NASCAR Draft Kit: 2023 Sleepers & Busts

NASCAR Draft Kit: 2023 Sleepers & Busts

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

Of all the articles that make up the NASCAR draft kit, this is probably the most important of all. Surprise drivers in both the positive and negative sense can make or break fantasy racing seasons. We all know what Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin can do, so there's little risk associated with those drivers, but it is the drivers that come out of nowhere to have huge seasons can take you to fantasy racing glory. Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick likely helped many to win their leagues last season. While drivers like Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Custer most likely ended your fantasy racing championship hopes by mid-season. Identifying those drivers who will break-out and have career seasons, and those who are headed in the other direction for whatever reason is the key in fantasy racing success. Let's take a look at some of the drivers in 2023 that you should make every effort to get, and those who you should avoid at all costs.

Sleepers for the 2023 Season

  1. Kyle Busch                   

      Car: #8                    

      Owner: Richard Childress Racing        

      Manufacturer: Chevrolet

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series361014208th  
2021 NASCAR Cup Series362014229th  
2022 NASCAR Cup Series361081713th 
Three Year Totals10840

Of all the articles that make up the NASCAR draft kit, this is probably the most important of all. Surprise drivers in both the positive and negative sense can make or break fantasy racing seasons. We all know what Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin can do, so there's little risk associated with those drivers, but it is the drivers that come out of nowhere to have huge seasons can take you to fantasy racing glory. Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick likely helped many to win their leagues last season. While drivers like Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Custer most likely ended your fantasy racing championship hopes by mid-season. Identifying those drivers who will break-out and have career seasons, and those who are headed in the other direction for whatever reason is the key in fantasy racing success. Let's take a look at some of the drivers in 2023 that you should make every effort to get, and those who you should avoid at all costs.

Sleepers for the 2023 Season

  1. Kyle Busch                   

      Car: #8                    

      Owner: Richard Childress Racing        

      Manufacturer: Chevrolet

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series361014208th  
2021 NASCAR Cup Series362014229th  
2022 NASCAR Cup Series361081713th 
Three Year Totals108403659 

Busch is our top rebound candidate of 2023 and also our top sleeper pick. There was a definite, identifiable regression with this two-time champion after the departure of crew chief Adam Stevens at the end of 2020. Between the years of 2015-20, Busch averaged 4.7 victories per season and 23 Top-10 finishes. During this span he won two Cup Series championships as well. Over the last two campaigns since Stevens' departure, Busch has only averaged 1.5 victories and 19.5 Top-10 finishes. You could say things grew stagnant in the No. 18 Toyota team, and Busch was not happy at all. That led to his departure at the conclusion of 2022 and his signing by Richard Childress Racing to drive the No. 8 Chevrolet in the upcoming season. This reset and pairing with a new race team and crew chief (Randall Burdett) should be a good morale boost for Busch. By no means do we think he returns immediately to his peak performance of a few seasons ago, but we believe this two-time champion will reverse the trend in the table above and race more like a top tier driver in 2023.

      2. William Byron                 

      Car: #24                   

      Owner: Hendrick Motorsports      

      Manufacturer: Chevrolet

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series361041414th    
2021 NASCAR Cup Series3612122010th   
2022 NASCAR Cup Series36215116th    
Three Year Totals108432145 

While Byron did post his first multi-win campaign last season with two victories, he did experience a noticeable drop off in consistency and average finish. Byron's average finish ballooned two places from 13.6 in 2021 to 15.6 in 2022. He would still finish an impressive sixth-place in the final driver standings, thanks to a late-season surge. However, fantasy racing players who owned Byron felt a bit short changed for the inconsistent season he posted. We expect now that he has a full season with the new generation stock car under his belt, we'll see better season-long performance from Byron in 2023. The Hendrick Motorsports youngster should revert back to a level of closer to 20 Top-10 finishes this season. He'll be once again paired with crew chief Rudy Fugle and they'll look to build on the hot streak they ended 2022 in terms of consistency. Over the final 10 races of last season, Byron nabbed six of his 11 Top-10 finishes of last season and he accumulated the second-most driver points of all drivers during that playoff span. 

      3. Chase Briscoe                

      Car: #14                   

      Owner: Stewart Haas Racing     

      Manufacturer: Ford

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2021 NASCAR Cup Series36000323rd   
2022 NASCAR Cup Series36116109th
Three Year Totals7211613 

Briscoe took some significant steps in his second season of Cup Series racing. He would capture his first-career victory (Phoenix) and he would post 10 Top-10 finishes en route to a respectable ninth-place showing in the championship points. We still feel that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg so far with Briscoe. The Stewart Haas Racing driver was an 11-time winner in the Xfinity Series between 2018-20. He's shown that he can dominate when given great cars. SHR will look to up their game in terms of speed this season and with John Klausmeier returning at crew chief, improvement should come. The short tracks and superspeedways were his best ovals and he also brings above average skills on road courses to the table. Briscoe has the skill set to wildly exceed expectations and that should be kept in mind in any format of fantasy racing on draft day.

