NASCAR Draft Kit: 2019 Driver Rankings

NASCAR Draft Kit: 2019 Driver Rankings

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

1. Kyle Busch - Busch may have pulled up short in his quest to win a second championship in 2018, but he didn't fail to deliver the stats last season. The Joe Gibbs Racing star continued to be among the leaders in the Monster Cup Energy Series, by posting a career-best eight victories. He also forged career-bests of 22 Top-5 and 28 Top-10 finishes last season. It's hard to have a much better season than this, and not win the championship. However, due to the fickle nature of the Chase and how NASCAR crowns their champion, Busch walked away fourth in the final driver standings. That gives him four consecutive seasons in the Top-4 of the standings. It also signals averages of 6 victories and 23 Top-10 finishes over the last four seasons. That's nearly as good as it gets. With all the team components returning in 2019, including crew chief Adam Stevens, we expect Busch's streak of dominance to continue.

2. Kevin Harvick - The Stewart Haas Racing star was equally impressive as Kyle Busch last season, racking up eight victories and 29 Top-10 finishes. Both were career-best marks. However, it would not be Harvick walking away with the championship after Homestead. Instead, the driver of the No. 4 Ford would walk away with his fifth Top-3 finish in the standings in the last six seasons. Harvick is like the Gibraltar Rock of NASCAR. He's had only one bad season in the last nine years, and he's stacked up

1. Kyle Busch - Busch may have pulled up short in his quest to win a second championship in 2018, but he didn't fail to deliver the stats last season. The Joe Gibbs Racing star continued to be among the leaders in the Monster Cup Energy Series, by posting a career-best eight victories. He also forged career-bests of 22 Top-5 and 28 Top-10 finishes last season. It's hard to have a much better season than this, and not win the championship. However, due to the fickle nature of the Chase and how NASCAR crowns their champion, Busch walked away fourth in the final driver standings. That gives him four consecutive seasons in the Top-4 of the standings. It also signals averages of 6 victories and 23 Top-10 finishes over the last four seasons. That's nearly as good as it gets. With all the team components returning in 2019, including crew chief Adam Stevens, we expect Busch's streak of dominance to continue.

2. Kevin Harvick - The Stewart Haas Racing star was equally impressive as Kyle Busch last season, racking up eight victories and 29 Top-10 finishes. Both were career-best marks. However, it would not be Harvick walking away with the championship after Homestead. Instead, the driver of the No. 4 Ford would walk away with his fifth Top-3 finish in the standings in the last six seasons. Harvick is like the Gibraltar Rock of NASCAR. He's had only one bad season in the last nine years, and he's stacked up tons of wins, Top 5s and Top 10s in the process. He and crew chief Rodney Childers will continue to flourish in one of the longest running and most successful driver/crew chief pairings of recent years. The only thing that prevented us from placing Harvick number one in these rankings was the newness of the Ford Mustang. The No. 4 team should adapt faster than most Ford stables, but a slow start to the season would not be that surprising.

3. Martin Truex Jr. - The 2017 champion couldn't successfully defend his crown last season, but he made it to Homestead and the Championship Round of the Chase as a part of the four-driver finale. Truex would press Joey Logano hard over those closing laps, but couldn't muster the win that would deliver the championship. Still, it was a very successful campaign for the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 team with four wins and 21 Top-10 finishes. Unfortunately, Furniture Row had to close the doors at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Truex and his ace crew chief, Cole Pearn, head to Joe Gibbs Racing for this season and take over the No. 19 Toyota that Daniel Suarez raced the last two seasons. It should be a pretty seamless transition as Furniture Row was using JGR equipment, engines and technical support the last few years.

4. Joey Logano - The 2018 champion was the hottest driver down the stretch of last season, and he would claim the rewards walking away the crown at Homestead. Logano grabbed two of his three victories during the 10-race Chase, including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was quite an accomplishment winning his first championship. On a larger level, it was the Penske Racing star's fourth season in the last five with at least three wins and 22 Top-10 finishes. In a lot of ways Logano has surpassed teammate, Brad Keselowski, as the top gun at Penske Racing. Now with NASCAR's top achievement in tow, and returning the No. 22 Ford team in its entirety, Logano will set out to defend his title in 2019. Crew chief Todd Gordon and Logano are at the top of their game, but it will still be a tall order given the competitiveness of the series and the newness of the Ford Mustang.

