Can Ryan Blaney do what hasn’t been done in 14 years? Can Denny Hamlin do what’s never been done? Is Christopher Bell the circuit’s next star? Will Team Penske make it three Cup Champions in three years? And who will replace Kevin Harvick as the face of Stewart-Haas Racing?

Those questions and more will be answered over the next nine months as the 2024 NASCAR season opens on February 18 with the Daytona 500 and climaxes with the Cup Series Championship race on November 10 in Phoenix. Closer to home, a Round of 8 Cup Series race will be held at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 27.

Last year, Joe Gibbs Racing sent three drivers to the Round of 8 as the three-time Super Bowl champion head coach continued his NASCAR success as well.  What is JGR looking forward to in 2024?

“We have our same group back and it’s a good mix,’’ Gibbs told MiamiMan. “We have our veterans in Denny (Hamlin) and Martin (Truex Jr.) and our two young guys in Chris (Bell) and Ty (Gibbs, Joe’s grandson) who can learn so much from the vets. 

“Our goal every year is to get all four of our guys in the playoffs. Ty just missed last year. And then of course to get at least one of them in the Final (Four). We’ve had one every year for the past 10 years.’’

So settle in for another exciting season of NASCAR and see if Blaney can repeat, if one of Gibbs’ drivers Bell or Hamlin can win his first Cup Championship, or if a veteran such as Kyle Busch gets his third title. 

Here’s a look at 10 drivers/factors who could shape the season’s outlook.

Ryan Blaney, #12, Ford — Last year’s Cup winner will look to become the first driver to repeat as champion since Jimmie Johnson won an incredible five straight titles from 2006-10. Before that, the last repeat winner was Jeff Gordon in 1997-98. So, it’s not easy. Blaney, who just turned 30, is in his seventh season with Team Penske. The Hartford, Ohio native was the runner-up in the Cup Championship Race, but it was good enough to capture the title.

Christopher Bell, #20, Toyota — The newest star from Joe Gibbs Racing has been at the wheel for just four seasons and has been to the Final 4 each of the past two years. The 29-year-old from Norman, Oklahoma is a driver to watch this year when it comes to picking the next champion. He has playoff experience under his belt and now just needs to take that crucial next step. 

“Chris has done a great job,’’ Gibbs said. “You know his first year was the Covid year and that was tough. But you see what he’s done. And his crew chief, Adam (Stevens) is outstanding. Seven of the past nine years he’s had a driver make the finals.’’

Denny Hamlin, #11, Toyota  — There isn’t much the 43-year-old Hamlin hasn’t done on the track — except win the Cup Championship. A three-time winner at Daytona, second among all active drivers in wins with 51, a co-owner of 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan, the best the Chesterfield, Virginia native has done is a second-place finish to Jimmie Johnson in 2010. Is this the year he finally gets to the top? Joe Gibbs Racing would love to get him that elusive Cup Championship. 

The Favorites — According to most of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and across the nation, Blaney is the favorite to repeat at odds of +430 (a bet of $100 will win $430), but you already know it is tough to repeat. William Byron and Kyle Larson, both out of the Hendrick Motorsports stable, are the preseason co-second choices at +575. Byron led all drivers with six wins and 21 top 10 finishes a year ago. He made it to the Final 4 and finished third behind Blaney. Larson, the 2021 Cup Champion, just missed his second Cup in three years when he finished second to Blaney a year ago. 

Team Penske — Penske has produced the last two Cup Champions in Joey Logano in 2022 and Ryan Blaney last year. Penske also has three titles over the past six years. The team should be in the mix again in 2024. Not only are Blaney and Logano, who fell to 12th last year despite four wins during the season, strong candidates but so is 25-year-old Austin Cindric. After a strong rookie season in 2022, which included a Daytona 500 win, Cindric never made it to Victory Lane and had just one top 5 finish in 2023. He’s looking for a big bounce-back season.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Kevin Harvick, the face of SHR for the past 10 years, retired at the end of the 2023 season and took his 60 career wins with him. So who takes over for him? One name to keep in mind is Chase Briscoe. The 2021 Rookie of the Year finished ninth in the standings in 2022 and then had a rough 2023 with no wins and a 30th-place finish. The Mitchell, Indiana native is looking to get back to what he did right in ’21 and ’22 and forget all about ’23.

Alex Bowman, #48, Chevy — Bowman got to off a nice start in 2023 with six top-10 finishes in his first 10 races. Then a crash in Michigan caused a fractured vertebra. He missed just three races, but upon returning was never the same the rest of the season. He dropped from a top-10 standing before the injury to 20th overall. This year the Tucson, Arizona native and Hendrick Racing driver would like to pick up where he left off pre-injury.  

Kyle Busch, #8, Chevy — It was different seeing Busch driving the No. 8 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing after being in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing for 15 years. It was also different not seeing Busch in the final 12 of the playoffs — he finished 14th overall. A two-time champion for JGR, Busch will try to get back on track for RCR in 2024. It’s never a good idea to count out a driver with 64 career wins (ninth-best all-time).  

Chase Elliott, #9, Chevy — It was a tough 2023 for the 2020 Cup Champion. Elliott, who drives the same No. 9 Chevy his Hall of Fame father, Bill, drove, went through a one-week suspension and a broken leg that cost him six more weeks of the season. When the season ended, Elliott did not record a win and missed the playoffs for the first time with a 17th overall finish. There is no reason to think he won’t bounce back this season. And the people at Hendrick Racing must feel the same way. 

Austin Dillon, #3, Chevy — Another driver coming off a disappointing 2023 season is the Welcome, North Carolina native. Dillon, who has both a Daytona 500 win (2018) and a Coca-Cola 600 win (2017) on his resume along with five playoff appearances, tumbled to a 30th finish in 2023. The 33-year-old from the Richard Childress Racing stable will look to get back what made him a playoff driver all those years in 2024.