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NASCAR Cup Series: First-time winner(s) in 2024?

In 75 years of NASCAR competition, a total of 204 competitors have achieved at least one victory in the sport’s premier series: the Cup Series.

The commencement of the list of Cup Series winners dates back to June 19, 1949, when Jim Roper, a native of Halstead, Kansas, won NASCAR’s first-ever event at Charlotte Speedway after initial winner Glenn Dunaway was disqualified due to illegal springs being detected in his race-winning car during the post-race inspection process.

The most recent occurrence of a first-time Cup Series winner was during NASCAR’s inaugural event on the Streets of Chicago this past July when Shane van Gisbergen, a three-time Supercars champion from Auckland, New Zealand, won in his series debut while driving Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 entry. In winning at Chicago, van Gisbergen became the seventh different competitor to win in a Cup Series debut, a feat that includes Roper, Jack White, Harold Kite, Leon Sales, Marvin Burke and Johnny Rutherford.

Over the last decade (2014-23), 22 competitors won for the first time in the Cup Series, minus the 2015 season that featured no first-time winners. The list of 22 first-time winners between the 2014-23 seasons is more than the list between the 1974-83 seasons (14), the 1984-93 seasons (15) and the 2004-13 seasons (17), but the same as between the 1994-2003 seasons combined. Currently, the season that holds the all-time record of occurrences of first-time Cup winners is 1950, which featured 12 first-timers, including the season’s eventual champion Bill Rexford.

During the last decade (2014-23), a Cup Series season featured on average two first-time winners, minus the 2017 and 2021 seasons that featured three. Another season within the last decade that did not feature two first-time winners is 2022. Instead, it was a season that featured five first-timers (Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez) stapling their names among NASCAR’s elite, from the past to the present and future, as winners in NASCAR’s premier series. The previous season with the most first-time winners was back in 2011, which also featured five first-time winners (Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard, David Ragan and Regan Smith).

To date, the 2011 and 2022 seasons along with the 2001 and 2002 seasons hold the record with the most first-time winners in the modern era of NASCAR at five each. Between 2001 and 2002, the following names that include Johnny Benson Jr., Kurt Busch, Ricky Craven, Robby Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler and Michael Waltrip each scored their first Cup career victory.

Additional names that have won in the Cup Series for the first time from 2003 to 2023 include AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Christopher Bell, Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Chris Buescher, William Byron, Cole Custer, Austin Dillon, Carl Edwards, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell, Casey Mears, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Reutimann, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers and Bubba Wallace.

From the list of 49 first-time winners between 2001 to 2023, 37 would proceed to win multiple Cup events. In addition, 10 would become Cup Series champions and 12 would become Daytona 500 champions.

With the 2024 season set to present a new season of Cup Series competition, beginning this upcoming weekend for the third annual running of the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it also presents an array of opportunities for a bevy of competitors, new and familiar, to elevate their names and achieve the title of race winner in NASCAR’s premier series.

The competitor who leads the group of potential first-time Cup Series winners entering the 2024 season is Ty Gibbs. The 21-year-old Gibbs, who is the grandson of NASCAR championship-winning team owner and Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs from Charlotte, North Carolina, is coming off his first full-time campaign in the Cup Series, where he achieved the 2023 Rookie-of-the-Year title on the strength of four top-five results, 10 top-10 results, 112 laps led, an average-finishing result of 18.4 and an 18th-place finish in the final standings.

A former champion of both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the ARCA Menards Series divisions, Gibbs’ highest finish in the Cup Series is fourth place, which occurred at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course last October. He also displayed a strong performance at Bristol Motor Speedway last September, where he led 102 laps before finishing fifth. Having completed his first full-time Cup season, new goals await for Gibbs and the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry XSE team in the form of achieving a first Cup victory, making the Playoffs and continuing to make the presence of running towards the front known frequently.

Photo by John Knittel for

Another name that stands out as a potential first-time winner is Josh Berry. The 33-year-old Berry from Hendersonville, Tennessee, graduates to the Cup Series to drive the No. 4 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing as he replaces the 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick, who retired at the 2023 season’s conclusion. Berry, a former champion of the CARS Late Model Stock Tour is the all-time wins leader in the series and spent the bulk of his career competing in late models and earning his way toward the top level of stock car competition.

