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NASCAR Draft Kit: 2016 Sprint Cup Driver Rankings

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A five-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year each of the last two years. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

1. Kevin Harvick - Despite falling short of the Sprint Cup Series championship in 2015, Harvick was once again the most dominant driver in the Sprint Cup Series. His failure to defend his title was more a function of the one-race-off luck of the Chase than anything else. He recorded three victories and career highs in top-5s and top-10s with 23 and 28, respectively. When you factor in the 13 runner-up finishes you can truly appreciate just how dominant the No. 4 team was last season. With crew chief Rodney Childers and the entire supporting cast returning in 2016, there's no reason to expect a downturn. If anything, Harvick will be hungrier than ever to win the crown.

2. Joey Logano -
If you thought Logano's 2014 season was great, you had to be really impressed with his 2015 campaign. The Penske Racing star claimed career-highs with six wins, 22 top-5 and 28 top-10 finishes. He was relevant in the Chase picture right up until Phoenix where he was eliminated. Just a couple seasons ago Logano was a young second-tier driver in terms of fantasy racing, but he's taken his game to an all-new level. Penske has given him the equipment and brain-trust to succeed, and he's doing it every weekend of the season. Logano will once again pair with crew chief Todd Gordon and keep this No. 22 team pointed towards their first championship. If the breaks fall Logano's way it could easily happen in the upcoming season.

3. Kyle Busch -
After suffering leg and foot injuries in last season's Speedweeks at Daytona, Busch came back after missing the first 11 races of 2015 to mount a historic comeback. He would win five races, including the season finale at Homestead, en route to winning the Sprint Cup Series championship. Busch's first title was a pretty impressive feat given the serious injuries he received in his Daytona crash. In just 25 starts the Joe Gibbs Racing star amassed 12 top-5 and 16 top-10 finishes to go along with those five victories. It took 11 full-time seasons for Busch to claim his first championship, but we're willing to bet it won't be nearly as long before his next. He's averaged three wins and 20 top 10s over the last five seasons, which makes the driver of the No. 18 an elite level driver in NASCAR's top division.

4. Jimmie Johnson -
While the competition has steadily caught up to the six-time champion, Johnson is still a top tier and championship contending driver. He's not the dominant force that he was from 2006 to 2013, but he's still an elite level driver in NASCAR. Longtime crew chief Chad Knaus will return to the No. 48 Chevrolet team in 2016 and he and Johnson will again seek that elusive seventh championship. Coming off a five-win, 22 top 10 campaign last season that can only be seen as the floor going forward. The Chase format doesn't lend itself to Johnson's strengths, so another championship is not as likely. However, the track record of this team is so unbelievable, fantasy racing players should once again expect multiple wins and 20+ top 10s in 2016.

5. Brad Keselowski - It might seem that Joey Logano has supplanted Keselowski as the number one driver at Penske Racing, that's no reason to discount the driver of the No. 2 Ford. Keselowski made a deep run in last season's Chase for the Cup and compiled two pole positions and seven top-10 finishes during NASCAR's playoff. The veteran driver had a down season in the victory department with only one, but he still collected a career-best 25 top-10 finishes. Paul Wolfe returns in 2016 to lead the team again, and in the hopes that he and Keselowski can mount a challenge for that second championship for the Michigan native. There's good reason to expect an uptick in wins and consistency for this driver and team in the upcoming season.

6. Matt Kenseth - Kenseth's failure to advance in the Chase and dust-up with Joey Logano in the stretch run sums up what was a frustrating end to last season for the Joe Gibbs Racing star. Despite late-season wins at Richmond and Loudon, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota would be sitting on the sidelines in more ways than one over the last few races. The short offseason will give Kenseth a chance to hit the reset button for 2016. The good news is that he still won five races and picked up 20 top 10s last year, despite his poor end to the campaign. Those numbers are pretty consistent with where the veteran driver has been statistically since joining Joe Gibbs Racing. There's no good reason to expect a falloff in production this year for the 16-season vet.