      4. Ross Chastain                

      Car: #1                   

      Owner: Trackhouse Racing     

      Manufacturer: Chevrolet

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series80000N/A
2021 NASCAR Cup Series36003820th 
2022 NASCAR Cup Series362015212nd   
Three Year Totals80201829 

The breakout star of 2022 was easily Chastain. He brought the upstart Trackhouse Racing team from obscurity to racing for the championship at Phoenix last November. The improvement was dramatic as Chastain would win two races and post career-bests in all statistical categories. It would be a far cry from his eight Top 10's and 20th-place points finish of the previous year with Chip Ganassi Racing. Chastain has shown in the lower divisions of NASCAR that he had this potential but it would ultimately be this team's dedication and excellence that would see him through to this breakout campaign. We expect Chastain to hold onto most of these gains in the upcoming season. He should once again post multiple wins, but we could see some slight pull back in terms of consistency and dominance. However, don't listen to the naysayers, Chastain's surprising season in 2022 was no fluke at all.

      5. AJ Allmendinger                

      Car: #16                   

      Owner: Kaulig Racing     

      Manufacturer: Chevrolet

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2021 NASCAR Cup Series51023N/A
2022 NASCAR Cup Series180038N/A 
Three Year Totals2310511 

Allmendinger has been promoted to a full-time seat at the growing Kaulig Racing. He will go full-time racing at NASCAR's top level for the first time since 2018. The journeyman driver has earned this privilege, and it's well deserved. Allmendinger eight Top 10's in a half-schedule last season with this race team in addition to his banner five-win 28-Top-10 campaign in the Xfinity Series in 2022. If we simply interpolate Allmendinger's numbers from last season he would project to finish the upcoming season in the mid-to-lower teens of the driver standings and chalk up 16 Top-10 finishes. That's major fantasy racing value for a driver who was part-time last year. As per usual, Allmendinger is a major threat to win on road circuits as he has already twice to this point in his Cup Series career. The driver of the No. 16 Chevrolet is not a driver to overlook in fantasy drafts for the upcoming season.

       6. Ryan Preece                

      Car: #41                  

      Owner: Stewart Haas Racing     

      Manufacturer: Ford

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series36000229th  
2021 NASCAR Cup Series36001427th  
2022 NASCAR Cup Series20000N/A   
Three Year Totals740016 

Preece is another driver who will be making a return to full-time competition at NASCAR's top level in 2023. He will replace Cole Custer in the No. 41 Ford at Stewart Haas Racing after spending last year bouncing around various teams in the lower divisions of the sport. Preece has fought hard and earned his way back into the Cup Series as his fantastic part-time campaign in last year's Camping World Truck Series demonstrates. This will be the best team situation the 32-year-old driver has had to this point and the results should follow. Preece will team with crew chief Mike Shiplett and the two will look to form some chemistry early in the 2023 season. Shiplett boasts eight seasons and 24 victories of experience in the Xfinity Series and seven seasons with one win in the Cup Series. Those close to 450 combined starts of experience will be valuable as Preece looks to reestablish his foothold in NASCAR's top division. 

Busts for the 2023 Season

  1. Brad Keselowski                   

      Car: #6                   

      Owner: Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing       

      Manufacturer: Ford

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series364013242nd   
2021 NASCAR Cup Series361010176th   
2022 NASCAR Cup Series36011624th  
Three Year Totals108512447 

We expected a downturn for Keselowski's move from Penske Racing to Roush Fenway Racing last season. However, things went far worse than we could have imagined. Early-season struggles combined with an infraction and massive penalty following the Phoenix race would put Keselowski in a deep hole just four races into last season. He would never climb out of that hole over the rest of the campaign. The owner/driver of the No. 6 Ford would struggle to just six Top-10 finishes last season, which were his lowest season total since 2010. We expect Keselowski will be improved in 2023, but we have to be very reserved in our expectations. Building this race team is going to be a long-term project and his gains in the upcoming season are likely going to be incremental at best. We're assigning a caution label to Keselowski as we expect him to underperform again in his second season at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.