He spent the previous three seasons as an Xfinity Series competitor for JR Motorsports, where he made the Playoffs during the last two seasons, made the Championship 4 round in 2022, and notched five series victories. He has also made 10 career starts in the Cup Series, with his first two occurring with Spire Motorsports in 2021.

This past season, he made 10 Cup starts as an interim competitor between Hendrick Motorsports and Legacy Motor Club, where he filled in for top names that included Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Noah Gragson. During the short stint, he piloted Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 Chevrolet to a non-points victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race Open at North Wilkesboro Speedway that allowed him to compete in his first All-Star Race in May. He also piloted the No. 9 Chevrolet to a career-best runner-up finish behind teammate Kyle Larson at Richmond Raceway in April. With a new opportunity in the form of a new seat in a new team earned for him in 2024, the next goal for Berry is to earn a first Cup career victory.

Next is Harrison Burton, who returns to pilot the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse for a third consecutive Cup season. A 23-year-old, second-generation racer from Huntersville, North Carolina, Burton, who is also the 2017 ARCA Menards Series East champion and a four-time Xfinity Series race winner, is coming off two consecutive seasons in the Cup Series. During those two seasons, he has tallied only a total of four top-10 results, 60 laps led, average-finishing results outside the top-20 mark and final points results below the top-25 mark. His best on-track result was a third-place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in July 2022.

Amid the on-track difficulties, Burton remains optimistic about turning the tide and regaining his competitiveness from his early racing career that would enable him to join his father Jeff, and Uncle Ward, as Cup Series winners. Should Burton accomplish his goal of winning in 2024, he would also strike gold in recording the elusive 100th Cup career win for Wood Brothers Racing, a goal that has eluded the organization since 2017.

After relinquishing his full-time seat at Front Row Motorsports for select events but managing to compete the entire 36-race schedule with select starts with Rick Ware Racing last season, Todd Gilliland reclaims his seat in FRM’s No. 38 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for the entire 2024 season. Like Burton, the 23-year-old, second-generation Gilliland from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, is also a two-time ARCA Menards Series West champion and a three-time Craftsman Truck Series race winner. is coming off two full-time Cup seasons, where he has only achieved a single top-five result, six top-10 results, 11 laps led, average-finishing results outside the top-20 mark and two consecutive 28th-place finishes in the final standings, with his best result being a fourth-place finish at Indianapolis in July 2022.

Compared to his rookie season in 2022, Gilliland steadily improved his stats to notch 11 top-15 results this past season, which is seven more than the 2022 season, and he tallied a total of 554 points at this season’s conclusion, which is 23 points extra than the previous season. With Front Row Motorsports slowly becoming competitive on a weekly basis and coming off a dominant victory at Indianapolis with teammate Michael McDowell that enabled them to contend in the first round of the 2023 Cup Playoffs, the next step for Gilliland remains to gain more consistency that would enable him to contend for victories with FRM and become the first member of the Gilliland racing family to win in the Cup Series.

Photo by Chad Wells for

Coming off his strongest Cup Series season to date, Corey LaJoie enters the 2024 season with an aim to continue to elevate both himself and Spire Motorsports from the midfield to the front on a consistent basis that would enable both to motor their way to Victory Lane. The 32-year-old, third-generation LaJoie from Kannapolis, North Carolina, is coming off his fifth full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series, second piloting the No. 7 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Spire Motorsports, where he recorded career-high stats in top fives (two), top 10s (three) and laps led (66) as he also notched a career-best average-finishing result of 20.8 on the strength of 18 top-20 results and a career-best 25th place in the final standings. Throughout the season, he scored a career-best fourth-place finish twice, the first at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March and the second at Talladega Superspeedway in October, and made a single start in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 9 entry in place of the suspended Chase Elliott at World Wide Technology Raceway in June, where he finished 21st.

LaJoie’s closet opportunity to win a first Cup event still dates back to July 2022 at Atlanta, where he led 19 laps and was leading during a three-lap shootout until he was overtaken by Elliott during the final lap and wrecked on the final lap while trying to overtake Elliott through the first turn as he plummeted to 21st place in the final running order. Compared to the 2022 season, where he ended up with eight DNFs throughout the 36-race schedule, LaJoie was the only competitor to sustain no DNFs throughout the 2023 campaign, which marks a drastic level of improvement amid a rocky start to his career as the driver strives to march closer to the front and contend for the first Cup victory regularly beyond superspeedway venues.