7. Carl Edwards - Season one at Joe Gibbs Racing last year didn't hold the success that either Edwards or JGR would have hoped. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota struggled the first half of the season before finally rallying to two wins and 15 top 10s over the second half of the campaign. Thus JGR has brought in Dave Rogers to replace Darian Grubb as crew chief for Edwards and the team. The hope is to spur some production and consistency that were missing last season. This veteran driver bolted from Roush Fenway Racing to Gibbs in the hopes of challenging for championships. That could now happen in 2016 if the chemistry develops quickly over the offseason. Edwards has the potential to dominate the Sprint Cup Series and the ingredients may finally be coming together to make it happen.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - The loss of crew chief Steve Letarte at the end of the 2014 season was seen as a major blow to this driver and team. However, Earnhardt would quickly bond and build chemistry with Greg Ives last year en route to a very strong season. Earnhardt grabbed three wins and 22 top-10 finishes to dispel any thoughts of a downturn in the No. 88 team. His 11.3 average finish in 2015 was actually better than the 12.2 he posted in his strong 2014 campaign. Now where does this driver and team go? While a championship doesn't seem likely, the Chase format certainly makes it more of a possibility for a driver and team like this. Another multi-win, 20+ top 10 season should be around the corner for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet.

9. Denny Hamlin - There was some good news and some bad news for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota in 2015. While Hamlin rebounded to two victories and 20 top-10 finishes, it was his inconsistency late in the season that prevented him from making the Championship 4 in the Chase like he did in 2014. The disappointment of not racing for the title at Homestead was a bit mitigated by the fact that Hamlin performed better and more consistently than he has the two previous campaigns. The veteran driver will have a new crew chief in the upcoming season with Mike Wheeler taking over the duties during the offseason. Considering that Joe Gibbs Racing in general is on the rise, we can only be very optimistic that Hamlin will continue his upward trajectory in 2016.

10. Kurt Busch - While Busch spent much of last season trying to get out of his teammate Kevin Harvick's shadow, there's a lot of good to point to for the immediate future. Busch started the season with a three-race suspension right out of the gates, but he shook that setback off and turned in his best campaign since 2009. The driver of the Stewart Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet grabbed two victories and 21 top-10 finishes in that 33-race slate. It now appears that the embattled driver has his personal life and racing career in a good place and under control. With veteran crew chief Tony Gibson returning to lead the team again in 2016, the sky's the limit. Busch could easily exceed this spot in the final driver standings.

11. Martin Truex Jr. - Given the disastrous season that Truex had in his debut at Furniture Row Racing, it was hard to see last season's performance coming. The veteran driver was winless and had only five top-10 finishes in 2014. He would return to the No. 78 Chevrolet in 2015 and win his first race in two seasons, grab a career-best 22 top-10 finishes and make a very deep run in last season's Chase for the Cup. Nothing about the rebound makes sense, short of the crew chief position. That is the one factor that did turnover between 2014-15. Cole Pearn replaced Todd Berrier, and he formed great chemistry with Truex right out of the gate. Truex posted top 10s in the first seven races of last season and never looked back. Furniture Row Racing will change from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2016, so there could be some growing pains, but optimism is running very high with this team at present.

12. Ryan Newman - Consistency has been the trademark of Newman since making the move from Stewart Haas Racing to Richard Childress Racing between the 2013-14 seasons. He's posted two campaigns of nearly identical numbers, with 16 top 10s in 2014 and 15 top 10s last season. The one shortfall has been the ability to win races. Newman has yet to visit victory lane since moving into the No. 31 Chevrolet, and that's not likely to change in the upcoming season. Luke Lambert returns once again to provide crew chief guidance to Newman. The two have worked well together since being paired. It should once again add up to a performance of middle-teens top 10s and another berth in the Chase for the Cup. While not spectacular, Newman is about the most reliable fantasy racing driver in the second tier of the Sprint Cup Series.

13. Chase Elliott - With Jeff Gordon's retirement, we'll see a new face inside the No. 24 Chevrolet of Hendrick Motorsports this season. The long-awaited debut of Bill Elliott's son is at hand. Elliott is coming off two stellar campaigns in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The 19-year-old won three races and won the championship in his rookie 2014 season. Elliott followed that up with a one-win, 27 top-10 and runner-up finish in the standings last season. He's done all he can do at that level and now he's ready to take over one of the premier rides of the Sprint Cup Series. Elliott will pair with Gordon's old crew chief, Alan Gustafson, and look to develop chemistry right away. When looking to forecast this talented youngster upcoming season, Kyle Larson's rookie 2014 season comes to mind. 6-8 top-5 finishes and 15-18 top-10s are well within the realm of possibility. Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 is a foregone conclusion.

