NASCAR's 2023 Cup Series lineup seems pretty sound from top to bottom. However, there are a handful of drivers that need a big year for several different reasons. Some want to secure their future at their current team, try to make a move to get a better ride for next season, or even just show they have something left in the tank.
1: Ryan Preece
Ryan Preece has somehow managed to get on Tony Stewart's good side - which is evident from Smoke's public argument with Gene Haas about their driver situation for this year. Preece undoubtedly has the talent to compete with the big dogs at his peak, but can he do it on a consistent basis? His time at JTG included a ridiculous 22 DNFs, but he did have some solid individual performances. Putting it together week-to-week is a different story. Preece has put all his eggs in one basket, and if this chance flops then Preece's time in Cup may come to an end. Not to mention the pressure he may be facing for his ride next year anyway. If Cole Custer has a monster year in Xfinity, he may well be promoted back up to SHR. With Kevin Harvick's departure, the bosses will be desperate for a star driver. It's hard to tell which way SHR will go for 2024. This situation only becomes clearer with a strong year by Preece.
2: Daniel Suarez
You may be wondering why Daniel Suarez on this list. Yes, Suarez had the best season of his career in 2022. But this was largely overshadowed by the emergence of his teammate Ross Chastain. This was supposed to be Daniel's team, but it took only about 5 races to figure out that this was in fact Ross's team. Daniel is more experienced in top tier equipment and had already been with Trackhouse for a full season - everything was set up perfectly for Suarez to be the driver that takes the the team to the promised land. He came up abundantly short - scoring only six top-5 finishes compared to Ross's 15. Daniel may not necessarily be on the hot seat going into 2023, but he can't afford to get dismantled by Ross again or he may be soon enough.
3: Harrison Burton
There's no getting around it - Harrison Burton's rookie year was DREADFUL. The Wood Brothers dropped Matt DiBenedetto for finishing 13th and 18th in the standings in his two years, and Harrison finished an astounding 27th in 2023. This is not acceptable for that team, especially considering it's essentially a 4th Penske car. He was nowhere near the prospect Austin Cindric was (and there is probably at least a slight difference in performance between the two teams) but Cindric made some noise this year with ten top-10s and of course his Daytona 500 win. Harrison had two top-10s, one of which was his 3rd place finish in the "race" at the Indy road course. Harrison needs to step it up if he wants to remain in the NASCAR Cup Series for 2024.
4: Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski's 2022 season was probably the biggest disappointment of 2022. After all the speed Roush showed at Daytona, it seemed like there was reason to buy the hype. However, Brad would go on to have his worst season since 2010. Brad's 11-season win streak was kissed goodbye this past year, and only managed a single top-5 at Homestead. During the playoffs, both Roush cars showed a good amount of speed, but Brad still couldn't capitalize on the speed they had. Obviously Keselowski is in no danger of losing his ride, but all the sponsors and talent he brought to the team cannot be happy with their performance through last season. Many people compared this to Tony Stewart's move, and how he could potentially be upgrading his ride - but this obviously hasn't materialized yet. The RFK project isn't a flop yet, but a repeat of 2022 could point the team down that road.
5: Corey Lajoie
As much as it pains me to say, Corey is gonna have to turn more heads this year. His impressive runs at Atlanta and Daytona are well documented, but he's going to have to find some way to make noise at the back of the pack if he wants to ever move into a better ride. Lajoie has to keep it clean and improve on his eight DNFs from last season to have a chance at impressing. Sure, he may not have the equipment to fight for a win but he does have a chance at showing his skills off in a unique way - a full-time teammate in Ty Dillon. We all know who Ty Dillon is as a driver, so anything short of utter dominance will look pretty bad on Lajoie. He's never had a real (full-time) teammate before in the Cup Series, so this will be his shot of showing everyone what he's made of.