoughts of high ceiling potential. Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz will certainly aim to make the Chase and perhaps win a race or two.

14. Kasey Kahne - After spending much of last season mired in a slump, the No. 5 Chevrolet team sprang to life in the final third of the season and were one of the more consistent and competitive teams of the stretch run of the season. Kahne posted five Top-10 finishes during the Chase, although he was not a part of the championship playoff. This has been the norm for the 13-year veteran. Partial seasons of high performance coupled with long stretches of struggles have led to finishes of 15th-, 18th- and 17th-place in the driver standings each of the last three years. This is far below what this driver, team and owner expect. 2017 will be a make or break year for Kahne and his future at Hendrick Motorsports. He would like to get back to winning and getting berths in the Chase. Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden are under the gun for improvement and the clock is ticking.

15. Austin Dillon - While the No. 3 RCR team isn't exactly where they'd like to be, they still made some dramatic improvements last season. Dillon posted career-best marks with four Top-5 and 13 Top-10 finishes and he enjoyed his first appearance in the Chase for the Cup. Dillon wound up 14th in the final driver standings, but that will only make him hungrier to push higher this season. He and crew chief Slugger Labbe have figured a lot of things out, but still have a way to go before Dillon can be mentioned among the Top 10 drivers in the Monster Energy Cup Series. We expect some marginal improvement from the No. 3 team in 2017, and even perhaps one of the those near-miss flirtations with victory lane could materialize into career victory No. 1 for Dillon. We expect another berth in the Chase and maybe a couple more Top 10s for Dillon this season.

16. Daniel Suarez - With the shocking and late-breaking news in mid-January that Carl Edwards would not be returning to the No. 19 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing, Suarez was suddenly thrust into the Rookie of the Year discussion. The 24-year-old Mexican is fresh off the Xfinity Series championship in 2016, and was looking to defend that title this season before the unexpected promotion. Suarez will be paired with Edwards' crew chief, Dave Rogers, and he'll look to make the Chase for the Cup in year one and win ROTY honors. The talented youngster has made his mark in the Xfinity Series in a very short time. Suarez piled up one championship, three victories and 45 Top-10 finishes in just 68 starts. He has loads of ability and is very coachable, but has zero experience in the Monster Energy Cup Series car.

17. Erik Jones - The 20-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing prodigy has spent the last four seasons carving up both the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series. Over that span he's won one championship (trucks) and 13-combined victories. Jones' 74-combined Top-10 finishes in 100 starts between the two series speaks volumes of his abilities. Now he'll get his first full-time shot at NASCAR's top division. Joe Gibbs Racing affiliate team, Furniture Row Racing, has expanded to two teams in 2017. That will make room to put Jones in a strong Toyota Camry. He will be paired with crew chief Chris Gayle and the two will be top contenders to win this season's Rookie of the Year honors. Jones is incredibly talented, but he will face a bit of a learning curve in the Monster Energy Cup Series cars due to his lack of experience at this level, only three career starts.

18. Ryan Blaney - The Wood Brothers Racing return to full-time action last season was a great success. A big part of the reason for it lies directly on Blaney's shoulders. The youngster exceeded expectations in every way. He claimed nine Top-10 finishes along the way en route to a respectable 20th-place finish in the final driver standings. Not bad for a driver who only had 18-career starts at NASCAR's top level prior to last season. Blaney will set the bar a bit higher this season. He will once again be paired with crew chief Jeremy Bullins, and the team also returns completely intact. The goal in 2017 will simply be to make the Chase for the Cup and to be more consistent from week-to-week. Both goals are entirely possible. Winning a race may still be out of reach for the No. 21 Ford team, but there's still plenty of room for more Top 10s and improved consistency.

19. Ryan Newman - After years of consistent racing across multiple teams, we finally saw a drop in performance from Newman last season. His 10 Top-10 finishes and 18th-place finish in the final driver standings were lows not seen since his 2008 struggle-filled season. The veteran driver has slipped from racing for the championship in the final week of the season in 2014, to being almost invisible last season. That's a pretty big drop. At just 38-years-old, we don't credit this to skill erosion, just a team performance write off. Richard Childress Racing will be challenged to give Newman better cars this season so he can be more competitive and return to the Chase. If he and crew chief Luke Lambert can't figure things out quickly there could be some shakeups to this team this season.

20. Jamie McMurray - The No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team has fallen into a predictable pattern the last three years. McMurray struggles at times with consistency, but he still averages around 11-to-12 Top-10 finishes per season. The veteran driver has not been much of a threat to win races the last three seasons, so he just hustles for those Top 10s and 15s at every opportunity. It's been good enough to get him into the Chase two of the last three years, but he's been no major threat to advance in the playoffs. McMurray would like to turn that around in 2017, but the up-and-coming Kyle Larson has been getting more attention and resources in the Ganassi camp. McMurray has slipped to No. 2 status in this two-team racing stable. While all the news is not bad, his level of performance is about as predictable as any in the middle tier of drivers, and that makes him a plug-and-play commodity in a lot of fantasy racing formats.