14. Kyle Larson - Sophomore seasons are always tough on Sprint Cup Series youngsters. Larson certainly had his ups-and-downs last year. His 10 top-10 finishes and 19th-place finish in the final driver standings fell short of expectations. The good news is that Larson can only go up from here, and he's a great buy-low fantasy racing candidate in 2016. Chad Johnston has been hired to crew chief the No. 42 team and get things headed back in the right direction in this racing camp. It is a good move considering that the last quarter of last season was nothing to write home about for Larson and the team. We've been waiting a long time for him to break through to his first-career victory and it could happen in 2016. Needless to say, we expect a Chase berth and a middle teen's top-10 performance for Larson this season.

15. Kasey Kahne - In a lot of ways the last two seasons have been very disappointing for Kahne and his Hendrick Motorsports race team. The veteran driver has only won one event the last two years and he missed the Chase for the Cup field in 2015. The drop in performance is almost unexplainable. We expect the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet to make some gains in 2016, but not all at once. He will be once again paired with crew chief, Keith Rodden, and they will need some time to correct the performance issues they've battled the last year. Considering that Hendrick Motorsports star Jeff Gordon retired at the end of 2015, there will be more pressure on Kahne to lift his level of performance to the numbers of a couple seasons ago. We wouldn't rule out a two-win, 16 top 10 campaign.

16. Jamie McMurray - The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran enjoyed several moments of success during 2015, and even made the Chase for the Cup field. McMurray posted four top-5 and 10 top-10 finishes for a quite productive season. The No. 1 team just lacked the week-to-week consistency in the middle of the season that they had at the beginning and end. Crew chief Matt McCall returns for season two with the No. 1 Chevrolet team, and will continue to work towards improving this CGR team. McMurray has the talent to win races and perform consistently, but the team has several steps to take to get back to the numbers McMurray posted in 2010. That's probably a bit too ambitious for the upcoming season, but we do expect this driver and team to make some progress.

17. Greg Biffle - The last two seasons have been difficult at best for the Roush Fenway Racing veteran. The performance of this driver and of Roush in general have been well below historical standards. Last season in particular was bad for Biffle. He turned in his worst season since his rookie year of 2003 with only a scant four top-10 finishes for the entire season. The rebuilding effort within the No. 16 team will begin in full starting in 2016. This is the lead stable of this organization, and Jack Roush won't let it languish any longer. Brian Pattie has been brought in to crew chief for Biffle and the team. He comes over from years of success with Clint Bowyer at Michael Waltrip Racing. Biffle has the skills to succeed, it's just up to Roush to make the cars faster and Pattie to make them handle better. There's nowhere to go but up for Biffle in the upcoming season, so he makes a good buy-low fantasy racing candidate.

18. Aric Almirola - The No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team has developed nicely the last couple years under Almirola's control. He has one Chase berth to his credit (2014), he's won a race (Daytona July 2014) and he's been finishing inside the top 20 of the driver standings each season. The big question is will Almirola and this team take the next steps in development or are they maxed out? We would tend to think the latter. Nothing is changing about the sponsorship, technical alliance, or team members for the upcoming season. Trent Owens will still call the shots from atop the team's war wagon. There's good reason to believe his hot and cold streaks we accustomed to seeing throughout a year will be the rule once again in 2016. A campaign of about 7 top 10s and a challenge for another Chase berth should be in store.

19. Paul Menard - Menard is entering a contract season in his sixth year at Richard Childress Racing. While this driver and team has steadily improved over their time together, last year was a bit of a downturn in performance. Menard only posted five top-10 finishes en route to a 14th-place finish in the driver standings. While his average finish stayed good at 17.1, there just weren't the great runs in there that we're used to seeing with this veteran driver. Justin Alexander will return atop the team's war wagon in 2016 and hope to turn things back in the right direction. Menard has the ability to post 9-12 top-10 finishes and make a bid for a Chase berth. With his contract status in limbo at the end of 2016, there's plenty of motivation for this driver to improve and encourage a contract extension at RCR.

