NASCAR DRIVERS: The 2020 NASCAR season came with many twists and turns. The COVID-19 pandemic forced teams into mid-week races, one-day shows, and three races at Darlington Raceway after their 10-week hiatus of racing. However, after a grueling 36-race schedule from February to November, the NASCAR season ended yesterday with Chase Elliott as the champion.
NASCAR now enters 2021 with many new things ahead. They have a brand new schedule that sees the additions of Bristol on dirt, Nashville Speedway, Circuit of the Americas, Road America, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. There is also a higher abundance of seat movement with the notables of Kyle Larson going to Hendrick Motorsports and Bubba Wallace to 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin.
The NextGen car is also poised to come out after the conclusion of the 2021 season. It was supposed to come out next season, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was pushed back one year. The date for a new engine was also pushed back and is currently to be determined.
Let’s dive into our early NASCAR drivers rankings for the 2021 season as we enter the offseason.
1. Chase Elliott
- 2020 statistics: Five wins, 15 top-five finishes, 22 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 11.7.
Chase Elliott came into 2020 looking to make the jump toward being a championship contender at Phoenix Raceway in November. He won two regular-season races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Daytona Road Course before lighting it up in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. He won three of the last five races, including the last two of the season at Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. Elliott will look to repeat as the NASCAR Cup Series champion in 2021.
- 2021 ride: No. 9 Chevrolet (Hendrick Motorsports)
2. Kevin Harvick
- 2020 statistics: Nine wins, 20 top-five finishes, 27 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 7.3.
Some may think Kevin Harvick is the rightful champion of the 2020 season. Harvick won nine races with a historic average finishing position of 7.3. However, he was eliminated in the Round of 8 after a lackluster three races of 2nd, 16th, and 17th. No doubt the best driver in 2020, the 44-year-old driver showed where the NASCAR playoffs format falters. Harvick enters 2021 after the best year of his career, looking for a second NASCAR Cup Series championship.
- 2021 ride: No. 4 Ford (Stewart-Haas Racing)
3. Brad Keselowski
- 2020 statistics: Four wins, 13 top-five finishes, 24 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 10.1
One position is all that separated Brad Keselowski from being the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion. Keselowski only won one race during the playoffs at Richmond Raceway. However, he drove consistently and has the showing of a driver entering their prime. The 36-year-old driver from Michigan signed a one-year deal with Team Penske and will be back for the 2021 season. Keselowski looks to improve upon 2020 in his quest for a second NASCAR Cup Series title.
- 2021 ride: No. 2 Ford (Team Penske)
4. Denny Hamlin
- 2020 statistics: Seven wins, 18 top-five finishes, 21 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 9.3
“Close, but no cigar” has been Denny Hamlin’s motto throughout his career. This year was the fourth time Hamlin had five wins or more, however, he has no championship to show for it. Despite being one of the top drivers in NASCAR the last two years, he was unable to close the deal in the Championship 4. Hamlin will now venture into ownership with Michael Jordan next season while still racing with Joe Gibbs Racing. He is still seeking that elusive, first championship.
- 2021 ride: No. 11 Toyota (Joe Gibbs Racing)
5. Joey Logano
- 2020 statistics: Three wins, 12 top-five finishes, 21 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 11.9
Many people were surprised to see Joey Logano make his way to Phoenix Raceway in contention for the championship. Logano won the opening race of the Round of 8 and locked himself into the Championship 4. It was his first win since pre-COVID-19 after struggling to win during the summer months. Logano goes into 2021 with even more to prove. With his two teammates looking at potential career-years, Logano will have to do his best to counter.
- 2021 ride: No. 22 Ford (Team Penske)
6. Kyle Busch
- 2020 statistics: One win, 14 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 13.8.
Kyle Busch probably didn’t enjoy his 2020. The only multi-time champion in the NASCAR Cup Series field tallied only one win at Texas Motor Speedway at the end of the season. While the rest of the season consisted of bad luck, Busch began to return to his previous self in the playoffs. One win, three top-five finishes, and seven top-10 finishes in ten races is a step in the right direction. Busch will be back next year hungrier than ever.
- 2021 ride: No. 18 Toyota (Joe Gibbs Racing)
7. Ryan Blaney
- 2020 statistics: One win, 11 top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 13.8
No one expected Ryan Blaney to be out of the playoffs in the Round of 16. Many drivers pegged Blaney as a championship favorite with his raw speed throughout the season. However, he finished outside of the top-10 for three straight races and was eliminated rather quickly. During the rest of the playoffs, he only finished outside of the top-10 once at Talladega Superspeedway. Maybe, Blaney could be next year’s version of Chase Elliott. He looks to make that next step toward being a champion.