5. Brad Keselowski - Keselowski turned in his typical three-win, 20 Top-10 campaign last season, but fell short of advancing into the final round of the Chase. Some inconsistency in the Round of 8 kept the Penske Racing star from advancing into the championship round. This level of performance has become a bit of a predictable trend for the 10-year veteran. Last year it kept him nipping at the heels of the Big 3, and just outside of serious contention for the Monster Energy Cup Series championship. He and crew chief Paul Wolfe will once again team up and look to up their game. The duo won the championship back in 2012, but that is sadly falling way back into the rear view mirror at this point. Keselowski is an amazing driver of considerable skill, but this team is lacking a nudge or bump that would move them higher in these rankings. The jury is still out if they can improve this season, or continue to post their typical stat line of 3-14-21.

6. Chase Elliott - Elliott figured things out in a big way last season. After the breakthrough win at Watkins Glen in the summer, the young driver would stack up two more victories before the season was through. The three wins and 21 Top-10 finishes were career-best marks for the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet. It all added up to a sixth-place finish in the final driver standings for this driver and team. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson are definitely on the rise. Now with one full season under their belts with the new Chevy Camaro, things will be even easier this season. The dynamic Elliott will look to raise the bar higher in 2019, and set new career-best marks. It will all be in the hopes of challenging for the championship. With the Chase playoff format still in play this season, we can't rule this out as a possibility. Elliott is poised for stardom, so the upcoming season has tons of potential, and a very high ceiling.

7. Kyle Larson - The winless 2018 campaign was a bit puzzling and even frustrating for Larson. He still nabbed 12 Top-5 and 19 Top-10 finishes, with half of the dozen Top 5s being runner-up finishes. The Chip Ganassi Racing star was very close to winning on several occasions last year, so the winless campaign is a bit of a hollow tag. However, it could be the downgrade and poor optics that make Larson very affordable in fantasy racing drafts in 2019. Outside of the lack of wins, he still posted totals consistent with his previous three seasons. Larson is poised to pop at some point and wildly exceed expectations and recent statistical trends. Could it be this season? Very likely, as the team has one year under their belts with the new Camaro. The No. 42 CGR team seemed to the be the quickest Chevy outfit to adapt to the new car. That experience and easier transition should pay dividends in 2019.

8. Ryan Blaney - Blaney made some strides last season in his first year of racing under the Penske banner. The driver of the No. 12 Ford racked up his second-career win with a victory at the Charlotte Roval in perhaps one of the toughest tests of last season. He also grabbed three pole positions and 16 Top-10 finishes en route to a 10th-place finish in the standings. Blaney would have liked a deeper playoff run, but that just wasn't in the cards. He'll look for more incremental improvement in 2019. Blaney returns to the same team and crew chief Jeremy Bullins. The two will look to keep the momentum rolling and to drive deeper into the playoffs this coming season. Blaney is very talented and has yet to really tap into his potential. He makes a good candidate for breakout or speculative upside this season.

9. Denny Hamlin - The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran endured a challenging season in 2018. Hamlin went winless for the first time in his 13-season career, and posted a five-season low in Top 10s with 17. It all added up to his worst point standings finish (11th) of the last five years. Hamlin will look to hit the reset button this season and get back to his winning ways. He'll start out with a new crew chief as Mike Wheeler moves on to other challenges and the No. 11 team will be headed up by new chief, Chris Gabehart. We expect Hamlin to rebound to more recent numbers this season. That would include getting back to victory lane once or twice and a Top-10 total closer to 20 or more. Hamlin could come cheaper in fantasy drafts this season, and that presents some value to those that wait.

10. Kurt Busch - Busch moves on after a successful five-season run at Stewart Haas Racing. He'll pilot the No. 1 Chevrolet of Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019, replacing the longtime driver, Jamie McMurray, in that ride. Busch is coming off his fifth-consecutive season with at least one victory, and 22 Top-10 finishes. The veteran driver made a good run into the Chase and wound up seventh overall in the final standings. We expect Busch to make sort of a sideways move performance-wise in the move to Ganassi. It's a one-season deal for the 40-year-old driver, and he'll bring primary sponsor, Monster Energy, to the team. Busch will partner with crew chief Matt McCall and hope to boost this team's performance over their lackluster 2018 campaign. It would be surprising to see Busch exceed the season he just posted, but we expect a slight downturn in his statistical numbers in 2019.