20. Austin Dillon - The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet made some steps in 2015, but barely enough to be discernable from his rookie season. Dillon claimed five top 10s en route to a 21st-place finish in the final driver standings. His 39-laps led were a slight improvement over 2014, but it was his average starting position that really improved. The young RCR driver improved his qualifying to a 17.0 average starting spot. There's good reason to believe Dillon could take some pretty big steps in 2016. Slugger Labbe took over as crew chief mid-season last year, and has earned a three-year extension to stay. With 85 Sprint Cup starts under his belt, Dillon could be ready to make some significant steps in the upcoming season.

21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - As we enter season four of the Stenhouse era at Roush Fenway Racing, the young driver comes to a crossroads in his Sprint Cup Series career. Rather than improvement, we've seen some fairly consistent performance marks from the driver of the No. 17 Ford through his first three seasons in NASCAR's top division. Last year he only collected three top-10 finishes and ended up a lowly 25th in the driver standings after Homestead. Those are marks comparable to previous years. The time to improve is now, and the burden is on Roush to give Stenhouse better cars and better guidance. Nick Sandler returns as crew chief for this driver and team in 2016, but both Sandler and Stenhouse will be on the hot seat if they turn in another lackluster performance this season. This is a contract year for the young driver so we believe they'll be some improvement, but not tremendous by any measure.

22. Tony Stewart - In 2016 Smoke sets out on his final season of NASCAR racing. He announced in October of this past year that he will be racing his final season in the Sprint Cup Series in this upcoming campaign. Like Jeff Gordon this past year, there will be a lot of eyes on the No. 14 Chevrolet each weekend of this season. However, the state of affairs with Stewart at Stewart Haas Racing are completely different that Gordon's farewell tour. The three-time champion has not won a race in the last two seasons and he hasn't finished inside the top 20 in points in the last three. Coming off a three top-10 finish campaign in 2015, which was the worst of his career, there's a lot of question marks going into 2016. Stewart will get a new crew chief, Mike Bugarewicz, this season, so the two will be challenged to find some modicum of competitiveness and return it to this struggling team.

23. Clint Bowyer - The new season brings lots of changes for 10-year veteran Bowyer. Michael Waltrip Racing folded at the end of the 2015 season and left him in search of a ride. It was announced in October that Bowyer would take over the No. 14 Chevrolet of retiring Tony Stewart, but not until 2017. That left him in limbo for the upcoming season, but not for long. Shortly after that announcement, a deal was disclosed where Bowyer would take over the No. 51 Chevrolet of HScott Motorsports for just one season in the interim. He'll be paired with crew chief Steve Addington and bring his personal sponsor, 5-Hour Energy on board the team's car. There are a lot of moving pieces and parts in this deal and a lot has to happen, but there are some very positive things to point to here. Bowyer won't be racking up the 15-20 top-10 finishes he used to at MWR, but there's potential for 7-10 top 10s and some pretty decent racing for a middle tier driver in the Sprint Cup Series.

24. Ryan Blaney - After nine seasons of part-time racing in the Sprint Cup Series, Wood Brothers Racing will return to full-time competition in 2016. Blaney will take the wheel and continue the work that he started last season with his 16-start schedule. Over those efforts there were a lot of ups-and-downs, but the young driver managed to claim two top-10 finishes and even one top-5 finish. Blaney will compete for Rookie of the Year honors and battle with Chase Elliott for that honor. Jeremy Bullins returns to the crew chief's seat and will continue to build chemistry with this talented youngster. Blaney has eight combined victories between the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series and he has a runner-up finish in the 2014 truck series standings to his credit. Blaney has tremendous talent and will grow with this small team.

25. A.J. Allmendinger - Last season was a bit of a letdown for Allmendinger and the No. 47 team. After winning a race and finishing inside the top 15 in points in 2014, the last season effort failed to measure up to those standard. Allmendinger scratched for just three top-10 finishes and a 22nd-place finish in the final driver standings. The problems seemed to be more from a lack of consistency than anything. With only three DNF's for the season, it wasn't the equipment that was the problem. Randall Burnett comes over from Chip Ganassi Racing and replaces Brian Burns as crew chief for the No. 47 team. The two will have to develop chemistry quickly and move into the 2016 season. Expecting another 2014 season from this driver and team is a bit much. More likely it will fall somewhere in between the '14-'15 level of performance.

