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Entering the 2024 season, seven active full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers have achieved stock car racing's ultimate glory and won a Cup Series championship. It's a small, select and changing fraternity, with new blood beginning to take the place of its longtime members.

Where Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick once stood in the garage area now stand Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., who share the active past champion distinction with Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and newcomer Ryan Blaney. For each driver, having won a Cup championship in the past validates their legitimacy as a championship contender going forward. But for the seven proven champions at NASCAR's highest level, there are 30 or so more drivers who want to etch their name on the Bill France Cup at the end of this season.

Ahead of the start of the season, here is a look at and a ranking of the 10 drivers we think are most likely to win the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

10 -- Brad Keselowski

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It's been some time since we've been able to include Brad Keselowski among the bona fide contenders for the Cup Series title. But the 2012 Cup champion seems very, very close to once again reclaiming his form as a perennial championship contender.

In his second year as driver and co-owner of RFK Racing, Keselowski was instrumental in the team's return to relevance, earning seven top fives, 16 top 10s, making it to the Round of 12 in the playoffs and finishing eighth in the final championship standings. This season, the first objective for Keselowski will be to end a winless streak that dates back to April 2021 at Talladega -- but once that happens, that should clear the way for Keselowski, who has made two Championship 4 appearances, to make a run at another one.

For what it's worth, Keselowski is also very much in play to earn a Cup championship as a car owner. Chris Buescher made the Round of 8 last year, and he could have very easily made this list as well given how bullish I am on his continued emergence in 2024.

9 -- Joey Logano

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Joey Logano followed up his 2022 Cup championship with a disappointing year in 2023. He secured a playoff spot early in the season with a win at Atlanta, but he never reentered the win column and then became the first defending champion to ever get bounced from the playoffs in the Round of 16. Logano finished the year with that lone victory plus 11 top fives and 17 top 10s.

That top five and top-10 stat line, though, is the same one he posted in 2022 -- granted, Logano led far fewer laps and had a worse average finish (14.9) than he did in his championship year (13.5). Plus, Logano finished the year strong as Team Penske came roaring from the abyss with two top fives, three top 10s and four finishes inside the top 12 in the final five races. And by the way, Logano has made the Championship 4 in every even year since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014. So there's that.

8 -- Martin Truex Jr.

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Fundamentally speaking, Martin Truex Jr. should be higher up on this list given the commanding fashion in which he won last year's regular-season championship. It's what happened after that that's caused him to only be ranked eighth here.

Truex won three times in 2023 with nine top five and 17 top-10 finishes, but everything seemed to come apart for him in the playoffs. Truex barely survived elimination in the first two rounds thanks largely to a nice cushion of playoff points, but ultimately was felled in the Round of 8. His average finish during his playoff run was an abysmal 19.7, with a ninth-place finish at Las Vegas marking his only top 10 in that stretch.

Whether there's a hangover from that collapse into 2024 may play a big role in how Truex's season goes. There's also the matter of a now-annual midseason storyline of whether Truex, who turns 44 in June, will continue to race full-time in Cup or choose to walk away at season's end -- which will surely be something the whole No. 19 team has to contend with and work through.

7 -- Chase Elliott

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There's no way around it: Chase Elliott's 2023 was completely ruined by a leg injury suffered in a snowboarding accident, which sidelined him for six races before a one-race suspension for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin in the Coke 600 made it seven races missed in total. Those two incidents led to Elliott missing the playoffs, compromising what chance he had at following up on his 2022 form.

Prior to last year's letdown, Elliott won the regular season championship in 2022 and was the favorite for the Cup title all the way until an incident in the championship race at Phoenix cost him his second ring. That had marked the third year in a row that Elliott had made the Championship 4, a place he should reach again should he emphatically prove he's put last year's adversity behind him.

6 -- Christopher Bell

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Speaking of Championship 4 streaks, Christopher Bell has one going himself. After making it into the Championship 4 with a walk-off victory facing elimination at Martinsville in 2022, Bell left no doubt that he belonged in 2023 by winning at Homestead only one week after coming within a carlength of earning a Championship 4 berth at Las Vegas.