11. Erik Jones - The young Joe Gibbs Racing driver had a tremendous sophomore campaign in the No. 20 Toyota last year, but it could be that the upcoming season is the breakout year. Jones grabbed his first-career win with his July Daytona victory and he posted nine Top-5 and 18 Top-10 finishes. Those were great numbers and good improvement over the prior season for sure. The early, first round Chase elimination was somewhat disappointing, but it was a good effort for the 22-year-old driver to build on this season. There are no changes to the team for this year, so continuity and chemistry should continue to build and pay off. Jones should scratch the win column again in 2019, and we should see even higher Top-5 and Top-10 totals as this driver and team continue to improve. His preseason #11 ranking could be considered conservative in some ways.

12. Clint Bowyer - Bowyer rebounded from a subpar 2017 season to great success last year. The Stewart Haas Racing veteran got back into victory lane for the first time since 2012 and grabbed a pair of victories at Martinsville and Michigan in the first half of last season. Bowyer's nine Top 5s and 16 Top 10s was his most since 2013. While the veteran driver did cool a bit in the second half of last year, Bowyer did crack the Top 10 four times during the Chase and finish 12th in the final driver standings. It was his best finish in the points since the 2013 season. Bowyer will set out to hang onto all of these gains this season. We believe he can accomplish that. Moving the bar higher might be problematic in light of the new Ford Mustang. We expect Bower's No. 14 team and others to go through a transition phase early in 2019. However, we still see him nabbing a victory along the way and posting similar Top 10 totals as last year.

13. Aric Almirola - The breakout driver of 2018 has to somehow follow up the stellar season he posted last year. Almirola raced to career bests of four Top-5 and 17 Top-10 finishes. The Florida native also went back to victory lane for the first time since 2014. Almirola showed his superspeedway prowess with an October victory at Talladega that propelled the No. 10 SHR team deep into the Chase. His 15.6 average starting position and 12.8 average finishing position were career-best marks as well. It's going to be tough for Almirola to improve upon these figures. Last year was such a quantum leap in terms of performance for this 34-year-old driver that it's nearly off the charts. We believe Almirola can hold onto most of these gains, but don't expect much, if any improvement. He may have very likely found his ceiling in season one at Stewart Haas Racing.

14. Jimmie Johnson - The 2018 season for Johnson made one thing painfully clear, and that is that the best days of racing are behind the seven-time champion and the No. 48 team. For the second-straight season the Hendrick Motorsports star scuffled to only 11 Top-10 finishes, and last season was even a winless campaign for the iconic driver. It was Johnson's first winless campaign of his 17-season career. After much discussion at Hendrick, the ownership finally decided to part ways between the best driver-crew chief combo of the modern NASCAR era. Chad Knaus has been re-teamed with William Byron for 2019, and Johnson has been paired with Kevin Meendering. The hope is that this elite driver can somehow find his way back to the top of the sport. While we believe that is highly unlikely, some new blood atop the war wagon could do Johnson some good. In some ways his relationship with Knaus had grown toxic over the past couple years. Johnson is the biggest wild card of the upcoming season, but it's plain to see that he'll not return to the 3-5 win and 20-24 Top 10 plateau at this point in his career.

15. Alex Bowman - Bowman's return to full-time Monster Energy Cup Series racing was a bit of a mixed bag last season. The highs were definitely offset by the lows. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet had some big shoes to fill in the way of the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bowman labored to no wins, three Top-5 and 11 Top-10 finishes. He would be the first driver eliminated from the Chase and wind up 16th in the final driver standings of 2018. Bowman will once again be paired with crew chief, Greg Ives, and the two will look to move the bar higher in 2019. A part of their problems last season was the slow start and slow adaptation to the new Chevy Camaro. Now that one full season is behind them, that can no longer be an excuse. Bowman now needs to show the flashes of brilliance he had at Pocono, Dover, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval were no fluke. We don't believe they were. This driver and team are poised to have a much better 2019 season.

