The 2020 NASCAR season is here. Before we kick things off in Daytona, let’s take the pulse of the Cup Series with some preseason power rankings. Much like preseason college football polls, these don’t matter — but they sure are fun.
Expect plenty of movement early in the year, but here’s where I’m starting.
1. Kyle Busch
There isn’t much to explain here. The 2019 champion returns with his team in tact, set for another title run. As long as Busch and Adam Stevens are together, look out.
2. Kevin Harvick
Harvick didn’t get as many checkered flags as he deserved in 2019. Expect that to even out in 2020. By the end of the year, Harvick and Rodney Childers were rolling on the intermediate tracks once again. Look for that to continue as Harvick carries the banner for Stewart-Haas Racing.
3. Denny Hamlin
A resurgent Denny Hamlin couldn’t finish off his wildly successful 2019 season with a title. But the pairing of Hamlin and Chris Gabehart proved to be potent from the start. Now in year two and with the title race shifting to Phoenix, Hamlin might just get that first ever title.
4. Joey Logano
The 2018 champion will have a new crew chief atop his box this season, gaining Paul Wolfe, the longtime leader of Brad Keselowski’s team. His unorthodox style powered Keselowski to several stolen wins. Can he keep that up with Logano? I’m not betting against him.
5. Martin Truex Jr.
In one of the most shocking moves of the offseason, Cole Pearn left his post atop the No. 19 box to retire. How will Truex perform without perhaps the best crew chief in the business? That’s a big story to follow this season. The notebook will still be there, but can they keep the speed throughout the year?
6. Ryan Blaney
Is this too high for Blaney? Perhaps it’s a bit of projection, but he’s getting a big upgrade with Todd Gordon coming over from Joey Logano. Gordon should be able to push Blaney to the next level in a contract year.
7. Kyle Larson
One of these years, a light is going to come on and stay on for Larson. Now with lower downforce on short tracks, Larson may have a better chance to showcase his talent. Larson was one of the quicker cars in NASCAR by the end of 2019 on the intermediates.
8. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski’s performance with Jeremy Bullins will be fascinating to watch. Though to me, it feels like Brad lost a mastermind on the box with the departure of Wolfe. It’s also a contract year for Brad, making things very interesting for his 2020 season.
9. Chase Elliott
Elliott’s championship run went up in flames after a win at the Roval. We know what we’re getting with Chase on the road courses, but this team is going to have to show more consistent speed on the intermediates before they can take a leap forward.
10. Kurt Busch
Busch really elevated this ride in 2019, showing race-winning speed on multiple occasions. Will he be more than that in 2020? It’s possible. Ganassi flashed a bunch in the second half of the season, but needs a little more consistency to truly contend for a title.
11. William Byron
Was Byron the most consistent Hendrick driver down the stretch of 2019? Probably. Now he’s got to find victory lane. He should be able to do that in 2020, because Chad Knaus likely won’t have to chase as many stage points.
12. Erik Jones
Speaking of breakout potential, Erik Jones is really, really close. He won Darlington and ran top three on several different occasions. Problem is, he hasn’t been able to beat his teammates too often.
13. Alex Bowman
Bowman found victory lane last year at Chicago, and could have won a couple of more. This team hit its stride in the summer, but trailed off late. Can they find it again? Bowman certainly needs a good year with long-term sponsorship questions lingering.
14. Christopher Bell
Our first rookie checks in at No. 14 overall. Bell will drive for Leavine Family Racing, which is expected to get even better, more up to date equipment from Joe Gibbs Racing this season. Look for Bell to build on Matt Dibenedetto’s strong runs during 750 horsepower races.
15. Clint Bowyer and 16. Aric Almirola
Stewart-Haas Racing showed plenty of single-car run speed, but they didn’t race all that well outside of Kevin Harvick. The potential is absolutely there for both of these drivers, but neither has been able to get over the hump. For now, they’ll both be considered playoff bubble drivers in very similar situations.
17. Ryan Newman
Newman just gets results, doesn’t he? Roush moved on from Trevor Bayne, placing Newman in the famed No. 6, who found the playoffs. The upside here is still questionable, but Newman can still put the team on his back and run higher than he should.
18. Matt Dibenedetto
Dibenedetto now sits in the strongest ride of his NASCAR Cup Series career. He’s got a real opportunity to make the playoffs now, with help from Penske Racing. This is one driver that could really rise throughout the year.
19. Cole Custer
Our second rookie sneaks into the top 20. Custer and crew chief Mike Shiplett will make the jump to Cup this year, looking to continue their success from the Xfinity Series. Just like Almirola and Bowyer, expect Custer to sit on the playoff bubble for much of the year.
20. Chris Buescher
Buescher returns home to Roush for the 2020 season, receiving a small upgrade in speed. Buescher could absolutely make the playoffs in this car, mirroring Newman’s same style. Between the two of them, this is the strongest Roush has been in years.
21. Jimmie Johnson
What do you make of the 7-time NASCAR champ? The speed was there in spurts for the No. 48 group last season, but the crashes and inconsistencies still plagued them. Once again, you can confidently say Johnson was the worst of the Hendrick drivers last year. Will that change in his final year?
22. Tyler Reddick
Reddick made a spot start for RCR in the Cup Series race at Kansas and dazzled, running top five late in the going. Now full time and replacing Daniel Hemric, would it really surprise anyone to see Reddick outpace his teammate Austin Dillon? Reddick has comfort coming with him in the form of his entire team from the Xfinity Series following him to Cup.
23. Austin Dillon
Dillon’s 2019 was a complete disaster. RCR seemingly placed more emphasis on trimming out their cars for qualifying rather than getting them to race well. Dillon won a few poles, but never lasted out front. Will we see a philosophy shift this year from Childress? We probably should.
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse moves to JTG’s No. 47 this season, a decent downgrade from his Roush ride in 2019. Stenhouse may still be able to make some noise on the superspeedways, where he’s one of the best, but he should see a decline everywhere else.
25. Bubba Wallace
Wallace had a number of days where he couldn’t get past 26th, then he had a few days where he legitimately ran top 15. His season culminated with a top five performance at Indy. This team seems to have more upside of anyone around them, they just need consistent sponsorship to put the pieces together.
26. Ryan Preece
Preece moves to the No. 37, replacing Buescher. A dismal rookie season saw him consistently outperformed by his teammate Buescher in 2019. Preece will have to bring more consistency to stick in this ride for 2021.
27. Ty Dillon
The younger Dillon brother seemed to take a step backwards last season, consistently running 25th or worse at most of the intermediates. With teams behind him getting stronger, Ty will need more speed in 2020.
28. Corey Lajoie
Lajoie is a candidate to move forward this year, thanks to their partnership with Stewart-Haas. Go Fas Racing will receive cars and other information from SHR, but not engines. That should result in a small gain for Lajoie this season.
29. Daniel Suarez
Perhaps the biggest loser of the offseason was Suarez, who falls from SHR to Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020. He’s got a chance to help build something here, but this season sets up to be a bumpy ride.
30. John Hunter Nemechek
JHN will move up to the NASCAR Cup Series full time in 2020 after GMS shut down its Xfinity program. Nemechek performed fairly well subbing for Matt Tifft in 2019, but has an uphill battle to make something happen in 2020.