21. A.J. Allmendinger - Last season was a rebound performance for the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet. Allmendinger posted two Top-5 and nine Top-10 finishes en route to a respectable 19th-place finish in the driver points. The journeyman driver failed to make the Chase, but his 17.8 average finish across the season was approaching a career-best mark. As normal, the road courses and the cookie cutter ovals were his best tracks. Allmendinger will look to make more strides in 2017. The JTG Daugherty Racing team will expand to a second team this season, so Allmendinger is now the lead driver for this two-team stable. He'll have the goal of winning a race (possibly one of the road courses) and making a berth into the Chase for the Cup. Both are very attainable goals for this driver and team.

22. Paul Menard - Menard is coming off one of his least productive season's in recent memory. The Richard Childress Racing veteran only managed three Top-10 finishes in all of 2016 and that led to a lowly 25th-place finish in the point standings. Those marks were seven-year lows for the driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet. Menard got a change in crew chiefs at the end of last season when veteran chief Matt Borland came on board with the team. This should hopefully spur the veteran driver to better performance this season once the two develop some chemistry and communication. Menard has the potential to post 8-10 Top 10s this season, so his ability to climb these rankings is obvious. 2017 is a contract year for Menard, so the motivation to improve will certainly be there.

23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - With the departure of Greg Biffle, Stenhouse now finds himself the elder statesman of this now two-team stable at Roush Fenway Racing. The trend line for this camp hasn't been good, but at least they have some youth to point to in the driving department. Stenhouse is a two-time Xfinity Series champion, but he's yet to make his mark on NASCAR's top division. Now entering his fifth full-time season of competition in the Monster Energy Cup Series, the pressure to perform will be squarely on Stenhouse's shoulders. He posted career-best marks in Top 5s and Top 10s last season with four and six respectively. However, his 21st-place finish in the driver standings is what is most concerning. Unless some major things change in the No. 17 Ford camp, a berth in the Chase is a slim possibility this season.

24. Aric Almirola - Last season was a complete disaster for Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports. This driver experienced a major power outage and only claimed one Top-10 finish in all of 2016. That led to a lowly 26th-place finish in the final driver standings for Almirola. Those marks were career lows since he joined the Monster Energy Cup Series full-time in 2012. Things got to the point where a team shakeup happened last September. Drew Blickensderfer took over the crew chief responsibilities and led Almirola to his only Top 10 of the season (Talladega) and three Top 15s during the Chase. Things appear to be on a much better trend line going into the new season. Hopefully, Almirola can get back into the middle teens of the driver standings and nab 6 or 7 Top 10s along the way to a much better campaign than last year.

25. Ty Dillon - The Richard Childress Racing youngster will get the big promotion to NASCAR's top division this season. He won't be racing for Rookie of the Year under that banner, but for RCR affiliate team Germain Racing. Dillon takes over the seat of Casey Mears at that camp. He'll be teamed with crew chief Bootie Barker and he'll do his very best to challenge Erik Jones for ROTY honors. Dillon has a pretty impressive NASCAR resume with four combined victories in the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series in 164 starts. He finished runner-up in the truck series standings in 2013, and he's finished within the Top 5 of the driver standings of the Xfinity Series each of the last three seasons. At 24-years-old Dillon is a seasoned young driver making the jump to the Monster Energy Cup Series. He made 11 starts in this series last year to help prepare him for a successful rookie season.

26. Chris Buescher - The talented youngster makes a team change this season. Buescher will move from Front Row Motorsports to JTG Daugherty Racing's new second team. He will pilot the No. 37 Chevrolet in his second full season of racing at NASCAR's top level. Buescher had a pretty good rookie campaign last season. He pulled out a surprise victory at Pocono Raceway in the mid-summer, and he nabbed two Top-10 finishes. On the strength of the win, Buescher made the Chase for the Cup and gave Front Row their first-ever berth in the NASCAR post-season. Now he'll look to give JTG's new team a good footing and help them to race competitively each week. The 2015 Xfinity Series champion has loads of talent and potential so this team has a lot of upside in the lower tier of drivers.

27. Greg Biffle - At the time of this writing Biffle was still a free agent looking for a ride. He left Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the 2016 season after posting his worst season on record since becoming a full-time driver in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Biffle is just 46-years-old, and we believe he still has plenty of good racing left in him. However, the opportunities are few and the quality rides are fewer these days in what is a shrinking top division in NASCAR. There are less teams than last year and even fewer than the year before that. Biffle will likely sign with someone, but his opportunity to outperform last season's lowly three Top-10 finishes is not very likely. Watch closely to see where this veteran driver lands, but chances of it being an impactful team are quite small.

