As the 2023 NASCAR season begins shortly, we have compiled a list of 25 drivers who have the greatest potential for NASCAR Cup Series stardom in the future.
Let’s dive into the 25 best NASCAR prospects and how each driver was compared to the others.
Explaining how the 25 best NASCAR prospects were chosen
When making the decisions on this list, there were multiple questions to ask:
- Which driver would a team want five to 10 years from now?
- How has the driver competed in the equipment they were given? Have they overperformed or underperformed?
- How much maturity and consistency has the driver shown for his or her age?
- Is the driver’s untapped potential higher than other drivers’ known talent (Xfinity, Truck)?
Age requirements:Nobody older than 29 years old (all series), Xfinity: 29 years old, Truck: 27 years old, ARCA: 25 years old.
NASCAR schedule: Races today, this weekend, and how to watch
A driver is no longer considered among the best NASCAR prospects if they:
- A) Have declared to run full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series at the time of this article.
- B) Have made 18 or more starts in the NASCAR Cup Series.
- C) Are not actively trying to move up from their current ride.
Each driver will have their birthday, current team, manufacturer, current series, and some statistics. Let’s dive into the best NASCAR prospects!
Honorable mentions: Tanner Gray, Chase Purdy, Colby Howard, Layne Riggs, Jake Garcia
25. Max Gutierrez
Birthday: December 18, 2002 (20) | TBD | TBD | TBD
Max Gutierrez starts out the list of the 25 best NASCAR prospects for the 2023 season. Gutierrez, 20, was mostly noticed for his work in the NASCAR Truck Series with AM Racing as he competed in four events with a best finish of eighth place at Nashville Superspeedway. Now, the 20-year-old driver will look to find a ride that will help showcase his talent even more moving forward.
Previous Rank: 39
Related: NASCAR team could make surprise jump to the Cup Series in the future
24. Parker Retzlaff
Birthday: May 21, 2003 (19) | Jordan Anderson Racing | Chevrolet | Xfinity
Parker Retzlaff burst onto the scene with RSS Racing after starting his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race in sixth place at Phoenix Raceway. Ever since that point, Retzlaff, 19, has been on the radar for race teams. Jordan Anderson Racing tapped him to be full-time in the No. 31 car after a consistent nine races last year. The 19-year-old driver can now prove his worth after a stellar 2022 season.
Previous Rank: 47
23. Jake Drew
Birthday: March 12, 2000 (22) | TBD | TBD | TBD
Jake Drew is another driver who burst onto the scene after winning four races and the ARCA Menards West Series championship last year. Drew, 22, is currently without a ride after Sunrise Racing stopped its operations. The 22-year-old driver has enough talent to become part of the equation moving forward; however, finding a seat is the next important step.
Previous Rank: 36
22. Kaz Grala
Birthday: December 29, 1998 (24) | Sam Hunt Racing | Toyota | Xfinity
Kaz Grala finally has a full-time ride in NASCAR for the first time since the 2018 season. Grala, 24, will drive the No. 26 car for Sam Hunt Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The 24-year-old driver just needed an opportunity as it has mostly been part-time work. Now, Grala has goals of finally pushing for a playoff appearance and his first victory in the Xfinity Series.
Previous Rank: 27
Related: 10 best NASCAR drivers of all time
21. Austin Hill
Birthday: April 21, 1994 (28) | Richard Childress Racing | Chevrolet | Xfinity
Austin Hill was one of the most consistent drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last season. Hill, 28, won two races and had 21 top-10 finishes. Despite being 28 years old, the Georgia native can still be one of the best NASCAR prospects if he has a breakthrough year in a wide-open Xfinity Series. Hill will now push for an Xfinity Series championship as the Cup Series could be near.