26. Danica Patrick - With three full seasons in the books we now have a real body of work and some trends to look to for Patrick. Entering season four, the Stewart Haas Racing driver has reached a cross-roads. She has seen her finishing and performance numbers go flat and the trend line seems pretty well set. Patrick only registered two top-10 finishes last season and saw her average finish remain nearly unchanged at 23.5. Qualifying well still seems to be a problem for the No. 10 team and Patrick starts races well back in the field with little chance of improving her average finish at the skill level she possesses. In 2016 she'll start another season with a new crew chief as Billy Scott comes on board to replace Daniel Knost. The search for some crew chief/driver chemistry continues for Patrick as she starts another season from scratch from that standpoint.

27. Brian Scott - Scott gets the big promotion from the Xfinity Series to the Sprint Cup Series in 2016. He'll take over the No. 9 Ford of Richard Petty Motorsports as Sam Hornish Jr. exits stage right. This team has struggled to find much continuity or performance since Marcos Ambrose departed a couple seasons ago for a return to his home in Australia. Scott will race for Rookie of the Year honors under the guidance of crew chief Chris Heroy. This journeyman driver showed some real promise in NASCAR's lower division over the last six seasons, but hasn't impressed much in just 17 scattered starts at NASCAR's top level. He'll finally get the chance to show what he can do in a decent ride with a full slate of 36 races to sink his teeth into. While Scott's chances for ROTY honors is very slim given the competition this season, he'll have a chance to prove his skill. Two or three top-10 finishes during the campaign are not out of the question.

28. Casey Mears - This 13-season veteran signed a three-year contract extension at the end of last season to stay with Germain Racing in the No. 13 Chevrolet. GEICO signed on for the same deal so Mears is set in the Sprint Cup Series for the foreseeable future. 2015 was a bit of a down campaign for Mears as his top-10 totals dropped from three-to-one over the previous year. What was missing was the team's excellent performance on super speedways, which they greatly enjoyed in 2014. Most weeks it was a battle to challenge the top-25 in the finishing order each race. There were plenty of ups-and-downs, but consistency was the main problem. With only four DNF's it wasn't the equipment plaguing Mears, but more a battle to be competitive each week. We should be in for more of the same in 2016.

29. Chris Buescher - The reigning Xfinity Series champion gets the big promotion to the Sprint Cup Series in 2016. However, he won't be racing for a major team. Buescher takes over the No. 34 Ford of Front Row Motorsports and will race for Rookie of the Year honors this season. As a part of this deal, Roush Fenway Racing has formed a technical alliance with FRM to bolster the team's equipment and competitiveness. Buescher has been under the Roush umbrella for the past three years, so this move makes sense. It was the fastest and easiest way to get him into a Sprint Cup Series ride. However, many question marks remain, including who will be crew chief of this team. Despite Buescher's obvious talent there are enough variables here to cast some doubt on performance and consistency.

30. Trevor Bayne - Bayne's first full season of Sprint Cup Series racing didn't go so well last year. A mere two top-10 finishes and 29th-place finish in the final driver standings dampened what was a highly anticipated campaign. top-20 finishes each week were a real struggle, and qualifying in particular was a major problem for the No. 6 team. Bayne had a lowly 27.9 average starting position last year, showing that they were starting from nearer the end of the field than the front most weeks. The team returns unchanged from last season, and crew chief Bob Osborne will look to turn around the fortunes of this young driver. Bayne is signed at Roush through the 2017 season, so 2016 is a pivotal year. The pressure to perform will be there but how will Bayne and the team respond? That is the biggest question of all.

31. Cole Whitt - Of the lower tier drivers, Whitt had a pretty good season in 2015. The 24-year-old driver competed in his second full season of Sprint Cup Series racing with Front Row Motorsports and he managed to better his average finish by half a point over his rookie season. While it still added up to a lowly 31st-place finish in the championship standings, Whitt can take away some encouraging things. The top-15 finish in the spring Talladega race was the season's biggest highlight, and his 20th-place finish in the fall Martinsville Chase race wasn't too far behind that. Some things need to happen to make a more favorable environment for Whitt this season. Hopefully the FRM technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing will bring some much-needed equipment and knowledge to the No. 35 team.