28. Danica Patrick - Patrick has become the embodiment of a driver stuck in neutral in NASCAR. After four full-time seasons of racing at NASCAR's top level she seems to have peaked out at the mid-20s level of the driver standings. What was puzzling about last season for the driver of the No. 10 Ford, is that Patrick had no Top-10 finishes through the entire season, but somehow managed to bring down her average finish from 23.5 to 22.0 over the season before. We credit this to more Top-20 finishes and less DNF's. However, she still lacks the expertise and skill to crack the Top 10 any given week. While the consistency is improving, her lack of Top-10 finishes still limits Patrick from a fantasy racing standpoint. Aside from the change from Chevrolet to Ford, everything else about this team remains the same for 2017. A finish in the same part of the standings and rankings is somewhat predictable.

29. Trevor Bayne - The driver of the No. 6 Ford had his most successful season of racing to this point in his career last season. Bayne collected a pair of Top 5 and five Top-10 finishes on his way to finishing the year 22nd in the driver standings. It was acceptable and encouraging improvement after his first full season of racing in 2015. Bayne now faces a new Roush Fenway Racing, a smaller stable with more limitations than ever and fewer resources. However, there could be some good news in that. With the departure of Greg Biffle, Bayne's team will receive some more attention to improvement. Matt Puccia returns at crew chief, and together the two will try to build on what they accomplished in 2016. Bayne's best tracks last season were the short tracks and super speedways, while the cookie cutter ovals were a struggle. Something to note for fantasy racing players in weekly lineup leagues.

30. Michael McDowell - The driver in the lower tier of the Monster Energy Cup Series that made the most gains was by far McDowell. Even though he only competed in 31 of the 36 races, he guided the Leavine Family Racing team to two Top-10 finishes, his career-best 24.5 average finish and a 30th-place effort in the driver standings. More often times than not, McDowell was finishing on the lead lap and in or near the Top 20. That's an incredible improvement over where this team had been finishing as a part-time race team in the recent past. So the move to full-time racing for the No. 95 Chevrolet team was an unquestionable success. McDowell returns to this small team in 2017 and for a full slate of races. It's expected that he'll be reunited with veteran crew chief Todd Parrott and the two will continue on what they built last season.

31. Landon Cassill - After one season at Front Row Motorsports, Cassill has earned another season at this multi-car race team. He piloted the No. 38 Ford to seven Top-20 finishes last season and ended up 29th in the overall driver standings. Cassill limited his DNF's to just one and as a result he was running at the end of almost every race. That showed up in his respectable 26.3 average finish across the campaign. Cassill will now try to inch the bar higher for this race team in 2017. He and crew chief Donnie Wingo will be reunited and they will continue to improve speed, handling and team chemistry at the No. 38 team. The 26-year-old driver now has 223 starts of Monster Energy Cup Series experience, so Cassill has become a seasoned veteran in the lower tier of the driver pool.

32. David Ragan - Ragan saw his career slide into neutral last season. He spent a tumultuous campaign at BK Racing driving their No. 23 Toyota in 2016. For the first time in his 10 seasons of full-time competition at NASCAR's top level, Ragan failed to post a single Top-10 finish in a season. He also finished a career-worst 33rd in the final driver standings. It was a tough season and the two parted ways at the end of it. Ragan will make a homecoming of it in 2017. The veteran driver returns to the Front Row Motorsports team that he competed for between the 2012 and 2014 seasons. Ragan took this stable to victory lane for the first time ever in 2013 with his thrilling upset win at Talladega. He'll pilot the No. 38 Ford this season. At just 30-years-old Ragan has a lot of good racing left in him, so he'll give this small team the very best he can muster.

33. Matt DiBenedetto - After two full seasons of Monster Energy Cup Series racing with BK Racing, DiBenedetto comes over to Go FAS Racing for the 2017 season. The young driver will team up with veteran crew chief Gene Nead and run the full season for this single-car operation. GFR has purchased some new cars from Richard Petty Motorsports and they plan on racing more competitively this season. DiBenedetto posted his first-career Top-10 finish (Bristol) in 2016 and showed some incremental improvement over his rookie campaign. Those are good signs as he heads over from BK Racing to Go FAS Racing. This team has used multi-driver lineups since their inception five years ago, so to commit to a single driver for an entire season marks a first at GFR. It really shows what they think of DiBenedetto's capabilities and talents.

