A growing trend in the NASCAR Cup Series are first time winners. We’ve had at least one first time victor each season since 2016. The last time we went a full year without someone earning their first trip to victory lane was back in 2015.
Since then, we’ve actually had two or more in five straight seasons. With that said, who will be the ones coming home victorious in 2021?
Out of the full time drivers this season, 13 of them have yet to win a race in NASCAR’s premiere series. A few have legitimate odds of doing so this year. We saw Cole Custer and William Byron each win a race for the first time last year. Alex Bowman and Justin Haley did so the year prior.
Who are this years?
Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Corey LaJoie, Quin Houff, Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell, Anthony Alfredo, Chase Briscoe, Matt DiBenedetto, Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell, Cody Ware and Ryan Preece have each never won a Cup race.
But to narrow this list down, you can almost certainly eliminate the rookies in Alfredo and Briscoe. Nothing against them, but we’ve had just five rookie winners in the last 12 years combined. I know one of which came last year and it was Briscoe’s teammate at SHR, but I just don’t see a legitimate path to bank on this happening. Custer, was the first rookie winner in a Cup race since Chris Buescher in 2016. Buescher, was the first since Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 triumph in 2011. That’s three times in 10 years.
Why would it happen again in back-to-back seasons?
Plus, Custer’s win was via some end of the race luck and cautions. Buescher’s was due to being in the lead when it started raining in Pocono. Same for Joey Logano’s back in 2009 in Loudon. Brad Keselowski and Trevor Bayne won on superspeedway’s. That’s it for rookie winners in the last 12 years.
Then, you can really eliminate Ware, Suarez, LaJoie, Houff and Preece. I don’t see these three cars capable of winning to be honest. That leaves you with McDowell, Chastain, Reddick, DiBenedetto, Wallace and Bell.
I can see a path to all six winning which leads me to believe the trend of first time winners continues. In fact, we’ve had two first time winners in each of the last three seasons and that feat happen four times in five years. The only exception was actually seeing three first time winners occur in 2017.
So, I can see us getting multiple first time winners in 2021 then. But, how would I rank them?
6. Michael McDowell (0-for-357)
Lets be honest, his best shots of winning are on superspeedway’s and road courses. Luckily for him, the schedule is flooded with them in 2021 with seven twistys and four on superspeedway’s. That’s 11 out of 36. I feel like you give McDowell 11 tries, he can hopefully now find a way to victory lane.
5. Matt DiBenedetto (0-for-212)
The Wood Brothers is a solid organization and have been stuck on 99 career wins for going on four years now. DiBenedetto, put this No. 21 Ford in the playoffs last season after scoring three top five results and 11 top 10’s. He’s in a contract year so you know he’ll be pushing this year as an audition. The Wood Brothers are always strong on superspeedway’s, so look for DiBenedetto to maybe get his first win at either Daytona or Talladega this year.
4. Tyler Reddick (0-for-38)
I don’t expect a sophomore slump out of Reddick this season In fact, I can see him contending for a playoff spot too. His teammate Austin Dillon made the postseason a year ago while Reddick was close to joining him. RCR took a step forward in 2020 and I can see that continuing on for 2021 which would put Reddick in victory lane at some point of the year.
3. Bubba Wallace (0-for-112)
This is his time to shine. Wallace, was solid with RPM but now is his best shot at victory since he’s been in Cup. While he’s driving for a new team, this new team is coming in with a lot of focus and demeaner to be competitive right away. They’re not here to just get by or have a year of learning. This team is expecting a playoff berth and a win in 2021 and I’m sold on Wallace finding a victory as a result.
2. Ross Chastain (0-for-79)
Like Wallace, this is Chastain’s best shot at a win too. He moves from underfunded Cup teams to Chip Ganassi Racing. This is the same team that Kurt Busch was won with in each of the last two years. This is the same car that Kyle Larson won six times with himself. Chastain, is another driver who can win and make the playoffs.
Christopher Bell (0-for-36)
He’s No. 1 because he has the best car. Bell, transitions from Leavine Family Racing to JGR. This car won a lot with Matt Kenseth, then twice in three years with Erik Jones but now gets Bell behind the wheel of it. We know Toyota is hungry and made some changes between 2020 and 2021 to improve. They won 19 times in 2019 but took a major step back in the speed department for 2020. Now, they’re coming out with revenge and that will benefit Bell. It took him a while to get used to the aero package last year but once he did, he started coming along. I expect him to pick up where they left off and win at least once race this year.
Most Likely Spots
The first time winners have a theme lately too, superspeedway’s. Three of the last five occurred at Daytona, all in the Coke Zero Sugar 400. That race is circled for first time winners now. The other factor is 1.5-mile tracks.
With this package, a late caution just shakes up the field drastically. If you have a car good enough to be inside of the top 15 and you gamble on pit strategy in the end, all you need is that lucky break via a caution and you’re in.
So, 1.5-mile tracks are the other option as Cole Custer (Kentucky) and Alex Bowman (Chicago) have also won first races on them. The only problem is, both tracks are now gone off the schedule.