Coming off a difficult first-time campaign with Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Preece aims to turn the tide amid the on-track struggles directed to SHR and Preece’s No. 41 Ford Mustang Dark Horse entry entering the 2024 Cup season. The 33-year-old Preece from Berlin, Connecticut, who is the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and a race winner across the Truck and Xfinity Series divisions, made his return to full-time Cup competition after previously competing in the series from 2019 to 2021 with JTG-Daugherty Racing.

Amid five DNFs throughout the 2023 season, including a harrowing barrel-roll accident at Daytona in August while contending for a Playoff berth, Preece managed to pilot SHR’s No. 41 entry to 12 top-15 results and 19 top-20 results throughout the 36-race campaign before settling in 23rd place in the final standings. With Richmond Raceway in late July providing his best run of the season in fifth place, he notched his first pole at Martinsville Speedway in April in an event where he led the first 135 laps before he was penalized early for speeding on pit road and rallying up to 15th place. He also displayed a strong performance during last year’s Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum, where he led a race-high 43 laps before fading to seventh place. After concluding the 2023 season with a steady gain in the form of five top-15 results in the final eight-scheduled events, the next step for Preece involves steadily gaining consistency within the top-10 mark that would enable him to contend and add a Cup Series victory next to his accomplished modified tour resume.

Within this year’s list of potential first-time Cup Series winners, the series will also feature two future stars who have been elevated from Truck Series competition to full-time Cup Series rookies in 2024.

The first is Zane Smith, the 2022 Truck Series champion who won nine series races, including twice at Daytona, in four seasons (92 starts) and made 12 career starts in the Xfinity Series. The 24-year-old Smith from Huntington Beach, California, will pilot the No. 71 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Spire Motorsports in collaboration with Trackhouse Racing, a team which Smith is under contract with on a multi-year basis. While Smith enters the Cup Series as a first-time full-time competitor, he does so with limited Cup starts noted on his resume as he made his series’ debut at World Wide Technology Raceway as an interim competitor for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing in 2022 before making eight starts between Front Row Motorsports and Rick Ware Racing this past season. His best result in the Cup circuit is a 10th-place run at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600 in May followed by a 13th-place finish during the 65th running of the Daytona 500 in February. Having made his name known within the top ranks of NASCAR based on his Truck Series performance and championship, the next step for Smith will involve elevating himself amongst NASCAR’s elite as he contends for both his first series victory and the Rookie-of-the-Year title.

Photo by Kirk Schroll for

Another Cup Series rookie contender who has been elevated from the Truck Series is Carson Hocevar, a 21-year-old native from Portage, Michigan, who comes with three full-time seasons of Truck competition and a total of five Xfinity starts within his resume. A former winner of the Winchester 400, Hocevar is coming off a career year to date, where he notched his first four career victories in the Truck Series and transferred to the Championship 4 round before ending up in third place in the final standings while competing for Niece Motorsports. Amid his full-time Truck campaign, Hocevar made his first nine career starts in NASCAR’s premier series in 2023, with his first occurring at World Wide Technology Raceway in June. He then competed in eight of the final 10 races for Legacy Motor Club, where he achieved a season-best 11th-place result at Bristol in September. Driving the No. 77 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Spire Motorsports for the 2024 season, Hocevar aims to implement the select Cup starts gained throughout the 2023 season along with his early Truck Series success to gain consistency in NASCAR’s premier series that would enable him to contend for both a first Cup victory and this year’s Rookie-of-the-Year title.

This year’s growing list of potential first-time winners also features a host of names who re-enter the series and aim for redemption by being consistently competitive against NASCAR’s elite. One of the names from this category is Noah Gragson, a competitor who was deemed a prominent star at the start of the 2023 season before his career was placed on a hiatus amid an off-track action that nearly derailed his path to becoming a future Cup Series winner and champion. After graduating to the Cup level with a full-time ride at Legacy Motor Club this past season, the 25-year-old Gragson from Las Vegas, Nevada, competed in 21 events, where he recorded an average-finishing result of 28.2 and a season-best 12th-place finish at Atlanta in March, before being suspended indefinitely from both Legacy Motor Club and NASCAR for violating the sport’s member conduct policy and liking an offensive meme on social media in early August.

