Believe it or not, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season is right around the corner. I’ve already been churning out individual previews for newcomers and drivers who changed teams this offseason, but it is time to take a look at the big picture to see how the Top 30 drivers stack up heading into the upcoming season.
I’ll start by revealing drivers No. 16 through No. 30, and while these aren’t the guys who will anchor your fantasy rosters in 2020, there is plenty of value to be had among this group. Not only can you find some track-specific specialists, but we have one of the more talented rookie classes in recent memory. There are also several younger drivers who will be getting a chance to show their stuff in upgraded equipment.
Make no mistake about it. There are drivers in the bottom half of the Top 30 that are going to be the reason you win big at the DFS sites this year. I also think there are going to be one or two drivers from this list that exceed expectations in a big way and help fantasy owners come out on top in season-long leagues.
16. Aric Almirola
His numbers slipped a bit in his second season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10, but Almirola still finished 2019 with 12 Top 10s and a 15.4 average finish. Staying out of trouble is his claim to fame, and while he doesn’t have a ton of upside for a guy in an elite ride, fantasy owners can always use someone who finishes in the Top 15 almost every week.
17. Matt DiBenedetto
Despite a career year, DiBenedetto lost his ride in the No. 95 machine thanks to some organizational politics. Fortunately for him, Paul Menard decided to retire, and DiBenedetto was named the new driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, a team that falls under the Team Penske umbrella. He emerged as a weekly Top 15 threat in the second half of last season, and he is about to be driving the best equipment of his career. DiBenedetto has breakout candidate written all over him, and he could make a run at double-digit Top 10s and potentially his first Cup win.
18. Christopher Bell
Following a pair of dominant seasons at the XFINITY level, Bell makes the jump to the Cup Series. He will be driving the Leavine Family Racing No. 95, but Bell is the future of Joe Gibbs Racing, and JGR is upping its support and essentially turning the No. 95 team into a fifth car. Bell is my choice to win Rookie of the Year 2020, and I think he can challenge for some Top 10s right out of the gate. When all is said and done, he has a great chance to finish the season as a Top 15 performer.
19. Ryan Newman
Newman seems like a natural choice as a potential bust candidate, but the veteran’s ability to protect track position proved to be an ideal fit for the new rules package. Not only did he make the playoffs last year, but his 14 Top 10s and 14.6 average finish were his best marks since 2015. Per Motorsports Analytics, he also managed to log the 12th-best PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Ranking) for a team that ranked 21st in Central Speed. Newman is definitely useful in season-long formats because he always seems to salvage decent finishes, but if you are looking to maximize his value, you should target him at flat tracks, short tracks and superspeedways.
20. Cole Custer
After Daniel Suarez was unable to secure enough funding, Custer was named the new driver for the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team for 2020. The soon-to-be 21-year-old has shown steady improvement at the lower levels, winning seven times and leading 922 laps in the XFINITY Series last year. Custer has shown he can take advantage of excellent equipment, and SHR is one of the top teams at the Cup level. He should be able to immediately challenge for Top 20s, and based on the strength of SHR and his history of success, Custer could be a sneaky fantasy option at the 1.5-mile ovals.
21. Chris Buescher
Buescher turned in the most consistent season of his career in 2019, and it led to him being named the driver of the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 machine for 2020. He finished last year with a 17.8 average finish, and according to Motorsports Analytics, he was able to post the 19th-best PEER with a car that ranked 23rd in Central Speed while finishing as one of just 10 full-time drivers with a positive Surplus Passing Value. Buescher was particularly effective at the mile-and-a-half ovals last season, compiling a 14.3 average finish in 11 races. At worst, he should be a steady Top 20 performer, and the move to RFR could push him closer to the Top 15.
22. Tyler Reddick
The two-time defending XFINITY Series champ doesn’t have the equipment of fellow rookies Christopher Bell or Cole Custer, but Reddick may have the most raw talent among the trio. According to Motorsports Analytics, he led the XFINITY Series in PEER and Surplus Passing Value last year, which means there is a good chance he will provide some added speed to Richard Childress Racing with his natural ability. I think he will be a regular in the Top 20 sooner rather than later, and that’s probably his floor. Reddick is one of my favorite sleepers heading into 2020.
23. Austin Dillon
I’m not sure any driver does less with decent equipment than Dillon, but when your grandfather owns Richard Childress Racing, you are going to have a ride. His 19.5 average finish in 2019 was the second-worst mark of his career, and for the first time as a full-time driver, he failed to record a Top 5 finish. He’s going to be toiling in the middle of the pack most weeks, but there are a few tracks where he can help out fantasy owners. In addition to being a solid performer at the superspeedways, he has consistently run well at Darlington and Homestead. RCR as a whole has run well at the two-mile ovals, making Dillon a great sleeper at Michigan and Fontana.
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse was relieved of his duties at Roush Fenway Racing after leading the Cup Series in Crash Frequency for the second consecutive year, per Motorsports Analytics. He joined JTG Daugherty Racing for the 2020 season, and while it is debatable how much of a downgrade the move is in terms of equipment, Stenhouse is always going to be a dangerous fantasy option because of his driving style. Outside of the superspeedways and Bristol, the reward probably isn’t worth the risk.
25. Ryan Preece
It was a rough rookie campaign for Preece in 2019, but on the plus side, he did improve as the year progressed, becoming a weekly Top 20 threat over the final third of the season. Driving for a mid-level organization like JTG Daugherty is going to limit his ceiling, but as long as he can pick up where he left off last year, Preece will have value as a qualifying-dependent DFS option.
26. Ty Dillon
Some added speed in the second half of 2019 resulted in a career-best 20.6 average finish for Dillon last year. He’s still not a driver you can lean on week in and week out, but he’s a legitimate fantasy force at the superspeedways, and he has been an underrated performer at flat tracks. Keep him in mind as a source of cap relief for DFS contests at Phoenix, New Hampshire and Indianapolis.
27. Corey LaJoie
If you are looking for a sleeping giant among the smaller teams, look no further than LaJoie. He managed to post a 25.9 average finish for Go Fas Racing last year, which is a better mark than Matt DiBenedetto logged in either of his seasons with the organization. This offseason, his No. 32 team formed an alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing, putting LaJoie behind the wheel of older SHR cars. He has looked borderline dominant in K&N and ARCA competition when given great equipment, and he should have a little more ammunition to bring to the fight in 2020.
28. John Hunter Nemechek
A three-race audition with Front Row Motorsports at the end of the 2019 season that saw Nemechek posted a 23.7 average finish resulted in a full ride with the organization for the upcoming season. He’s been able to win multiple Truck Series events with a family-owned team, and in addition to winning an XFINITY race for Chip Ganassi in 2018, he posted the sixth-best PEER in that series last year while driving for GMS Racing. Nemechek seems to be able to get the most out of mediocre equipment, and I think he can pop up in the Top 25 on a routine basis as a rookie for FRM. He could end up being a useful punt play at DraftKings throughout this season.
29. Bubba Wallace
His average finish improved slightly in his second full season at the Cup level, going from 24.5 in 2018 to 23.9 last year. Thanks to below average equipment, Wallace is likely to spend 2020 battling to crack the Top 25 most weeks. If you are looking to squeeze a start out of him, Daytona and Bristol have been his best tracks, but he’s a qualifying-dependent, DFS lottery ticket, at best.
30. Michael McDowell
While McDowell can be ignored most weeks, he has legitimate sleeper potential at the superspeedways and road course events for both DFS contests and in season-long formats. He has seven finishes of 17th or better in his last nine road course starts, including three Top 15s. In the last 10 superspeedway races, he has four Top 10s and three Top 5s.