- 2021 ride: No. 12 Ford (Team Penske)
8. Martin Truex, Jr.
- 2020 statistics: One win, 14 top-five finishes, and 23 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 11.7.
The 2020 season was a weird year for Martin Truex Jr. He had a new crew chief in James Small after his long-time partner Cole Pearn decided to retire from NASCAR. While he ran up front most of the summer and playoffs, he was unable to capture more than one win at Martinsville Speedway. It may have been because of the lack of practice, which was the same issue for Kyle Busch. Truex Jr. goes into 2021 looking to prove he has more in the tank.
- 2021 ride: No. 19 Toyota (Joe Gibbs Racing)
9. Kyle Larson
- 2020 statistics: Zero wins, one top-five finish, three top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 11.0 (four races).
Kyle Larson may have had the craziest year of anyone on this list. Larson took part in four races in the 2020 NASCAR season before being suspended in April due to a racial slur during an iRacing event. He then went on a tear around the country by winning 42 dirt races. The 28-year-old signed with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2021 season to drive the No. 5 car. Larson goes into 2021 with his eyes on redemption and a championship.
- 2021 ride: No. 5 (Hendrick Motorsports)
10. Alex Bowman
- 2020 statistics: One win, six top-five finishes, 15 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 14.7.
Alex Bowman may have been one of the most consistent drivers in the NASCAR playoffs. Similar to Kyle Busch, Bowman had zero wins, three top-five finishes, and seven top-10 finishes. He impressed many in NASCAR and showed he belongs. The 27-year-old driver now goes into 2021 replacing another NASCAR legend in Jimmie Johnson. Bowman will keep his team and crew chief as he looks for his first career NASCAR Cup Series championship.
- 2021 ride: No. 48 Chevrolet (Hendrick Motorsports)
11. William Byron
- 2020 statistics: One win, four top-five finishes, 14 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 16.2.
William Byron grew up this season, with Chad Knaus retiring as crew chief at the end of 2020. Byron won his first career NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway in August and improved drastically as the season unfolded. The 22-year-old from Michigan has proved he can win at NASCAR’s top level. With his former NASCAR Truck Series crew chief Rudy Fugle paired with him again, 2021 could be his breakout season.
- 2021 ride: No. 24 Chevrolet (Hendrick Motorsports)
12. Christopher Bell
- 2020 statistics: Zero wins, two top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 20.2.
Christopher Bell’s rookie year in the NASCAR Cup Series wasn’t bad, considering the circumstances. Bell did have his rookie struggles, but he also ran upfront on many occasions at Bristol, Pocono, and Texas. He had a shot at Texas Motor Speedway, but his car lost speed throughout the last run. With Leavine Family Racing shutting down, Bell now sees himself in prime equipment with Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2021 season.
- 2021 ride: No. 20 Toyota (Joe Gibbs Racing)
13. Kurt Busch
- 2020 statistics: One win, seven top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 13.4.
Kurt Busch managed to shock the NASCAR world, winning at his hometown track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway to advance into the Round of 8. After a strong start to the year, Busch started to fade as the season went on. However, Busch proved he can still get it done at 42-years-old and showed he can still contend. Busch enters 2021 with Chip Ganassi Racing in what might be his final NASCAR Cup Series season.
- 2021 ride: No. 1 Chevrolet (Chip Ganassi Racing)
14. Matt DiBenedetto
- 2020 statistics: Zero wins, three top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 14.7
Matt DiBenedetto may have the best feel-good story of anyone in NASCAR. After bouncing from team to team, DiBenedetto now finds himself back with Wood Brothers Racing in 2021. However, he knows that it will be his last year with the team. The 29-year-old driver showed flashes of excellence on many occasions this year. He had numerous shots to win, but unfortunately came up short. DiBenedetto goes into 2021 looking to prove that he belongs in this sport.
- 2021 ride: No. 21 Ford (Wood Brothers Racing)
15. Bubba Wallace
- 2020 statistics: Zero wins, one top-five finish, five top-10 finishes, and an average finishing position of 21.1
Bubba Wallace was at the center of attention in NASCAR during a portion of the season. Wallace spoke out on social injustice and attracted numerous fans and sponsors to support, while showing that no one in NASCAR will stand for what was happening in the world. The 27-year-old driver over-performed given the equipment he worked with, proving he deserves a chance. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin believed that too and signed him to their newly formed race team. Wallace goes into 2021 looking for his first NASCAR Cup Series win.
- 2021 ride: No. 23 Toyota (23XI Racing)