A month later, Gragson was reinstated by NASCAR after completing the sport’s diversity and inclusion program. Another three months later, the opportunity for him to return to the Cup level arrived when he was selected as the driver of the No. 10 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing on a multiyear basis, beginning in 2024, as he replaced veteran Aric Almirola, who scaled back to competing on a part-time basis in the Xfinity Series.

Before his suspension, Gragson had already developed a name for himself within the NASCAR ranks, having achieved victories across both the ARCA Menards Series East and West divisions along with the Truck and Xfinity circuits. His best results in championship standings are a pair of runner-up finishes, the first occurring during the 2018 Truck season and the second occurring during the 2022 Xfinity season. The Las Vegas native also campaigned in half of the Cup events throughout the 2022 season between Beard Motorsports, Kaulig Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, where he notched a strong fifth-place run at Daytona while driving the No. 62 Beard entry. With his past success, Gragson strives to make the most of a second opportunity and transform a hard-working, off-season period into success with a championship-winning organization.

Another competitor who returns to full-time Cup Series competition for a second opportunity amid a five-year absence is Daniel Hemric. The 33-year-old Hemric from Kannapolis, North Carolina, who also won the 2010 Legends Million, made his first two Cup career starts in 2018 with Richard Childress Racing before achieving a full-time Cup ride in RCR’s No. 8 entry in 2019. Despite claiming the rookie title, Hemric, who only notched one pole, two top-10 results with an average-finish result of 22.5, was replaced by Tyler Reddick before the 2020 season.

Since the 2020 season, the North Carolina native scaled back down to the Xfinity Series, a series in which he made two Championship 4 appearances in 2017 and 2018, where he started as a part-time competitor for JR Motorsports before returning as a full-time competitor in 2021 with Joe Gibbs Racing. During his series’ return, Hemric achieved a breakthrough moment by achieving both his first Xfinity victory and championship during the 2021 finale at Phoenix. He also recorded a pole, 31 top-five results, 65 top-10 results and nearly 800 laps led while also achieving three Playoff appearances.

With Hemric coming off two full-time Xfinity seasons with Kaulig Racing, where he made the Playoffs and ended up in the top 10 in the final standings during both seasons, an opportunity to return to Cup competition for this season was announced last August as he replaces the departing Justin Haley in Kaulig’s No. 31 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry. With his new Cup ride, the next step for Hemric involves striving to both keep his name in the series and continue to have the final word against his doubters for years to come.

Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images.

Like Hemric, John Hunter Nemechek experienced a similar path in having a first full-time Cup season marred with on-track challenges that resulted in him scaling back down in NASCAR’s divisional ranks and working his way back up to the top to obtain another opportunity to compete against NASCAR’s elite.

A 26-year-old, second-generation racer from Mooresville, North Carolina, Nemechek’s inaugural presence in the Cup Series occurred in the final three events of the 2019 season, where he replaced Matt Tifft to drive for Front Row Motorsports before becoming a full-time FRM competitor in 2020.

After only obtaining three top-10 results and finishing 27th in the final standings with an average-finishing result of 22.4, Nemechek made the big decision to scale back down to the Truck Series and join forces with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2021 with a goal to win races and regain his competitiveness. Having previously achieved six Truck Series victories and two Playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017, Nemechek quickly regained his competitive form as he notched six victories between 2021 and 2022 with KBM, won the 2021 Truck Series Regular Season championship, clinched a Playoff berth during both seasons and the Championship 4 round in 2021, where he ended up in third place in the final standings.

This past season, Nemechek, who competed for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, nabbed seven victories and made it to the Championship 4 round, where he contended for the series’ title until a final lap incident during an overtime shootout resulted with the North Carolina native settling in fourth place in the final standings. Nonetheless, this past season marked Nemechek’s strongest in the Xfinity circuit as he ended up with an average-finishing result of 9.5 and finished in the top 10 in all but nine of the 33-race schedule. Now set to pilot the No. 42 Toyota Camry XSE for Legacy Motor Club for the 2024 Cup season amid a rejuvenated, three-year climb back to the top, Nemechek next strives to both etch a new legacy towards his racing family and a new chapter to his racing career in the form of winning in the Cup Series.