Previous Rank: 29
20. Hailie Deegan
Birthday: July 18, 2001 (21) | ThorSport Racing | Ford | Truck
Hailie Deegan’s first two seasons in the NASCAR Truck Series can only be classified as disappointing. Deegan, 21, only had three top-10 finishes in the 45 total races she has driven since 2021. However, the 21-year-old finally has good equipment as she will compete in the No. 13 truck for ThorSport Racing. Deegan needs to have a good year or she will likely fall out of the picture eventually.
Previous Rank: 22
NASCAR: Adam Alexander to become the new lap-by-lap announcer for the Truck Series
19. Brandon Jones
Birthday: February 18, 1997 (25) | JR Motorsports | Chevrolet | Xfinity
Brandon Jones almost found himself in the Championship 4 within the NASCAR Xfinity Series last season but his former teammate Ty Gibbs had other plans. Jones, 25, still had a successful season but now finds himself with an amazing opportunity at JR Motorsports. The 25-year-old driver is set for a major campaign and it is needed if he wants to remain among the best NASCAR prospects.
Previous Rank: 21
18. Tanner Reif
Birthday: September 9, 2005 (17) | TBD | TBD | TBD
Tanner Reif, the only new entry among the best NASCAR prospects, had a very successful first full-time season in the ARCA Menards West Series with two victories. At 17 years old, Reif clearly has the talent to become a series threat in the future but he needs a ride for the 2023 season. The Las Vegas native will be someone to watch if he secures a much-needed opportunity.
Previous Rank: N/A
17. Rajah Caruth
Birthday: June 11, 2002 (20) | GMS Racing | Chevrolet | Truck
Rajah Caruth performed well during the 2022 season across multiple levels of racing and that has turned into a full-time opportunity. Caruth, 20, will drive the No. 24 truck for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Truck Series. The 20-year-old has shown he can wheel a vehicle and could drastically climb the NASCAR prospects list with a very impressive rookie campaign.
Previous Rank: 23
Related: 3 races Jimmie Johnson should run during the 2023 NASCAR season
16. Tyler Ankrum
Birthday: March 6, 2001 (21) | Hattori Racing Enterprises | Toyota | Truck
Tyler Ankrum will return to Hattori Racing Enterprises in the NASCAR Truck Series and a big season is needed. Ankrum, 21, has championship success in lower ranks but hasn’t been able to put it together yet. The 21-year-old driver will be entering his fifth full-time season in the Truck Series and to avoid any unwanted consequences, this needs to be the year that it all pays off.
Previous Rank: 17
15. Riley Herbst
Birthday: February 24, 1999 (23) | Stewart-Haas Racing | Ford | Xfinity
Riley Herbst is still looking for his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win with Stewart-Haas Racing and this season represents the best opportunity yet. Herbst, 23, broke out for 20 top-10 finishes in 2022 and could benefit from a mass exodus of drivers for the 2023 season. The 23-year-old will also make his debut in the 2023 Daytoan 500 with Rick Ware Racing so impressive showings could land him a future NASCAR Cup Series ride.
Previous Rank: 19
Stewart-Haas Racing preview: Big expectations, predictions for the 2023 season
14. Daniel Dye
Birthday: December 4, 2003 (19) | GMS Racing | Chevrolet | Truck
Daniel Dye had a successful but disappointing 2022 season for many reasons. Dye, 19, didn’t win an ARCA Menards Series event but almost won the championship. Now, the 19-year-old driver will look to establish himself in the NASCAR Truck Series with GMS Racing. Dye’s journey to this point has not come without controversy but he has earned the opportunity to prove his worth in NASCAR.
Previous Rank: 14
13. Nick Sanchez
Birthday: June 10, 2001 (21) | Rev Racing | Chevrolet | Truck
Nick Sanchez had a very successful 2022 season after winning three races and the ARCA Menards Series championship. Sanchez, 21, now has a full-time shot in the No. 2 truck for Rev Racing in NASCAR Truck Series. The 21-year-old driver has an amazing future ahead of him and 13th place might be the floor for him among the best NASCAR prospects. As for now, Sanchez should aim for a win in his rookie campaign.