34. Casey Mears - After joining Germain Racing in 2010 to help build that single-car organization, Mears and the team parted ways at the end of 2016. Mears had a less-than-stellar season and it led to younger driver, Ty Dillon, coming in and replacing him in the No. 13 Chevrolet. Mears will now try to sell his skills on the free agent market of NASCAR. Ideally, he'd like to keep racing in the Monster Energy Cup Series. At just 38-years-old Mears still has some driving left in him, and he's not ready to step down or step out yet at this point. However, this is where his situation mirrors that of Greg Biffle to a certain degree. The available seats and quality rides that are left are growing pretty thin. Watch closely to see where Mears lands in the coming season, but chances are it won't be an opportunity to have any fantasy racing impact.

35. Reed Sorenson - The pieces of the puzzle are still falling into place as of the end of December 2016, but it looks like Sorenson could be back at Premium Motorsports in the No. 55 Toyota. If so, he would once again be paired with crew chief Pat Tryson as the team attempts to race the full schedule and improve on last season's performance. Sorenson only raced in 28 events last season, but with no Top-10 finishes and only one Top-25 finish. Premium Motorsports wants to grow and they likely see Sorenson and his 262-career starts at the avenue to do so. The reality is that this under-equipped and under-funded team needs a lot of help if they hope to climb the ladder in NASCAR's top division.

36. Cole Whitt - Whitt spent all of last season racing in a part-time capacity for Premium Motorsports. He made 26 starts in the 36-event schedule spread between the team's No. 55 and No. 98 Chevrolets. It was a season of mixed results for the young Californian. It didn't quite measure up to the decent campaign Whitt had in 2015. So he left the team late in 2016. Whitt says he has team plans in the works for 2017, but those have yet to be announced as of late December. The young journeyman driver has the capability of piloting a small race team to Top-25 and Top-20 finishes if given the right equipment and support. That makes Whitt a valuable commodity on the free agent driver market, and is what will likely land him a ride for 2017. Although it's hard to gage just exactly what his fantasy racing value is until his plans have been announced.

37. Joey Gase - The 23-year-old driver has spent the last three seasons racing part-time in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Gase has made 13 starts across the last three years with six of those starts coming last year with the No. 32 team of Go FAS Racing. The young driver has been less-than-stellar in his outings, averaging just a 35.5 average finish last season alone. However, that didn't stop him from signing another part-time deal to race in 2017. He will partner with the No. 23 team of BK Racing starting at the Daytona 500. Gase is only expected to make a handful of starts with this team as it looks like a driver rotation is shaping up there this season. Gase's fantasy racing worth is pretty miniscule given his limited part-time schedule and his resource-strapped team.

38. Josh Wise - The journeyman driver is entering his seventh season of competition in NASCAR's top division. It's hard to believe that Wise is now over the 150-start plateau. He spent all of last season racing for The Motorsports Group in their No. 30 Chevrolet. Wise would only qualify for 28 of the 36 events so it wasn't a full schedule. In fact, down the stretch things got so bad that the No. 30 team sat out the last couple races of 2016. Wise will not return to this team and he's looking to fill his schedule. As a driver on the free agent market with over 150 starts to his credit, Wise has some marketable skills and experience. He should land somewhere between now and the Daytona 500, but we don't expect it to be a very big or resource-filled team.

39. Alex Bowman - The young JR Motorsports driver made great use of his part-time schedule in NASCAR's top division last season. Bowman made 10 starts in relief of medically-sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet. In those efforts he claimed his first-career pole position (Phoenix), his first Top-10 finishes (Chicago, Kansas and Phoenix) and actually dropped jaws wide open with his dominating 194-laps led from the pole performance at Phoenix late last season. Bowman also made some part-time starts for JR Motorsports' Xfinity Series team, claiming seven Top-10 finishes in just nine starts. While the only Monster Energy Cup Series plans to this point is for Bowman to race one of the Hendrick cars in the season-opening Clash at Daytona exhibition race, there are no current plans for him to compete at NASCAR's top level. Although he is a young face to watch closely as a door could open any day for this talented youngster.

40. Gray Gaulding - At this point the 18-year-old Virginian is not officially racing in NASCAR's top division, but he has been rumored to be in the No. 30 of The Motorsports Group for 2017. Gaulding made just two starts for this team last season and he failed to finish both races with DNF's. He also attempted to qualify the car for the season finale at Homestead, but failed to make the starting field. Gaulding has had some limited success over the last four seasons of racing in NASCAR's lower divisions, so the talent is there. However, it has a long way to go to develop. Assuming Gaulding is racing for Rookie of the Year in 2017 with the No. 30 Chevrolet, there will be some bumps and growing pains along the way. This team didn't exactly end the 2016 season in good fashion, so there are some internal struggles there.

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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.
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta
NASCAR Barometer:  William Byron Wins Rain-Delayed Daytona 500
NASCAR Barometer: William Byron Wins Rain-Delayed Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS:  Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: Daytona 500