Lastly, this year’s list of potential first-time Cup winners features a host of names who will campaign in NASCAR’s premier series on a part-time basis, but remain on the radar for any element of potential on-track surprises. The first name within this category is Anthony Alfredo, who is currently scheduled to make two Cup starts in the No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry for Beard Motorsports, which includes this year’s 66th running of the Daytona 500. The 24-year-old Alfredo from Ridgefield, Connecticut, makes a limited return to the Cup circuit after campaigning in two events with Live Fast Motorsports this past season.

Previously, he competed on a full-time Cup basis with Front Row Motorsports in 2021, where he recorded a single top-10 result, a total of five top-20 results and a 30th-place result in the final standings. To date, he has also made a total of 85 starts in the Xfinity Series and 13 in the Truck Series. Despite having his overall average-finishing result in the Cup circuit hovering outside of the top-25 mark, the Connecticut native’s previous successes of strong runs on superspeedway venues across NASCAR’s top three national touring series along with Beard Motorsports’ grit in vying for spots on superspeedway venues, including the Daytona 500, gives Alfredo a strong sense of optimism to place himself in a potential spot of vying for a victory in the Great American Race. Aside from his part-time Cup campaign, Alfredo is set to compete on a full-time basis in this year’s Xfinity season with Our Motorsports.

After making select premier series starts in three of the previous four seasons, Kaz Grala will campaign in an expanded Cup slate of 26 races, 25 in the No. 15 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Rick Ware Racing and one in the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang Dark Horse throughout Daytona Speedweeks as he attempts to qualify for this year’s 66th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

The 25-year-old Grala from Boston, Massachusetts, notches Cup Series rides for the majority of the 2024 season after competing in this past season’s Xfinity Series circuit with Sam Hunt Racing, where he ended up in 17th place in the final driver’s standings on the strength of nine top-10 results and an average-finishing result of 19.1. In total, Grala has 77 Xfinity career starts and 51 Truck Series starts within his racing resume, with a single victory occurring during the Truck opener at Daytona in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Boston native has only made seven Cup career starts, with his first occurring during the series’ inaugural event at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course in 2020, where he achieved an impressive seventh-place result as a fill-in competitor for Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team after Dillon was absent following a positive COVID-19 test. His other Cup starts include three with Kaulig Racing in 2021 and three with The Money Team Racing in 2022, where he competed in the Daytona 500 during both seasons and notched a career-best sixth-place finish at Talladega in 2021.

Amid his limited Cup starts, the newly formed alliance for Rick Ware Racing with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, a championship-winning organization that achieved three victories and placed both owner Brad Keselowski and veteran Chris Buescher into the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs, gives both the team and driver a sense of optimism and excitement approaching the new season, with Grala striving to claw his way to the top amongst NASCAR’s elite. Grala’s 2024 campaign with Rick Ware Racing commences with this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum followed by Atlanta Motor Speedway in late February. The rest of his schedule with RWR remains to be determined.

Photo by Ron Olds for

More than two months after scoring a full-time seat in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 entry for this year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Josh Williams has scored again by notching a part-time Cup Series ride in Kaulig’s No. 16 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry, beginning this upcoming weekend at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash. The 30-year-old Williams from Port Charlotte, Florida, leaps into the spotlight amongst NASCAR’s elite with only three previous Cup starts listed in his extensive racing resume that includes 186 career starts in the Xfinity circuit, two in the Truck Series and 102 in the ARCA Menards Series.

Within his three Cup career starts, all occurring with Live Fast Motorsports in 2022, the Floridian managed to finish on average 10 spots better than where he started, with his best results being a pair of 25th-place runs at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Course and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Having full confidence in the team’s model and management amid the intensity to boost his performance, Williams strives to capitalize on the biggest opportunity of his racing career by being both consistent and competitive on the track that would enable him to contend for an Xfinity Series championship and potentially become a future Cup Series star. Following The Clash, Williams will make his first points-paying start of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway in late February while the rest of his schedule remains to be determined. He will have race-winning crew chief Travis Mack as his crew chief and share the No. 16 ride with veteran AJ Allmendinger while the rest of the entry’s driver lineup also remains to be determined.

The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season is set to commence this Sunday, February 4, with the third annual running of the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that will air at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. Afterward, the 66th running of the Daytona 500 will follow suit on February 18, which will serve as the first points-paying event on the schedule and provide one of 36 opportunities for any competitors listed above to achieve a first-time win in NASCAR’s premier series. The 2024 Daytona 500’s broadcast time is set to air at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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