16. Austin Dillon - Dillon won for the second-straight season in 2018, and it was a big one. The Richard Childress Racing driver fought off the best in the sport and won last season's Daytona 500. Add that alongside his 2017 victory in the Coca-Cola 600, and Dillon has won two of the more prestigious races of the last two seasons. Still, the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet's Top-10 totals was only modestly better last season with eight total. It's that week-to-week consistency that Dillon at the No. 3 team are desperately searching for at this point. He and crew chief, Justin Alexander, have been together long enough that they're now showing those signs. Dillon had a great stretch run of four Top-10 and seven Top-15 finishes during the Chase. Each week it seemed like the No. 3 Chevrolet was finishing in that seventh- to 11th-place range. That's the kind of late-season momentum we love to see heading into the this season. Dillon could pop big in 2019 and post a career-best season in terms of Top 5s, Top 10s and points finish.

17. Daniel Suarez - At the time of this writing it's not official, but it looks like Suarez is poised to take over the No. 41 Ford at Stewart Haas Racing. This is the same car that Kurt Busch raced to one win and 22 Top 10s last season. Before we go off extrapolating all kinds of weird stats for this young driver, let's take a quick look at his Joe Gibbs Racing experience the last two seasons. Suarez took over the No. 19 Toyota in January 2017 when Carl Edwards unexpectedly retired. He was decent enough in his rookie season, collecting 12 Top 10 finishes and finishing 20th in the standings. However, the sophomore campaign showed no growth at all. Suarez labored to just nine Top 10s and finished a similar 21st in the final driver standings. While his flirtation with victory lane and runner-up finish at Pocono in the mid-summer opened some eyes, it proved to be just a blip on the radar screen. Suarez was forced out at the No. 19 Toyota by incoming star, Martin Truex Jr., so you could say there's some ill feelings and bad blood between the young Mexican and his former boss. However, Suarez has a lot to prove and some big shoes to fill once again in a new race team. Can he measure up to the pressure?

18. William Byron - The Hendrick Motorsports youngster had a tough transition from winning the Xfinity Series championship in 2017 to becoming a Rookie of the Year candidate last season. Byron struggled to just four Top-10 finishes in 2018 while at the same time suffering through nine DNF's. The learning curve for the 21-year-old was steep and brutal. As the old saying goes, there's nowhere to go but up from here, and in many ways that's very true. Byron has big potential, but he's a raw talent at this point. Seven-time championship crew chief, Chad Knaus, is being brought in to head up the No. 24 team and to be mentor and teacher to Byron. It's likely a great move by the organization. We believe Byron has the most room to grow of any of the Top 20 drivers. That upside is great potential for speculation in 2019.

19. Ryan Newman - Newman parted ways with Richard Childress Racing after a five-year run. During that time the veteran driver won one race and posted 63 Top-10 finishes. Newman's deep run into the Chase and runner-up finish in the driver standings of 2014 are the biggest highlights of his time at RCR. Now Newman moves to the embattled Roush Fenway Racing and takes over the No. 6 Ford of the departed Trevor Bayne. This team showed some potential at times last season, during Matt Kenseth's stints in the car. He actually grabbed seventh- and sixth-place finishes in the last two races of 2018 at Phoenix and Homestead. That's a sign that there is some potential for Newman to do good things in this team this season. He'll be paired with crew chief Scott Graves and they'll both look to continue the good work that Kenseth did in this team down the stretch run of last season.

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Stenhouse took some steps back last season after his career-best 2017 campaign. He registered just five Top-10 finishes during the year, and finished 18th in the final driver standings. The six-season veteran failed to make the Chase field, and failed to crack the win column after picking up two victories in 2017. Still, Stenhouse was pretty fast and reliable on the superspeedways. That's has been this team and driver's biggest strength the last few seasons. Two of Stenhouse's three Top-5 finishes last year came in both Talladega races. However, we saw the 31-year-old driver take some steps back on intermediate and larger ovals. The good news is that the team is the point car for the Roush organization and sponsorship and contracts look good for the foreseeable future. Brian Pattie returns at crew chief, and he and Stenhouse will look to regain some of their lost 2017 swagger.