       2. Martin Truex Jr.                   

      Car: #19                  

      Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing       

      Manufacturer: Toyota

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series361014237th   
2021 NASCAR Cup Series364013202nd   
2022 NASCAR Cup Series360141517th   
Three Year Totals108513158 

There were a number of veteran drivers who struggled with the transition to the new generation stock car in 2022, and Truex was among more of the noticeable names. He was held out of victory lane for the first time since 2014, and Truex posted an eight-season low total in terms of Top-10 finishes. The Joe Gibbs Racing star would fall all the way to a distant 17th-place in the final championship standings. Truex will return to the No. 19 Toyota team in the upcoming season and crew chief, James Small. We expect he'll be improved in 2023, but we're tempering our expectations for performance. A rebound to 2021 statistical totals is not likely. The inconsistency Truex showed in the final 10 races of last season demonstrate that this veteran driver is still trying to get a handle on the Next-Gen car. Adjust his ranking accordingly for fantasy drafts as we don't consider him an "A" tier driver at this point.

      3. Tyler Reddick                 

      Car: #45                 

      Owner: 23XI Racing       

      Manufacturer: Toyota

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series36003919th  
2021 NASCAR Cup Series360131613th   
2022 NASCAR Cup Series3633101514th    
Three Year Totals108341640 

Reddick is coming off a career-best three-win, 10 Top-5 finish season at Richard Childress Racing last season. The young talent was one of the silly season movers and will pilot the No. 45 Toyota of 23XI Racing. As with many team transitions, it won't likely be seamless. While the 23XI team is a very capable outfit, we expect there to be some inconsistency early in the season as Reddick makes this transition. Depending on when Reddick can develop chemistry with crew chief Billy Scott, will largely dictate his potential in 2023. The young talent has the ability to win races and post Top 10's, we just expect a pullback in terms of performance from 2022. A word to the wise fantasy racing player would be not to pay 2022 prices for Reddick this season. There will likely be a regression in statistical performance before he gets a good handle on his new race team.  

      4. Austin Cindric               

      Car: #2                 

      Owner: Penske Racing       

      Manufacturer: Ford

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2021 NASCAR Cup Series70001N/A    
2022 NASCAR Cup Series36115912th   
Three Year Totals4311510 

Cindric served notice right out of the gate last season that he'd be a driver to watch closely. His upset win in the season-opening Daytona 500 would drop jaws to the floor, however, he'd find getting traction and consistency after that win a bit tricky. He'd manage just nine Top-10 finishes for the season and would take a second-round exit from the Chase playoffs. Still, it was a wonderful first full campaign in the Cup Series for the new driver of the No. 2 Ford. The encore season for Cindric will be full of surprises. However, we still think that the young driver has a lot to learn behind the wheel in these Cup Series stock cars. Cindric is a very talented superspeedway and road course performer, and he's worth weekly lineup league consideration on those tracks. However, a solid season-long campaign for this driver and team is still likely another season away on the horizon.

      5. Ty Gibbs               

      Car: #54               

      Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing       

      Manufacturer: Toyota

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2022 NASCAR Cup Series150001N/A 
Three Year Totals150001 

Gibbs is the most talented and best-equipped of this season's rookie class. However, the 2022 Xfinity Series champion won't likely experience success right away in his first full season of Cup Series racing. Gibbs made an expanded number of starts at NASCAR's top level last season due to relief duty for an injured Kurt Busch. That experience will serve him well, but noticeably from the numbers Gibbs didn't experience a whole lot of success in his appearances last year. To help ease his transition to the Cup Series, Joe Gibbs Racing has promoted crew chief Chris Gayle along with Gibbs so they can stay together going forward. We have a very optimistic outlook for Gibbs' future in the sport. In fact, we believe he has what it takes to become a Cup Series champion someday. This first full season will be full of ups-and-downs, so be cautioned on overly optimistic expectations for the No. 54 Toyota team in 2023.

      6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.             

      Car: #47              

      Owner: JTG Daugherty Racing      

      Manufacturer: Chevrolet

NASCAR Three-Year StatsRacesWinsPolesTop 5'sTop 10'sRank
2020 NASCAR Cup Series36013424th  
2021 NASCAR Cup Series36001222nd    
2022 NASCAR Cup Series36001526th  
Three Year Totals10801511 

Since departing Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2019, Stenhouse has found the going rough and inconsistent with JTG Daugherty Racing. The 10-sesaon Cup Series veteran struggled to one of his toughest campaigns since 2015 with his performance last year. Stenhouse would post only five Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 22.8. It would all add up to a disappointing 26th-place finish in the final driver standings for 2022. He'll look to hit the reset button in the upcoming season with a new crew chief, Mike Kelley, and move back inside the Top 20 of the standings. It will be a tall task for Stenhouse and the JTG team. NASCAR's top division is more competitive than ever and parity is seemingly everywhere.  At 35-years-old, Stenhouse still has a lot of racing potential left in him, but the capability of this team to elevate his level of performance going forward is the real issue.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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