NASCAR Cup Series
Top 20 NASCAR prospects for the next decade
NASCAR Cup Series

Top 20 NASCAR prospects for the next decade

Updated Feb. 10, 2023 10:47 a.m. ET

Who are the top young drivers most likely to make an impact in the NASCAR Cup Series in the next 10 years?

I tried to take an educated guess.

If you are wondering about drivers to watch in trucks, Xfinity or the touring series that might come your way, here is a list. 

A few parameters: This list consists of drivers 28 years old or younger who don't have more than a handful of Cup races (so drivers such as John Hunter Nemechek and Josh Berry 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 based on my research and input from a few driver scouts.


1. Zane Smith (age: 23; previous ranking: 2)

Smith tops this list after winning four truck races and the series championship in 2022. He will attempt to defend his truck title but is on the fast track to Cup, attempting to run seven races this year, including the Daytona 500, for Front Row Motorsports.

You can read more about Smith and his ambitious plan for this year here.

Zane Smith wins 2022 NASCAR truck series title

Zane Smith wins the 2022 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship after holding off Ben Rhodes in a wild overtime finish.

2. Corey Heim (age: 20; previous ranking: 5) 

With two wins, six top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 16 truck starts, Heim should challenge for the truck title this year driving for Tricon Garage. Heim was the ARCA national series runner-up in 2021.

3. Chandler Smith (age: 20; previous ranking: 6) 

Smith had five truck wins the past two seasons and finished third in the truck standings. He heads to Kaulig Racing this year for a full Xfinity schedule. 

Chandler Smith wins at Richmond

Chandler Smith continued an impressive stretch with a dominating final stage to win at Richmond Raceway in August 2022.

4. Taylor Gray (age: 17; previous ranking: 10)

Gray will prove what he can do this year as he runs a full truck schedule once he turns 18 in late March. His results last year in his eight truck starts were a little underwhelming, but he won three ARCA races with 10 top-5s in 14 starts.

5. Sammy Smith (age: 18; previous ranking: 8) 

Smith won six of his 16 ARCA races last year and posted an average finish of 2.9 in the series. He was respectable in his nine Xfinity starts with one top-five and three top-10s. This year, as a rookie driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, he will learn whether he can handle the rigors and roller coaster of a 33-race schedule.

6. Sam Mayer (age: 19; previous ranking: 3)

Some might have soured on Mayer after last season as he finished seventh in the Xfinity standings driving for JR Motorsports. But he had 11 top-fives and he is still young. He certainly needs to win this year at JRM to continue to keep the attention of Cup owners.

Ty Gibbs and Sam Mayer scuffle

After a run-in on track in the final lap of an Xfinity Series race at Martinsville last April, Ty Gibbs and Sam Mayer exchanged punches on pit road.

7. Austin Hill (age: 28; previous ranking: 4)

This will be Hill's last time on this list, as he will turn 29 in April. He earned two wins and 11 top-5s in the Xfinity Series last year but will need to battle up front a little more this year, his second driving for Richard Childress Racing.

8. Nick Sanchez (age: 21; previous ranking: 11) 

Sanchez won the 2022 ARCA title with three wins and nine top-5s in 20 races. He drove in eight Xfinity races with one top-10. Working through Chevrolet, he has a great opportunity in 2023 driving for Rev Racing in the trucks as the team is embedded at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

9. Carson Kvapil (age: 19; previous ranking: 18) 

Kvapil won a CARS Late Model Stock tour title (four wins in 14 races) driving for JR Motorsports last year after winning the CARS Late Model championship with four wins the year before. As a JRM driver, he'll be getting a look either in-house or from someone else. 

10. Brent Crews (age: 14; previous ranking: 17) 

Crews became the youngest Trans Am winner at Road America last year, and he made the Chili Bowl main event last month. Is that diverse enough for you at just 14 years old? He already has been signed by Kevin Harvick Inc. (and Toyota) and that should help him find the best places to race and learn. 

11. Sheldon Creed (age: 25; previous ranking: 9) 

It seems forever since Creed won the truck title in 2020. He went winless in the Xfinity Series last year and didn't even make the playoffs driving for Richard Childress Racing. So why is he even on this list? Many people believe he has talent, and his eight truck victories prove he knows how to win.

Noah Gragson wins at Darlington over Sheldon Creed

Last September, Noah Gragson won in a wild finish at Darlington over Sheldon Creed and Kyle Larson after last-lap pass. 

12. Carson Hocevar (age: 20; previous ranking: 7) 

Hocevar has made the truck playoffs in each of the past two seasons but hasn't won a race. He challenged for some wins and saw them slip through his hands in 2022. That happens. It's part of the learning process. But he needs to win in 2023.

13. William Sawalich (age: 16; previous ranking: 19)

Sawalich has been fast in the CARS late model and late model stock events he has entered. He is driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the ARCA Series and will have select races with Tricon in the trucks. He will have great equipment to show off his skills.

14. Daniel Dye (age: 19; previous ranking: 13) 

Dye finished second in the ARCA Series last year with 13 top-fives (but no victories). He'll run a full truck slate for GMS Racing in 2023.

15. Rajah Caruth (age: 20; previous ranking: 12) 

Caruth finished one spot behind Dye in the ARCA Series last year. He also made four truck starts and seven Xfinity starts. His car owners have had great things to say about him as he only started racing a few years ago. He'll run a full-time truck for GMS Racing this year. 

Rajah Caruth in big crash at Phoenix

Rajah Caruth got turned by Layne Riggs resulting in a big crash at Phoenix in a truck series race in November.

16. Jesse Love (age: 18; previous ranking: 15) 

Love won back-to-back ARCA West titles in 2020 and 2021. He didn't run for a title in any series in 2022 and didn't have the best results. He'll drive a full ARCA national season this year for Venturini Motorsports as well as three truck races for Tricon. 

17. Katie Hettinger (age: 15; previous ranking: NR)

Hettinger is the winningest female driver at Hickory Motor Speedway. She still is a little unproven outside of that track, but her ability at a young age is getting noticed. Chevrolet is backing some of her development.

18. Luke Fenhaus (age: 18; previous ranking: 16)

Fenhaus had four top-fives in four starts on the CARS Late Model tour last year and has been competing at major short-track events. He won the Slinger Nationals in 2021 and finished second last year — behind Cup driver William Byron.

19. Isabella Robusto (age: 18; previous ranking: NR) 

A Toyota Racing Development driver, Robusto has been running late model the past few years. She finished second overall in the Hickory Motor Speedway standings last year and third at Tri-County Speedway. She'll race a variety of cars in 2023.

20. Layne Riggs (age: 20; previous ranking: NR) 

The 2023 NASCAR Weekly Series national champion, Riggs would be higher on this list if he had a confirmed, solid ride yet for the year. Halmar Friesen Racing would like to put him in a truck if sponsorship materializes.

25 others to watch: Jade Avedisian, Kaylee Bryson, Hailie Deegan, Jake Drew, Christian Eckes, Jake Finch, Jake Garcia, Kaz Grala, Tanner Gray, Derek Griffith, Riley Herbst, Brandon Jones, Conner Jones, Caden Kvapil, Buddy Kofoid, Derek Kraus, Landen Lewis, Ty Majeski, Connor Mosack, Parker Retzlaff, Ben Rhodes, Gio Ruggiero, Logan Seavey, Kyle Weatherman, Connor Zilisch

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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