Prediction: Who Could be the Top Rookie in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series
We are still in the midst of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. However, several thoughts are straying towards the 2024 campaign. Most of the Cup Series grid will be looking forward to competing in 2024, with the notable exception of Kevin Harvick. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is retiring at the end of the season, thus leaving a gaping void in his #4 Ford.
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Of course, the upcoming season will bring about a couple of new faces to fill up the grid. Some of the current crop of drivers will have to be let go, which is why many are scrambling to renew their contracts.
Next season, there are three confirmed rookies, in the form of Carson Hocevar, Zane Smith and Josh Berry. Admittedly, there are still three empty spots on the grid, but a few of the 2023 crop are expected to renew their contracts.
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Who are the new rookie drivers for the 2024 NASCAR Cup season?
Starting off with Berry, he is effectively taking over the seat that Kevin Harvick vacated. Berry already has some Cup Series experience, with a few races. However, it is noteworthy that he got a trial by fire because he was driving for Hendrick Motorsports. That opportunity arose when Chase Elliott injured himself in a snowboarding accident and had a one-race suspension. Berry is moving from driving a Chevrolet for JR Motorsports to driving the #4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Next on the list is Carson Hocevar, who is also no stranger to Cup Series machinery. He will take over the #77 Spire Motorsports machine, in place of Ty Dillon. According to reports, Hocevar penned a multi-year deal with Spire Motorsports and will partner with Corey LaJoie. Hocevar has already driven for Spire Motorsports this year, substituting for LaJoie in one race. However, he has had more races under his belt for Legacy Motor Club.
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Finally, there is Zane Smith, who will be Hocevar and LaJoie’s teammate. Like the other two, he also has a limited amount of Cup experience. In fact, he competed in one race for Rick Ware Racing and seven races for Front Row Motorsports. Admittedly, his 2024 racing number has yet to be confirmed. This is because Spire Motorsports will acquire a charter from Live Fast Motorsports next season. With the team exiting next season, one has to wonder whether BJ McLeod will be back in the Cup arena.
Who among the three drivers will vie for NASCAR Rookie of the Year?
Seeing everyone’s track record so far in Cup, Berry could stand the best chance of being the top rookie driver. Plus, Stewart-Haas Racing is a much bigger team compared to Spire Motorsports. Furthermore, Spire only has one win, courtesy of Justin Haley in the 2019 season at Daytona. As a result, the likes of Hocevar and Smith have their work cut out for them in 2024.
Meanwhile, Stewart-Haas Racing has a much richer pedigree with two driver’s championships in 2011 and 2014. Those two championships came at the hands of Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, respectively. Add to that 69 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, as well as 25 Xfinity Series, one Truck Series, and two ARCA Menards Series West wins. Together, that constitutes a grand total of 96 wins, just four shy of a century.
Josh Berry will not have things easy in his debut full-time season
To be frank, Harvick will be leaving a massive void in the SHR camp. In 2023, the organization has struggled and is still winless. Although Kevin Harvick sneaked into the Playoffs, he just about lucked out, along with Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace. The lack of wins came back to bite him, as he was eliminated in the opening round of the Playoffs. Harvick has been leading from the front, while his teammates have not performed up to par. As a result, Berry will have to step into some very big shoes. That is unless the likes of Chase Briscoe, Ryan Preece, or Aric Almirola can step up and share the burden.
Admittedly, Almirola’s #10 seat is still up in the air, as he could follow Harvick into retirement. Or, he could stick around for one more year as the senior driver in the SHR team. If Almirola does leave, rumor has it that Noah Gragson could be in line for that #10 seat at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith should not be underestimated
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With the spotlight on Josh Berry, one must not forget about Hocevar and Smith. Those two drivers are no slouches, with the former having three Truck Series wins and the latter being the 2022 Truck champion. Both drivers are still relatively young and will likely look toward Corey LaJoie as the team leader. Or the other side of the equation is that Hocevar and Smith could try and challenge LaJoie for top dog role. To be frank, that would be an interesting prospect, but it may present a headache for Spire Motorsports.
Now, it remains to be seen who else fills the remaining spots on the 2024 Cup Series grid. Will some of the more seasoned drivers like Almirola and AJ Allmendinger return? Or could their respective teams hunt for new blood and add to the 2024 Rookie of the Year battle? Will Cody Ware be back on the grid, or will his off-track drama make him persona non grata with Rick Ware Racing? There are so many questions, and 2023 is still not over yet. In fact, the race for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title is still raging.
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Even for Smith and Hocevar, the 2023 NASCAR Truck Series championship is still underway. Both of them are in the Playoffs but on opposite ends of the table. Hocevar sits in 2nd place, while Zane Smith props the tail end of the Top 8. Meanwhile for Josh Berry, his NASCAR Xfinity Series championship bid is officially over. He, along with Daniel Hemric, Parker Kligerman, and Jeb Burton, have all been eliminated. Now, Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith will be focused on the coming races, but Berry will enter knowing that he has nothing to lose.
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