Bell has entered the conversation as one of the top drivers in Cup, as his stats -- five wins, 22 top fives and 39 top 10s with 1,172 laps led -- are as good as anyone's over the last two seasons. Bell has been at his best late in the year and in the playoffs, but a strong regular season would work wonders toward driving the idea that Bell can not only make it to a third straight Championship 4, but also that he's capable of winning it all.

5 -- Ross Chastain

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Ross Chastain's 2023 season was not nearly as flashy as his 2022 (granted, making the Championship 4 in such spectacular fashion that NASCAR literally has to change its rules to prevent it from happening again is a tough act to follow), but it was still a fairly successful one. Chastain won twice at Nashville and in the season finale at Phoenix, and he also posted 10 top fives and 14 top-10 finishes on his way to ninth in the final championship standings.

Chastain's 2023 season, though, could have been more had it not been for a midseason lull. After a series of on-track run-ins with other competitors led to even Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks telling his driver to dial it down a bit, a more calculated and less aggressive approach seemed to present an adjustment for Chastain. If he's reconciled how to stay true to his aggressive style without stepping over the line -- his performance at Phoenix suggested just that -- Chastain should very much be considered one of the favorites for the championship in 2024.

4 -- Ryan Blaney

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In the final six races of 2023, Ryan Blaney completely changed the narrative on his season with an all-time great playoff run. A win at Talladega launched a streak of two wins, four top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of fourth over the final six races, culminating in his first Cup Series championship. In terms of projecting 2024's champion, being the defending Cup champion is worth a lot -- especially if Blaney keeps up his late-season form early this year.

The determining factor in Blaney's chances of repeating as Cup champion will be whether his late-season tear was a sign of things to come or just his team executing at the right time. Blaney was affected by the overall lull Team Penske had for most of last season, as his eight top-five finishes were actually the fewest he's had in a season since 2018.

3 -- Denny Hamlin

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Time for Denny Hamlin's annual placement toward the top of list of championship contenders. Year after year since 2019 -- his first season paired with crew chief Chris Gabehart -- Hamlin has either made the Championship 4 or come within a few laps of making the Championship 4, and he's on a streak of five-straight seasons of top-five finishes in the final Cup championship standings.

The knock on Hamlin is that for all the at-bats he's had, none have resulted in him hitting a home run and finally winning his first Cup title. Could this be the year that the 43-year-old Hamlin gets it done and finally adds the missing piece of his future Hall of Fame career?

2 -- William Byron

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Ryan Blaney may have been NASCAR's champion for 2023, but William Byron was arguably its best driver. Byron was a championship contender from the beginning of the year to the end, with a career-high, Cup Series-leading six wins combined with 15 top fives, 21 top 10s and a Championship 4 berth. The only thing that kept Byron from his first Cup title was the flow of the race at Phoenix, where Byron won the pole and led early before losing the handle on his car as things progressed.

What's been critical to Byron's ascension has been the pairing of him and crew chief Rudy Fugle, who called the shots for Byron when he completely dominated the Truck Series in 2016. As long as those two are working together, it feels like anything -- including a 2024 season even better than his 2023 -- is possible for Willy B, Slick Bill or whatever you want to call him.

1 -- Kyle Larson

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In 2024, Kyle Larson is going to take another step toward affirming himself as one of the greatest race car drivers in the world. In May, he'll make his first start in the Indianapolis 500 and become the latest driver to attempt the Indy-Charlotte Double. And it's hardly likely that his Indy efforts will take anything away from his standing atop the Cup Series.

After 2022 presented something of a slight letdown, Larson returned to bona fide championship form in 2023 with four wins, 15 top fives, 18 top 10s and a run in the Championship Race that -- had it not been for an even more determined drive by Ryan Blaney -- could have earned him his second Cup title in three years.

Any conversation of who will be this year's Cup champion should undoubtedly start with Kyle Larson, whose resume and reputation promises yet another year as one of NASCAR's very best.