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2023 NASCAR Cup Series Rookies: How Have They Fared?

Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Juan Arroyo

Amidst the vast amount of headlines from the inaugural Chicago street race, we have officially crossed the halfway point of the NASCAR Cup Series season. It’s time to dissect the good, the bad and the promising of the 2023 rookie class.

Ty Gibbs

It has been a season full of positive glimpses for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs. Despite the headlines that came from his 2022 XFINITY Series season, the 20-year-old has been very overlooked this season, scoring five top-tens thus far. He currently sits 19th in the regular season standings, six points above the playoff cutline.

Though Gibbs’ results on paper may pale in comparison to his teammates’, they don’t tell the full story. In the Coca-Cola 600—NASCAR’s longest and arguably toughest race—the 20-year-old had been running in the top ten for most of the day and looked on for a top five in the closing stages. However, he would be collected in a late race crash that subjected him to a 26th-place finish.

Gibbs has also been excellent on road courses, scoring two of his five top-tens at Circuit of the Americas and the recent Chicago street course.

How does the rest of the season look for the Joe Gibbs driver? Well, it looks like he could point his way into the playoffs if he continues his consistency. Though a win looks unlikely, it wouldn’t be wise to count him out of a potential upset win at road courses like Watkins Glen and Indianapolis, or even super speedways like Atlanta or Daytona.

Noah Gragson

Credit: Jayski

On the other side of the coin, Legacy Motor Club’s Noah Gragson has not lived up to expectations.

Coming off a season of eight wins in the 2022 NASCAR XFINITY Series season—four of which were consecutive—the hype was high for Gragson. But with only two top-20s on the season and sitting 32nd in the standings, he has fallen short of the lofty projections.

The only highlight of his season thus far was a 12th-place finish early in the season at Atlanta, which, though a promising glimpse, has been overshadowed by a season littered with incidents.

On the streets of Chicago, for instance, Gragson crashed four separate times—three of which were completely on his own. To top off a poor rookie season, Gragson had to miss a round at Sonoma, experiencing concussion-like symptoms after a heavy crash at Gateway.

How does the rest of the season look for the 24-year-old? It can only be up from here. His poor season is not helped by the fact Legacy Motor Club has been struggling as a whole, with teammate Erik Jones sitting 28th in the standing. The best he can do at this stage is keep his head down and stay out of trouble.

The task for Gragson now is to keep the car in one piece, and look ahead to 2024.

The one-off drivers

Jenson Button at the recent Grant Park 220 in Chicago. Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

As discussed in my recent piece, many drivers from across the pond have taken their first shot at NASCAR this season.

Of the primarily open-wheel drivers, Jenson Button has been the most promising. The Brit has done two races thus far at Circuit of the Americas and Chicago. Though COTA didn’t exactly go to plan, ending up P18, it looked to be on the up for Button in the Windy City.

A tangle with Chris Buescher on pit road and his involvement in the stack-up late in the race, however, downgraded what would’ve been a top ten finish into 21st-place in the end.

Even if it was only for one race, IMSA’s Jordan Taylor deserves a shout-out. Taylor qualified fourth filling in for an injured Chase Elliott at Circuit of the Americas, a superb result for a debutant. The race didn’t go as well though; he would finish 24th after being involved in the numerous incidents that occurred late in the race.

The most recent one-off is NASCAR’s most recent winner: Shane van Gisbergen. He would deliver on the hype surrounding his debut, qualifying third and winning the Cup Series’ first ever street race.

Drivers from NASCAR's lower series have also made select starts. In the case of Riley Herbst, XFINITY driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, his performance has been commendable in his two starts at Daytona and Talladega. He finished in the top ten at Daytona and in the top 20 at Talladega.

It’s been less fruitful for Kaulig Racing’s XFINITY driver Chandler Smith, who despite having two entries, only managed one start and failed to qualify for the Daytona 500. Nevertheless, he achieved a solid 17th-place finish in his lone start at Richmond.

Credit: Jayski

Grant Enfinger replaced Noah Gragson when the latter was recovering from concussion-like symptoms. It would be a quiet cup debut for the Craftsman Truck Series winner, finishing 26th.

Perhaps the most promising Cup debutant from the Truck Series is Niece Motorsports’s Carson Hocevar. He had the opportunity to fill in for Corey LaJoie at Spire Motorsports when LaJoie was called up for the #9 in Gateway.

Hocevar would run in the top 20 consistently, even outrunning LaJoie in his own car. Unfortunately, Hocevar's day came to an abrupt end when a broken brake rotor resulted in him crashing into the wall.


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