21. Paul Menard - Last season was a good transition for Menard going from Richard Childress Racing to Wood Brothers Racing. He took over the No. 21 Ford and posted his best season since 2015. The 12-year veteran grabbed seven Top-10 finishes en route to a respectable 19th-place finish in the final point standings. Superspeedways and intermediate ovals were Menard's bread-and-butter last year. Five of his seven Top 10s came at these two types of tracks. While Menard didn't quite meet the level of performance Wood Brothers had grown accustomed to with Ryan Blaney, the veteran driver did keep the team operating at a competitive level. Menard and crew chief Greg Erwin both return for season two, and look to set the bar higher for the coming year. Menard's family sponsorship will continue funding a large portion of the team, and keep this 38-year-old racing in 2019.

22. Chris Buescher - The young driver was able to hold serve in many ways last season, and improve in some other areas. Buescher finished 24th in the final driver standings, which was one notch better than 2017's finish. However, he posted two fewer Top 10s along the way with a total of just two. Still, Buescher improved his qualifying pretty dramatically, and it showed in his average starting position numbers. He moved up nearly four spots on the grid with an average starting position of 21.6. That translated into slightly better average finishes as a result. Buescher and the No. 37 team came away with a pair of Top 5s in the two Daytona races, and really proved their mettle in the superspeedway side of things. He and crew chief, Trent Owens, will be paired together once again this season, and look to continue their growth in NASCAR's top division.

23. Daniel Hemric - The soon-to-be 28-year-old driver is not such a tender rookie driver as the norm. Hemric has well over 100 starts between the Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series the last four years. That experience culminated in his best season ever last year with 23 Top-10 finishes and a third-place points finish in the Xfinity Series for boss Richard Childress. While his experience in the lower touring divisions of NASCAR is conspicuously missing the victories that seem to earmark drivers for success at the Cup level, Hemric does possess the consistency and performance that indicate strong driving skill. He will take over the No. 31 Chevrolet of the departed Ryan Newman and it will be rebranded the No. 8 Chevrolet in honor of RCR's 50th anniversary this year. A lot of eyes and pressure will be on Hemric, but expectations should be reasonable. He will likely win the 2019 Rookie of the Year, but successes will be measured on a small scale and struggles will be plenty.

24. Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. - Richard Petty Motorsports welcomes Wallace back for season two in the No. 43 Chevrolet. Last season's Rookie of the Year candidate started strong out of the gates with his runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, but it was a much different story from there on out. The Mobile, Alabama native labored to just two more Top 10s during the season for a total of three for the campaign. Wallace's 24.5 average finish over the course of last season resulted in a 28th-place finish in the final driver standings. We expect some marginal improvement for this driver and team over last season. After all, Aric Almirola was piloting this same car to six or seven Top 10s per year and high teen to low 20 standings finishes for many seasons. Wallace has similar potential. Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer will continue calling the shots as we see this driver continue to grow this season.

25. Ryan Preece - Preece takes over for the long-time veteran A.J. Allmendinger in the JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet this season. The 28-year-old Rookie of the Year candidate has spent the last few seasons racing part-time in the Xfinity Series. He posted his best campaign yet in 2018 with one victory and 10 Top-10 finishes in just 15 starts for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 18 Toyota. Preece really carved out his reputation in his teens and early 20s racing well in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series. He grabbed 22 victories there and a championship in 2013 as well as four other occasions where he finished runner-up in the points. Preece has an appealing age and maturity that most teams are looking for in a driver, but he lacks the crucial experience racing in Cup cars that would make this transition easier. It's going to be an uphill and learning season for Preece in the No. 47 machine.

26. Matt DiBenedetto - DiBenedetto ended a two season relationship with Go FAS Racing and will join Leavine Family Racing for the 2019 season. The 27-year-old journeyman driver is now with his third race team in five years, and this could be his best situation yet. DiBenedetto labored to just one Top-10 finish all of last season, and his 27.0 average finish was a career best mark, but only amounted to a 29th-place finish in the final points of 2018. LFR has made great strides with Michael McDowell and Kasey Kahne the last few years and they see this young driver as the next step in their progression. Crew Chief Mike Wheeler comes in from Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin) and will take over the leadership role for the team. The pairing of DiBenedetto and Wheeler is a promising link up. This team could move from a 30th-place team to pushing the Top-25 in 2019.

