Who Are the 5 Breakout Stars in the 2020 NASCAR Season?

Published 12/30/2020, 5:15 AM EST
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 08: Hailie Deegan, driver of the #4 Monster Energy Ford, looks prior to the ARCA Menards Series Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The 2020 NASCAR season bore witness to a number of new stars. Aside from the usual suspects, there were plenty of youngsters and rookies who impressed, immensely. However, one has to wonder – who were the breakout stars and the ones to watch in the future.


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There are a few rookie drivers in the Cup Series division. A few rookies have turned in impressive runs, while others have been in the running for the championship. The same also applies to the youngsters in the Truck and Xfinity series’ divisions.

NASCAR Cup Series


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Christopher Bell

Christopher Bell joined the Leavine Family Racing team for the 2020 season. Admittedly, LFR is not exactly a front-running team, but Bell manages to finish in a respectable 20th place.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 07: Christopher Bell, driver of the #95 Procore Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 07, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Throughout the course of the 2020 season, he finished in the Top five on two occasions. To be precise, he bagged fourth place at Pocono and a career-best finish of third at Texas. Now, Bell is moving to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021, replacing Erik Jones who moved to Richard Petty Motorsports.

Cole Custer

Custer made his full-time Cup Series debut in 2020 with the Stewart-Haas Racing team. Aside from Top 10 finishes at Phoenix and Indianapolis, he grabbed a maiden win at Kentucky.

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 19: Cole Custer, driver of the #41 HaasTooling.com/Autodesk Ford, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Since then, his results picked up, with regular Top 10 and Top 15 finishes. As a bonus, he ended up on the tail of the playoff positions in 16th. Without a doubt, Custer has his whole career ahead of him and can only go upwards from there.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Riley Herbst

For a rookie driver, Riley Herbst has been impressive in 2020. The 21-year-old stormed to second place in California and Kentucky. He was also in the thick of the playoff battle for a while.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 12: Riley Herbst, driver of the #51 Monster Energy/Advance Auto Parts Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Sugarlands Shine 250 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 12, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

In the end, he finished 12th fastest in the championship. Truthfully speaking, 12th place is not too shabby for a rookie driver of Herbst’s caliber. He even recorded six top-10 finishes during the playoff stretch, which kept him in the running long enough to be in the top 12.

Harrison Burton

Burton actually got off to a storming start to his Xfinity career. To be precise, he bagged a maiden win at California, following it up with wins at Homestead, Texas, and Martinsville.

Oct 10, 2020; Concord, North Carolina, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Noah Gragson (9) races Harrison Burton (20) and Justin Haley (11) in front of Kaz Grala (21) during the Drive for the Cure 250 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the season opener at Daytona, he finished in the top-10 for ten consecutive races. Aside from hiccups at Talladega, Pocono, Charlotte, and Indianapolis, he did not finish anywhere outside the top20.

NASCAR Truck Series

Zane Smith

Out of everybody, Zane Smith had the most impressive rookie season in NASCAR. The 21-year-old has two Truck Series wins to his name and was a picture of consistency. Apart from a couple of blips at Homestead and Talladega, he never finished outside the Top 20.


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DOVER, DELAWARE – AUGUST 21: Zane Smith, driver of the #21 On The House Cocktail Mix Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series KDI Office Technology 200 at Dover International Speedway on August 21, 2020 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

In fact, Smith ended his rookie Truck Series season in 2nd place, which is most impressive. Without a doubt, a Truck Series title is just on the horizon.

Bonus: Hailie Deegan


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Finally, there is Hailie Deegan, who had an impressive season in the ARCA Menards Series. In addition to that, she made her Truck Series debut and finished 16th in Kansas. Now, the 19-year-old is expected to make her full-time Truck debut in 2021.

Obviously, there were many more drivers who showcased incredible performances. However, these six drivers will surely be the ones to watch out for in the long-run.



Dhruv George

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Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.