Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Bob Pockrass

Bob Pockrass

FOX NASCAR Insider

The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season features 12 of the 36 full-time cars with either new drivers or new crew chiefs.

For the sake of this list, I considered any crew chief-driver pairing that did fewer than 11 races together last year in their current ride.

Here they are in order of predicted success for this year heading into the Clash (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on FOX):

1. Daniel Suarez-Matt Swiderski
Trackhouse Racing No. 99

Swiderski comes over from Kaulig Racing to be Suarez’s crew chief to replace Travis Mack (who replaced Swiderski at Kaulig Racing). Frankly, this ranking is not going out on much of a limb considering Suarez, at 19th in the 2023 standings, finished higher in the Cup points than anyone else on this list. Swiderski won a Cup race last year with AJ Allmendinger, who finished 21st in the standings. The key will be to get Suarez running at the level of teammate Ross Chastain. He can’t have another year where he is 19th in points and not make the playoffs — Chastain had two wins last year and was ninth in points.

2. Austin Cindric-Brian Wilson
Penske Racing No. 2

Cindric and Wilson began working together when the playoffs started last year as part of a swap of crew chiefs for Cindric and Harrison Burton (who got Jeremy Bullins) at Penske affiliate Wood Brothers Racing. Cindric and Wilson won an Xfinity title together and that hopefully can spark Cindric in his third season. The one stat that is a little alarming — Cindric averaged 18.5 points a race before the change; just 14.5 after the change.

3. Josh Berry-Rodney Childers
Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4

Berry replaces the retired Kevin Harvick in the driver’s seat. Harvick finished 13th in the standings as the only SHR driver to make the playoffs in a winless season for the organization. It likely will still be a tough year for SHR, but this combination seems to have a lot of promise with Childers being a former racer and having won 40 races as a crew chief.

Josh Berry explains why having Rodney Childers as his crew chief is a good fit for his Cup rookie season

Josh Berry explains why having Rodney Childers as his crew chief is a good fit for his Cup rookie season

4. John Hunter Nemechek-Ben Beshore
Legacy Motor Club No. 42

Nemechek and Beshore come from JGR, where they won seven races together as Nemechek finished fourth in the Xfinity standings. Beshore has three Cup wins as a former crew chief for Kyle Busch. But the question is still out on Legacy and how much the team potentially could improve with a change from Chevrolet to Toyota this year.

5. Zane Smith-Stephen Doran
Spire Motorsports No. 71

Smith, the 2022 truck series champion, won nine truck races over the last four years. He was signed by Trackhouse Racing and is loaned to Spire for this year. Doran comes over from being the lead engineer on Harvick’s car at SHR. They are both new to Spire, which is expanding from a two-car team (Corey LaJoie was 25th last year; Ty Dillon 32nd). They should be respectable.

6. Noah Gragson-Drew Blickensderfer
Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10

Gragson, who was 33rd in the standings before his release from Legacy in August last year, gets a shot at SHR as he replaces Aric Almirola, who finished 22nd in the standings. Blickensderfer remains as crew chief for the team and has four career Cup wins. Gragson, who has 13 career Xfinity wins, has shown potential but will need to rebound after a very disappointing 2023.

7. Justin Haley-Chris Lawson
Rick Ware Racing No. 51

Haley was 26th in the standings last year at Kaulig Racing and makes the move to RWR as its anchor driver. Lawson comes to the team after serving as Zane Smith’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports and their successful truck program. RWR is still trying to build, although it appeared to take steps last year. The No. 51 car was 35th in the owner points last year. 

8. Harrison Burton-Jeremy Bullins
Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 

Burton finished 31st in the standings last year. He and Bullins were paired for the final 10 races and he averaged 10 points per race compared to 13.5 points per race over the first 26, but they hope the chemistry built between them will help them get off the ground in a good place in 2024. This is the year Burton needs to perform, and Bullins is a capable crew chief.

Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton on 2024 preparation after crew chief swap

Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton on 2024 preparation after crew chief swap

9. Carson Hocevar-Luke Lambert
Spire Motorsports No. 77

Hocevar comes up from the truck series, where he won four races last year after two winless seasons. He also got in his share of controversies and dustups. He and Lambert worked together for eight Cup races in 2023 at Legacy with five top-20 finishes — and they hope the chemistry they built will serve as a solid jumpstart for Hocevar’s rookie season. But rookie years are tough and at organizations that are still building, they are even tougher.

10. Daniel Hemric-Trent Owens
Kaulig Racing No. 31

Hemric last ran a full Cup season in 2019. He then won the Xfinity title in 2021 driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He raced for Kaulig the last two years in the Xfinity Series, going winless but finishing top-10 in points each year. He now gets his chance at Cup. Owens guided Haley to 26th in the standings last year. Kaulig is in a little bit of disarray with no driver named yet for the No. 16 car, and whether that impacts Hemric remains to be seen. But it certainly can’t help.

11. TBA-Travis Mack
Kaulig Racing No. 16 

Kaulig plans to rotate drivers in this car with its Xfinity drivers Josh Williams and AJ Allmendinger among those in the lineup. It will be tough for this group to have any consistency with a rotating cast, which is the result of not having the funding for one driver.

12. Kaz Grala-Billy Plourde
Rick Ware Racing No. 15 

Grala will do 25 races for this team (Riley Herbst is most likely in that car for the Daytona 500). It will be a good ride for Grala to gain some experience. Grala finished 17th in the Xfinity standings last year driving for Sam Hunt Racing.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.

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