27. David Ragan - The 12-season veteran will saddle up for another campaign with Front Row Motorsports in the coming year. Ragan will once again be paired with crew chief, Seth Barbour, in the No. 38 Ford team. He's coming off one of his better seasons in recent memory. Although Ragan posted just one Top 10 during the year, he improved his consistency and average finishing position around five spots. His 22.9 average finish was his best mark since the 2011 season. That allowed the No. 38 team to finish a respectable 25th-place in the final driver standings. Ragan will attempt to hold onto those gains this season. As NASCAR's top division continues to grow younger, especially in the lower end of the driver field, Ragan's experience will always stand out.

28. Ty Dillon - Dillon is back for season three at Germain Racing in the No. 13 Chevrolet. Primary sponsor GEICO is also back, and that's great news for this small race team. Dillon posted his first-career Cup Series Top-10 finish last summer in the July Daytona race. That was a great accomplishment for this driver and this small race team, but there's much more work to be done. Dillon did see a slight fall off in starting and finishing position last year, and that's something that needs to be turned in the other direction. Crew chief, Matt Borland, is back for another season with the team and Dillon, and that continuity and chemistry should help. Dillon ended last season well with a pair of Top 15s and three Top 20s in the last six races. The team should ride that momentum into 2019.

29. Michael McDowell - It's hard to believe but we're coming up on McDowell's 12th season of part or full-time competition in NASCAR's top division. The 34-year-old has bounced all over the NASCAR garage area over the years, but he seems to have settled in with Front Row Motorsports for the time being. This will be his second season with the FRM No. 34 team. He raced to one Top-10 finish last year and a respectable 26th-place finish in the final driver standings. McDowell has slotted typically between there and 30th for the last three seasons. With now 285 Cup starts under his belt, McDowell is one of the grey beards in the garage area. He'll once again pair with Derrick Finley atop the team's tool box and look to improve in 2019. McDowell is typically a mid-20s finisher each week, and that's something we've grown to depend on in both regular fantasy racing and DFS.

30. Corey Lajoie - Lajoie is joining Go FAS Racing for the 2019 season and taking over the No. 32 Ford. Sponsorship is coming up just a bit short (10 races), but it's a better situation than it has been in recent seasons. Lajoie comes over from the No. 72 team of TriStar last season. He made 23 starts for that team last season in what was a real mixed bag of performance. Lajoie would net just three Top-25 finishes for that small race team against seven DNF's. The move to GFR is a definite improvement, and a more stable situation for Lajoie. It's easily his best team situation since starting his Cup Series career in 2014. Randy Cox returns to the team as crew chief and will be a good leader and mentor for Lajoie in this transition.

31. Matt Tifft - December brought us the exciting news that Front Row Motorsports was expanding back to three teams after a few seasons racing as a two-team stable. Team owner Bob Jenkins purchased the distressed assets of the former BK Racing and the No. 23 team. Most importantly he acquired that team's charter. The new team will be the FRM No. 36 Ford and they've hired youngster Tifft to pilot the car in its first season. As of this writing, sponsorship and crew chief have not been announced, but will likely be named later in January. The 22-year-old driver is coming off two straight seasons of racing in the Xfinity Series for Richard Childress Racing. Tifft earned 32 combined Top-10 finishes and seventh- and sixth-place finishes in the points those two seasons. He's been racing highly competitive regional and national touring series since the age of 17, so he's well prepared for this promotion. Still, there is lots to learn in Tifft's first season of Cup racing. It will likely be a bumpy affair.

32. Landon Cassill - The nine-season veteran will return to the StarCom Racing team that he competed with last season. The No. 00 Chevrolet made 29 of the 36 events in an attempt to race full-time in 2018. The team has purchased the team charter that they leased last season in a commitment to race full-time this season. Cassill labored at times last year with this team, but still only registered three DNF's despite the team's small size and equipment disadvantage. This driver and team's highlight from last season was their season-best 18th-place finish at Las Vegas to kick off the Chase. It was one of only two Top-20 finishes for Cassill in 2018. They will look to improve upon that this season, but face an uphill climb.

33. Ross Chastain - Chastain completed his first full season of Cup Series racing with the No. 15 Premium Motorsports team last year. The 26-year-old driver made 34 of the 36 events and raced to just two Top-20 finishes. Chastain accumulated six DNF's over the course of the season in what was an up-and-down campaign. Premium Motorsports has put Chastain back in the team's Chevrolet for the 2019 season and once again paired him with veteran crew chief, Pat Tryson. Sponsorship has been tough to sell for this ride, but they look they'll pull it off again this season and be fully funded. Chastain and the team really needs to improve on their 31.8 average starting spot from last year if they hope to improve.