32. Michael Annett - The HScott Motorsports driver actually had a downturn last season from his rookie 2014 campaign. Annett's average finish dropped by almost three spots and he finished three spots lower in the final driver standings at 36th-place. The No. 46 team will bring the young driver back for another season in 2016 with strong corporate sponsorship by Pilot Flying J. Jay Guy returns at crew chief and team will attempt to rebound under his guidance. All the pieces and parts in place for Annett to succeed and have a much more successful year in 2016. With Hendrick Motorsports supplying the engines, there's good reason for optimism. Annett posted 34 top-10 finishes during his brief Xfinity Series career, so there's little doubt that he can drive well.

33. Alex Bowman - Bowman had only minor improvement last season over his rookie 2014 year. He finished a couple spots better in the standings at 33rd-place, but still failed to register a top-10 finish the entire season. A lot of focus is being thrown his way in 2016. As the lead team of Tommy Baldwin Racing's operations, many technical hires were made over the off-season to bolster the team. Many came from the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing. ECR Engines comes on board and will supply the power plants for the team's Chevrolets. Under the guidance of owner/crew chief Tommy Baldwin Jr., the hope is that all this effort will pay off and Bowman will finally make some headway up the driver standings. While that remains to be seen, the effort and personnel being poured into this driver and team surpasses that of any other team in the lower tier of the Sprint Cup Series.

34. Landon Cassill - Cassill's plans are still unannounced. He spent much of last season racing for owner Joe Falk and the No. 40 Chevrolet team. It wouldn't be at all surprising to see this association continue into 2016. Cassill made all 36 starts last year with an average finish of 30.6 and six DNF's. Not ideal performance by any stretch of the imagination, and a slight downturn from his previous year's numbers. The good news is that Cassill now has 187-career starts at NASCAR's top level, so experience is not an issue at all. The only bad news is that this team's lack of owner points makes Cassill a potential to fail to qualify any given weekend. While that didn't happen last year, it's still a possibility going into the new season.

35. Matt DiBenedetto - The 23-year-old Californian launched his Sprint Cup Series career with BK Racing last season. DiBenedetto made 33 of the 36 events and registered only four top-25 finishes, with most coming early in the season. While it has not been officially announced that the team and this young driver are returning in 2016, it's assumed that they will race again in the upcoming season. Gene Nead took over the crew chief duties of the team midway into last season, and he would be expected to return in that capacity. Due to the limited budget and limited resources of this small team, not much if any improvement is expected in the near future.

36. Jeffrey Earnhardt - The youngest of the racing Earnhardts will make his move into NASCAR's top division in 2016. The son of Kerry Earnhardt and grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt will take the wheel of the No. 32 Ford of Go FAS Racing, and take on a heavy part-time schedule. It's expected to be somewhere between 20 and 32 events for the young driver. Earnhardt has 66 starts of Xfinity Series racing over the last six years, but for small ill-equipped teams. He also made just two Sprint Cup starts last season for this very same Go FAS Racing team. It's great to see another generation of the Earnhardt family make it to NASCAR's top level, but we have to be realistic about his chances to impact the series. Due to this team's small size and limited resources, the lack of experience of Earnhardt in Cup cars, the anticipated impact will be very small.

37. J.J. Yeley - Yeley is another in a handful of drivers who are not set for 2016 as of this writing. He made 34 starts between two teams for BK Racing. The journeyman driver is expected to return to the seat of the No. 26 Toyota of BKR in the upcoming year, though it has not officially been announced. Yeley's lone bright spot last year was a top-15 finish in the spring Talladega race, however, the rest of the year it was a struggle just to finish in the top 30 most weeks. With only four DNF's for the entire year, it wasn't equipment failures that were setting this driver and team back, just a general lack of speed. Finishing on the lead lap each week was a near impossibility.

38. Brian Vickers - The blood clots that have plagued Vickers late in his NASCAR career cropped up yet again in 2015. He made only two starts last season, which were races Nos. 3 and 4 in the schedule, before news of his health issues again sidelined the veteran driver. Multiple drivers would replace him in the No. 55 Toyota for the rest of the season. To add to the already cloudy picture, Michael Waltrip Racing closed its doors at the end of last season. That effectively leaves Vickers without a ride to start 2016. With health issues hanging over him going into the new season and very little available in the way of open rides, we could be looking at the end of Vickers' Sprint Cup Series career. Time will tell, but things don't look very optimistic at this point.

