4 Cup Series Drivers Who Are Hot and 3 Who Are Not: Atlanta Race Week Edition
With the Cup Series’ three-race West Coast Swing finally in the books and NASCAR’s premier division headed back east for a weekend of competition at Atlanta Motor Speedway, now seems like a good time to evaluate where everyone stands.
With this in mind, up next are four drivers who are notably hot — and three drivers who are notably not — leading up to Sunday’s fifth race of the 2023 season.
Hot: William Byron
After winning just twice over the course of the entire 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron has already matched that feat just four races into 2023, thanks to victories the past two weekends at Las Vegas and Phoenix, respectively.
Byron — who became the season’s first multi-race winner with his triumph Sunday in the Arizona desert — now heads to Atlanta, where he’s the defending race winner and led 111 of 325 laps one year ago in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Hot: Kevin Harvick
So far, so good for Kevin Harvick’s NASCAR Cup Series farewell tour. Four races into his final season as a full-time driver, Harvick is second in the standings — just three points out of first — on the strength of three top-10 finishes that have included a pair of top-fives.
Harvick enjoyed by far his best run of the season at Phoenix, where he was out front and in position to earn a Cup Series record 10th win at the 1-mile track before a late caution flag jumbled up the running order and ultimately left the 2014 Cup Series champion with a fifth-place finish.
Even if Harvick doesn’t earn Championship No. 2 in his final season, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver seems all but destined not to ride off into the sunset quietly.
Hot: Kyle Larson
After being a clear second best in class among the Hendrick Motorsports contingency at Las Vegas, Kyle Larson was hands-down the top Hendrick driver at Phoenix — until it mattered most.
For the second straight week, Larson left a race track empty-handed while teammate William Byron hoisted the winner’s trophy, but this time it was more a matter of luck and strategy than Byron having a superior car.
Larson unequivocally had the best car at Phoenix, leading a whopping 201 of 317 laps in his No. 5 Chevy and winning the second stage, but he and his team simply failed to execute when it counted.
Hot: Alex Bowman
Four races, four top-10 finishes. That’s a rather impressive stat line for Alex Bowman, who now sits alone atop the Cup Series standings and is the only driver to place in the top 10 in each event this season.
Clearly, the multi-year contract extension Bowman signed with Hendrick Motorsports during Daytona Speedweeks last month has served him well.
Not: Ty Gibbs
A rookie Cup Series driver competing for the organization owned by his NASCAR Hall of Fame grandfather, 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Ty Gibbs was expected to face a learning curve in Year One as a full-time driver in NASCAR’s premier division.
As for the size of that learning curve, early indications would suggest it’s no small one. After four races, Gibbs has no top-15 finishes and just one top-20 finish — a 16th-place result at Auto Club Speedway.
The 19-year-old grandson of Joe Gibbs also has yet to lead a lap this season and is ranked a disappointing 23rd in the standings.
Not: Austin Dillon
To virtually no one’s surprise, Richard Childress Racing newcomer Kyle Busch has already seemingly solidified his place as RCR’s top driver. What is surprising, however, is the distance the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has already put between himself and first-year teammate Austin Dillon — team owner Richard Childress’ grandson.
While Busch has already won a race and finished in the top 15 in three of his first four starts for RCR, Dillon has just one top-15 finish and no top-fives. As a result of this disparity in individual performance, Busch is ninth in the standings and has already clinched a playoff berth by virtue of his victory at Auto Club Speedway, while Dillon is in 22nd and in serious danger of missing the playoffs unless he really turns it around.
Not: Harrison Burton
Second-generation driver Harrison Burton’s second season with the legendary Wood Brothers Racing organization has started like the totality of his first: disappointing.
On the heels of an all-around tough rookie season in which he posted only two top-10 finishes — including just one top-five — and finished 27th in the standings, the son of former Cup Series driver Jeff Burton sits 30th in points after coming home no better than 15th in his first four starts.
If Burton doesn’t start learning the ropes of Cup Series racing soon, he’s likely to be out of a ride come 2024.