NASCAR midseason prospect list: Ranking 20 Cup Series hopefuls

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The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs start this coming weekend, and there are plenty of drivers in that series to watch and see how they perform in the clutch.

Three drivers from the series top my midseason prospect rankings. Part of that is because some of the top Xfinity drivers are either a little “old” to be prospects or already have Cup experience.

But if you want to see drivers who likely will be racing on Sundays by 2026, there could be as many in the truck series as the Xfinity Series.

“There’s a better field in competitive trucks versus the field of competitive Xfinity cars,” said Cup driver and co-owner Denny Hamlin. “There’s more of a level playing field in trucks. You can evaluate, in my opinion, talent better in trucks.”


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A few parameters: This list consists of drivers 28 or younger who don’t have more than a handful of Cup races (so drivers such as John Hunter Nemechek, Josh Berry, Austin Hill and Ty Majeski, who turns 29 next week, are not on this list) and don’t have a full-time Cup ride. It’s all subjective and based on the age of the driver, talent and results shown and how quickly a driver is moving up into another series. The ability to land sponsorship is also considered. This is from my research and some input from a few driver scouts.

1. Zane Smith (age: 24; previous ranking: 1): Smith is expected to go Cup racing next year, the only question is whether it is at Front Row or another organization. The defending truck series champion, Smith was second in the regular season this year with two wins but has only eight top-10s in his 16 starts. He has six Cup starts this year and was 10th at Charlotte, a finish that keeps him atop this list rather than Corey Heim overtaking him.

Zane Smith goes back-to-back at COTA

Zane Smith goes back-to-back at COTA

2. Corey Heim (age: 21; previous ranking: 2): With two wins and an average finish of 7.1, Heim won the truck regular-season championship and is one of the favorites to win the title. He has three Xfinity starts for Sam Hunt Racing with a 10th-place finish at Darlington.

3. Carson Hocevar (age: 20; previous ranking: 12): Hocevar’s performance — not just in winning three truck races but with two top-10s in a few Xfinity starts — has Spire Motorsports looking at him for a possible Cup ride next year in its No. 77 car. This is Hocevar’s third year in the truck playoffs, so he needs to finish better than 10th, where he wound up the past two seasons.

4. Chandler Smith (age: 21; previous ranking: 3): Smith has had a solid rookie season in the Xfinity Series, sitting seventh in the standings with one win and five top-5 finishes. He has been a little inconsistent, but that has been the story for the entire Kaulig organization.

5. Sammy Smith (age: 19; previous ranking: 5): This Smith has one win and sits 10th in the Xfinity standings while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. As strong as he was early in the season, the thought was he might already be ready to make the jump to Cup. But he’s learning how to handle the grind of Xfinity racing. 

Sammy Smith reacts after his first career Xfinity Series victory

Sammy Smith reacts after his first career Xfinity Series victory

6. Jesse Love (age: 18; previous ranking: 16): Love has owned the ARCA Series this year with six wins and should win the series title. He finished ninth in his truck debut earlier this year at Gateway. After a couple of solid but not dominating seasons, he is having a year that is showing why he has been hyped over the past four years.

7. Nick Sanchez (age: 22; previous ranking: 8): Sanchez made it into the truck playoffs on points with a respectable rookie season driving for KBM-affiliate Rev Racing. He is the defending ARCA Series champion and while he hasn’t won a truck race, he has led 231 laps, showing he knows how to go fast.

8. William Sawalich (age: 16; previous ranking: 13): Sawalich has one win and four top-5 finishes in five ARCA national series starts while also leading the ARCA East standings with two wins and top-5 finishes in each of his five starts in that series. He has made three truck starts with two top-10 finishes.

9. Sam Mayer (age: 20; previous ranking: 6): Mayer “finally” got the Xfinity win he’s been looking for the past few years as he captured the checkered flag at Road America. This should have been a breakout season for him and while it has been very respectable for a 20-year-old (he’s sixth in the Xfinity standings), some had hoped to see a little more. Then again, his teammates aren’t running as well as they did last year.