Previous Rank: 24
12. Derek Kraus
Birthday: September 1, 2001 (21) | TBD| TBD | TBD
Derek Kraus has seen incredible success in his past racing experiences; however, his future has become murky after McAnally-Hilgemann Racing went in a different direction. Kraus, 21, is without a ride for the 2023 season but his talent is undeniable. The 21-year-old driver just needs an opportunity to prove why he won a championship in the now ARCA Menards West Series below the NASCAR Truck Series.
Previous Rank: 13
3 best landing spots for Derek Kraus in the NASCAR Xfinity Series
11. Carson Hocevar
Birthday: January 28, 2003 (20) | Niece Motorsports | Chevrolet | Truck
Carson Hocevar has come so close to multiple victories in the NASCAR Truck Series but bad luck and poor decisions have come his way. Hocevar, 20, is clearly capable of being a Truck Series winner but everything else needs to be cleaned up. The 20-year-old driver has talent but has been unable to maximize it; however, Hocevar rates as one of the most likely NASCAR prospects to have a breakout season.
Previous Rank: 16
10. Christian Eckes
Birthday: November 10, 2000 (22) | McAnally-Hilgemann Racing | Chevrolet | Truck
Christian Eckes was brutally close to multiple NASCAR Truck Series victories during the 2022 season but cautions and last-lap passes created a winless year. Eckes, 22, now finds himself at McAnally-Hilgemann Racing after Deegan replaced him at ThorSport Racing. The 22-year-old driver will drive the No. 19 truck and it will be very intriguing to see how he performs in the same equipment as Kraus.
Previous Rank: 12
9. Sheldon Creed
Birthday: September 30, 1997 (25) | Richard Childress Racing | Chevrolet | Xfinity
Sheldon Creed had a rough start to his NASCAR Xfinity Series career with Richard Childress Racing; however, it turned around and almost resulted in a victory at Darlington Raceway. Creed, 25, has been successful in every decision of racing as he has ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Truck Series championships. The 25-year-old won’t stop there as he is another breakout-year candidate among the best NASCAR prospects.
Previous Rank: 9
Related: Richard Childress Racing discusses the rebrand of Kyle Busch’s No. 8 car
8. Zane Smith
Birthday: June 9, 1999 (23) | Front Row Motorsports | Ford | Truck
Zane Smith had a breakout season with Front Row Motorsports in the NASCAR Truck Series as he won four races en route to the championship. Smith, 23, tops Ford’s best NASCAR prospects list and likely represents the next young driver to enter the Cup Series. The 23-year-old is only ranked as the No. 8 prospect due to his age compared to the others above him. Smith will likely be moving up soon as a possible NASCAR Cup Series debut awaits.
Previous Rank: 11
NASCAR odds: Betting lines for each race and championship futures
7. Jesse Love
Birthday: January 14, 2005 (18) | Venturini Motorsports | Toyota | ARCA
Jesse Love came into the 2022 season expecting more but this year represents the opportunity to have a massive breakout performance. Love, 18, will drive full-time for Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA Menards Series, and quite frankly, there are not a lot of competitors. The 18-year-old is primed for a massive season that could feature 10 or more victories. If Love does not perform to expectations, he will likely fall among the best NASCAR prospects.
Previous Rank: 7
6. Buddy Kofoid
Birthday: December 1, 2001 (21) | Crouch Motorsports | Toyota | Dirt Racing
Buddy Kofoid had an outstanding 2022 season in the USAC National Midget Series with a baffling 13 victories and a second straight title. However, Kofoid, 21, will expand his Sprint Car schedule with Crouch Motorsports with little known about his NASCAR future. The 21-year-old driver still hasn’t entered any of the stock-car divisions on a full-time basis and it likely needs to happen soon. If not, Kofoid will likely continue to slip down the NASCAR prospects list.