39. David Ragan - Ragan was a victim of musical chairs in the Sprint Cup Series last year. While it did give him some great opportunities to race competitively (taking over for Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota and relief driving the No. 55 Toyota of Brian Vickers as well) the lack of team continuity and contractual frivolity has left Ragan a free agent going into 2016. The good news is that this veteran driver has over 300 starts of experience at NASCAR's top level and he has one victory, two poles and 36 top-10 finishes to his credit. This is not just an ordinary resume. Ragan has the skill and experience to be a good driver for any small team that signs him. His name has not surfaced in any rumors, so the watch will continue to see where Ragan ends up.

40. David Gilliland - Front Row Motorsports is scaling back from three to two teams from last season, and it appears that Gilliland's No. 38 team may be the one on the chopping block. The 10-year veteran had an unspectacular 2015 season and finished the worst in the driver standings (32nd) since 2010. Gilliland's average finish position dropped over one-half a point and he failed to register a top-10 finish for the second-straight season. He enters a tough free agent market that has names like David Ragan, Brian Vickers and Sam Hornish Jr. in it. The opportunities to land a ride will be very slim despite his over 300 starts of Sprint Cup Series experience.

41. Brett Moffitt - Moffitt wasn't really expected to make his Sprint Cup Series debut in 2015, but Brian Vickers' blood clots and inconsistency in the No. 34 FRM team ushered in the young driver to an unexpected rookie campaign. Moffitt debuted in the second race of the season at Atlanta and recorded a shocking eighth-place finish in the No. 55 Toyota. While that would be the only top-10 finish of his season, his flashes of brilliance throughout the year bolstered expectations and opportunities to continue racing. With Michael Waltrip Racing folding at the end of last season, it leaves Moffitt a bit up in the air going forward. He was a developmental driver for that organization and now he's a free agent as we enter 2016. This talented, young driver will certainly land some part-time or full-time opportunities to race going forward.

42. Erik Jones - The reigning Camping World Truck Series champion is a top priority for Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization will race him full-time in the Xfinity Series in the upcoming season, but they want to focus on his development for an eventual full-time move to Cup, probably in 2017. Jones is expected to make a handful of starts in NASCAR's top division this season with that in mind. He could run in a fifth, part-time JGR car or he could run some starts in a JGR-affiliate car like Furniture Row Racing. Jones made three starts last season in relief of Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, and it yielded a top-15 and a pair of top-20 finishes. He's a raw racing talent that needs a lot of development still, but the 19-year-old will certainly open some eyes in what should be about five starts this season.

43. Ty Dillon - With two full Xfinity seasons under his belt and two part-time Sprint Cup seasons to his credit, Dillon is building some robust experience racing in NASCAR's top divisions. He'll once again race for the Xfinity Series championship in 2016 after a career-best third-place finish in the standings of that division last year. However, he'll continue his part-time forays into NASCAR's top division in the upcoming season. Whether that's in a fourth, part-time Childress car or in an affiliate team like Circle Sport Racing, remains to be seen. A lot of that will depend on how sponsorship signs on over the early parts of 2016. Dillon made five starts in Cup last year with one top-15 and two top-20 finishes to his credit. While he's a championship-contending driver in the Xfinity Series, his opportunities to impact at the Cup level will be very limited.

44. Jeb Burton - Burton survived a tough rookie season last year. He made only 28 starts for BK Racing and he DNF'd in four events and failed to qualify in eight others. It all added up to a campaign with only three top-30 finishes and lots of struggles. It has not been announced that Burton's No. 23 BK Racing team is returning in the upcoming year. So, the young driver's status is a bit up in the air. It's difficult to predict where this situation will turn, but it's a given that this is not a competitive team in the Sprint Cup Series as evidenced by their 36.3 average finish last year. What seems more likely is that Burton will find a ride in the Camping World Truck Series where he flourished earlier in his racing career.

45. Bobby Labonte - For the third season in a row, Labonte will make some part-time starts on just the restrictor-plate tracks in 2016. His partnership with Go FAS Racing will continue in that capacity. The 2000 Sprint Cup Series champion gets those valuable provisional starts and it helps this small team to guarantee a starting spot on the grid for the Daytona and Talladega events. Labonte had only marginal success in this capacity last year. The 51-year-old only claimed a pair of top-25 finishes in those four starts. That mirrored his 2014 efforts for this small race team. Due to his very small schedule and limited ability to impact in those races, Labonte presents nearly no fantasy racing worth in the upcoming season.