Sam Mayer earns first career Xfinity Series win at Road America

Sam Mayer earns first career Xfinity Series win at Road America

10. Brent Crews (age: 15; previous ranking: 10): Crews, who signed with Kevin Harvick’s management company three years ago, is the youngestever winner in Trans Am history at 14 years old. He already does simulation work for Venturini Motorsports, the top team in the ARCA Series, and he’ll make his ARCA debut in a couple of weeks for the organization at Watkins Glen.

11. Taylor Gray (age: 18; previous ranking: 4): He hasn’t had the greatest year as he sits 16th in his first full truck season after missing the first three races because he had not turned 18 yet. But those who watch are still convinced he could be a star. He was second in the ARCA East Series last year and won three ARCA national series races as well.

12. Carson Kvapil (age: 20; previous ranking: 9): Kvapil drives for JR Motorsports and has three victories to lead the CARS Tour Late Model Stock standings. 

13. Christian Eckes (age: 22; previous ranking: NR): Eckes is showing that ThorSport made a mistake by letting him walk after last year. He has won two truck races — the first two wins in McAnally Hilgermann Racing history — and could be a threat in the playoffs.

14. Katie Hettinger (age: 16; previous ranking: 17): Hettinger leads the CARS Pro Late Model standings and is part of the Chevrolet development program. She continues to show promise at a young age. 

15. Jade Avedisian (age: 16; previous ranking: NR): Avedisian is the next sprint-car driver whom Toyota will try to mold into a stock-car star. She has four wins and is the points leader of the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series.

16. Luke Fenhaus (age: 19; previous ranking: 18): Fenhaus won the ARCA race at Iowa and sits second in the ARCA East standings behind Sawalich.

17. Rajah Caruth (age: 21; previous ranking: 15): His first truck season has been a little disappointing (18th in the standings), but for a driver who still has relatively limited racing experience, we’ll take that as a learning experience. 

Trucks rookie Rajah Caruth on being in the spotlight

Trucks rookie Rajah Caruth on being in the spotlight

18. Andres Perez de Lara (age: 18; previous ranking: NR): Perez has been doing double duty in the ARCA Series as well as at home in the NASCAR Mexico Series. He has led 87 laps but still seeks that first win. He sits second in the ARCA standings.

19. Connor Zilisch (age: 17; previous ranking: NR): This young driver has made a name for himself on road courses with three Trans Am wins this year (tied with Crews). He has some support from Chevrolet, so he should get some good opportunities.

20. Isabella Robusto (age: 18; previous ranking: 19): Robusto is a Toyota-supported stock-car driver who continues to show promise but was slowed this season by a concussion.

Twenty-five others to watch: Toni Breidinger, Sheldon Creed, Hailie Deegan, Jake Drew, Daniel Dye, Jake Finch, Jake Garcia, Kaz Grala, Tanner Gray, Derek Griffith, Riley Herbst, Sean Hingorani, Kaden Honeycutt, Brandon Jones, Conner Jones, Derek Kraus, Caden Kvapil, Brenden Queen, Parker Retzlaff, Chase Purdy, Ben Rhodes, Layne Riggs, Gio Ruggiero, Lavar Scott and Kyle Weatherman.

Thinking Out Loud

The NASCAR test at Richmond last week to work on the short-track and road-course package did not go as well as planned. It was frustrating for drivers and teams.

Christopher Bell explains how the car felt during the short-track race test

Christopher Bell explains how the car felt during the short-track race test

But that’s in some ways OK because the whole point of testing is to see if theory meets reality. Sure, everyone would hope that the changes that seemed good in the wind tunnel would work. But you don’t know if you don’t test. It’s better to test and find things out rather than rush into changes that NASCAR would hope is a fix.

So there will be more testing in the coming months. NASCAR and the teams know they have more work to do. And the likelihood will be that there will be some tests where the results match the theory and some tests where they won’t.

In The News

— There will be two new rules for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. NASCAR will move the restart zone to the turn prior to coming to the frontstretch, much like it was for the Chicago street course. And after last year’s Ross Chastain move taking the access road instead of Turn 1 and then using that to come back on the course, NASCAR says such a move would require a stop-and-go. 

— Now that Michael Jordan has sold his majority interest in the Charlotte Hornets, does that mean he has more time to spend on 23XI Racing? Apparently so. Denny Hamlin said his team co-owner is more active in attending meetings and wants to be on every branding e-mail. 

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

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