Previous Rank: 1
NASCAR drivers: Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series entries for the 2023 season
Top-5 best NASCAR prospects for the 2023 season
5. Corey Heim
Birthday: July 5, 2002 (20) | TRICON Garage | Toyota | Truck
Corey Heim didn’t compete in the NASCAR Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports on a full-time basis but still came out of the season with two victories. Heim, 20, has seen incredible success in the past and the 2023 season represents a possible breakout performance. The 20-year-old driver will drive the No. 11 truck for TRICON Garage, formerly David Gilliland Racing.
Heim is among the best NASCAR prospects within the Toyota camp and if he has a triumphant 2023 campaign, it would not be a surprise to see him jump up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2024. It remains to be seen what the Georgia native does with this opportunity but it is bound to be successful.
Previous Rank: 10
Related: Jimmie Johnson could drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2023
4. Taylor Gray
Birthday: March 25th, 2005 (17) | TRICON Garage | Toyota | Truck
Taylor Gray was arguably the second-best driver in the ARCA Menards Series last season and that has translated into a full-time ride. Gray, 17, will drive the No. 17 truck for TRICON Garage and has been granted a waiver to miss the first three races of the season due to his age. The 17-year-old driver has previous experience in the Truck Series, including a for-sure victory at World Wide Technology Raceway before being dumped.
Gray’s brother, Tanner Gray, will be one of his teammates so he will have someone to fall back on in his first full-time year. Gray will also have Heim and Dean Thompson as his teammates. The New Mexico native has a bright future in NASCAR and it all starts this season as a playoff appearance should be the goal. Gray has the potential to top the best NASCAR prospects list in the coming years.
Previous Rank: 6
Related: 23XI Racing ‘preparing’ a third entry for Kurt Busch if cleared to compete
3. Sam Mayer
Birthday: June 26th, 2003 (19) | JR Motorsports | Chevrolet | Xfinity
Sam Mayer is entering a pivotal third season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series after failing to win a race in the previous two years. Mayer, 19, is primed for a breakout Xfinity Series year as the top drivers in the series moved up to the NASCAR Cup Series. The 19-year-old driver will continue piloting the No. 1 car for JR Motorsports and should be among the favorites to make the Championship 4.
Mayer has been successful at every level, including two straight ARCA Menards East Series championships and a NASCAR Truck Series victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in his seventh start. The Wisconsin native needs to have a strong season but at 19 years old, there is plenty of time to develop into a successful driver at the top ranks of the sport.
Previous Rank: 5
Related: JR Motorsports provides big update on NASCAR Cup Series
2. Chandler Smith
Birthday: June 26, 2002 (20) | Kaulig Racing | Chevrolet | Xfinity
Chandler Smith did not have a full-time season in the ARCA Menards Series or else he would have previous championships like other top NASCAR prospects. However, Smith, 20, was one of the best drivers in the NASCAR Truck Series last season with three wins and a Championship 4 appearance. The 20-year-old driver wins in every vehicle he wheels and the No. 16 car for Kaulig Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series should see the same fate.
Smith had five Truck Series victories over the last two seasons and now finds himself full-time in the Xfinity Series. Plus, Smith will be making select starts in the NASCAR Cup Series for Kaulig Racing this season. The Georgia native lacks a championship to this point; however, his race-by-race success is incredible for a young driver.
Previous Rank: 3
3 options for Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Xfinity car in 2023
1. Sammy Smith
Birthday: June 4, 2004 (18) | Joe Gibbs Racing | Toyota | Xfinity
Sammy Smith sits on top of the best NASCAR prospects list and it all points back to his tremendous success. Smith, 18, has won two straight ARCA Menards East Series championships and six races in the ARCA Menards Series. If not for a limited schedule due to his age, the 18-year-old driver would have walked away with the ARCA Menards Series championship after winning six out of his 16 events.
Smith will drive the No. 18 car for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season after a successful, yet critical part-time season in 2022. Smith showed great speed for someone his age but also went through a learning curve like any other young driver. Smith has tremendous potential to remain on top of the best NASCAR prospects list and his development should be the top story in the Xfinity Series this year.