34. Cody Ware - Rick Ware Racing is gearing up for the 2019 season, and that means Ware will get full-time action in one of the team's two rides. It will likely be RWR's No. 52 Chevrolet that will be his seat. The 23-year-old driver made just four starts last season split between the team's two cars. It was a multi-driver lineup approach that saw several pilots in the team's Chevrolets. Ware registered two DNF's and 28th- and 38th-place finishes at Phoenix and Talladega. His racing activities have been ramping up over the past three seasons, but this will be his first full-time attempt in NASCAR's top division. For quickly growing, small race teams there is always a tremendous learning curve. We expect Ware and this race team to experience those growing pains in 2019.

35. Tanner Berryhill - In early December it was announced that Obaika Racing would field Berryhill for the full schedule in 2019. He will pilot the team's No. 97 Toyota and run for Rookie of the Year. Veteran crew chief, Dan Stillman, will call the shots from atop the team's war wagon. Berryhill made two starts at the end of last season with this race team, and netted 31st- and 38th-place finishes at Phoenix and Homestead. It was a good trial run for the young driver and team. It was a good opportunity to work out some kinks and set some goals for this season. Berryhill faces slim odds of winning the ROTY, and an uphill battle every week to be competitive with this very new race team.

36. Jeffrey Earnhardt - Earnhardt started roughly half the schedule last season, split among several different race teams. He rounded out 2018 in 10 starts with Gaunt Brothers Racing in the No. 96 Toyota. At the time of this writing that team's plans for this season haven't been announced, but it has been widely speculated that Earnhardt could return and race with them in 2019. In his part-time slate with GBR, he forged just one Top-25 finish vs. four finishes outside the Top 35. It was a challenging situation for Earnhardt and this small race team. If they resume the upcoming season with Earnhardt, it would likely be Mark Hillman calling the shots from atop the tool box.

37. Harrison Rhodes - Rhodes could factor largely in Rick Ware Racing's expansion to two full-time race teams this season. The 25-year-old driver made six starts last season in the team's two cars, primarily the No. 51 Chevrolet. While there was an assortment of drivers in RWR's lineup, Rhodes seemed to stand out as the best option. The season highlight was his 22nd-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in the spring. At the time of this writing Rick Ware Racing hasn't announced a driver lineup for 2019, so a lot of this is pure speculation. However, we believe Rhodes will play a major role with this team, and possibly even win the full-time driving job for the second RWR team.

38. Timmy Hill - In his 21 starts split between two different race team, Hill amounted to mostly a start-and-park driver. He collected a whopping 10 DNF's between Rick Ware Racing and MBM Motorsports. Hill spent most of the season racing in the MBM No. 66 Chevrolet, and it is expected they'll continue to race part-time in 2019. However, the team has stressed that their focus is full-time racing in the Xfinity Series. Any starts that the No. 66 Chevrolet makes will likely see Hill in the driver's seat. With only one finish inside the Top 30 last season, it's clear that Hill and MBM are only making laps at the back of the pack until they can become more competitive.

39. Tyler Reddick - The 2018 Xfinity Series champion could see some part-time action this season. Car owner, Richard Childress, hinted as much during December at RCR's 50th-anniversary celebration. Reddick was clutch with his two victories and 20 Top-10 finishes in winning the Xfinity Series crown. Childress would have to field a third, part-time team for any starts Reddick would make, so they're not guaranteed a spot in the starting field. The young driver would have to qualify on lap time every attempt. This driver and team will have no fantasy racing value, but will only tease the abilities of this young driver as he continues to climb the NASCAR ladder of development.

40. Kyle Weatherman - Weatherman made seven starts last season with StarCom Racing in the No. 99 Chevrolet. It was a time share among several drivers with Weatherman garnering the best efforts. He earned just one Top-30 finish, but was running at the end of all but one race. The team hasn't announced their plans for this season at the time of this writing, but it's assumed they'll return in another part-time capacity, with Weatherman playing a significant role. The 21-year-old driver has just nine-career starts at NASCAR's top level, so he has a lot more learning to do in 2019. His five seasons of racing in ARCA shows that Weatherman has some talent, but it still needs to be developed.

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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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