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Talent Abound in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie Class

February 9th, 2014 at 8:07 PM
By Mark Eddinger

For the first time in a long time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has a rookie class that not only will provide an exciting battle for the Rookie of the Year honors but also the class will have the opportunity to change the course of the series. In all there are eight drivers competing for the Rookie of the Year award making it one of the deepest if not the deepest class in NASCAR history.

'IMG_2560' photo (c) 2012, Parker Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/The winners of the Rookie of the Year award normally go onto very successful careers or even stardom in the sport but that has not been the case in recent years. From 1993 all the way to 2009 the Rookie of the Year not only made a name for themselves the year they won but went onto succeed at NASCAR's top level for the most part even to this day.

Jeff Gordon was the 1993 Rookie of the Year. Jeff Burton won honors in 1994, Ricky Craven in 1995, Johnny Benson Jr in 1996, Mike Skinner in 1997, Kenny Irwin Jr in 1998, Tony Stewart in 1999, Matt Kenseth 2000, Kevin Harvick 2001, Ryan Newman 2002, Jamie McMurray 2003, Kasey Kahne 2004, Kyle Busch 2005, Denny Hamlin 2006, Juan Pablo Montoya 2007, Regan Smith 2008, and Joey Logano 2009.

The rookie classes from 2010 to 2012 were nothing to write home about with the winner, Kevin Conway in 2010, Andy Lally in 2011, and Stephen Leicht in 2012, not running full campaigns since winning. Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Danica Patrick brought the rookie class back into focus in 2013 but Timmy Hill was the only other rookie making it not a very deep class. Stenhouse won the honors and now it is time to see what the 2014 class can do.

The chances that all eight of this years rookies become mainstays in the Sprint Cup Series is slim but this class is sure to produce some stars for years to come to take NASCAR into the future. The main contenders in most peoples eyes to win the Rookie of the Year award will be Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson.

Dillon, the 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion and 2013 Nationwide Series champion, will drive the No. 3 back into the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Driving for his grandfather's Richard Childress Racing Dillon is expected to run up front from the get go. Kyle Larson meanwhile will be driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 42 Chevrolet. Larson has been touted as a future star but has less experience in NASCAR than does Dillon. Larson only has one full season under his belt in a top NASCAR series which was last seasons Nationwide slate. Larson will pull double duty in 2014 as he will also drive for Turner Scott Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.

Depth is provided to this rookie class though by Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, and Michael Annett. The young crop of talent has different levels of experience and will be in equipment that is not expected to run as well as Dillon at RCR or Larson at Ganassi.

Allgaier has paid his dues in the Nationwide Series the past five seasons and now gets his chance at Cup with the newly named HScott Motorsports team. He will pilot the No. 51 Chevrolet. In his five Nationwide seasons he never finished worse than sixth in points and picked up three wins. His first win came in 2010 for Penske Racing at Bristol of all places. From 2011 to 2013 he competed for Harry Scott's Nationwide team Turner Scott Motorsports.

Kligerman, who has bounced around trying to find his way to NASCAR's top series, will drive the No. 30 Toyota for Swan Racing. At age 18 in 2009 he won nine ARCA Racing Series races and then found part time opportunities with Penske Racing in the Nationwide Series until driving for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series in 2011. In 2012 he switched over to Red Horse Racing halfway through the season and picked up his first NASCAR win at Talladega. In 2013 he competed for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and showed enough to impress Swan Racing.

Swan Racing is growing and in doing so have decided to run a second full time team in 2014. They will use another rookie in Cole Whitt to drive their No. 26 Toyota. Whitt's career started in the 2011 season driving the full Truck schedule for Stacy Compton's team. He collected 11 top tens that season and finished ninth in points. In 2012 he moved to JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and had 14 top tens and finished seventh in points. Whitt did not have a full time ride in 2013. He raced 15 times for TriStar Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and performed well with an average finish of 15.7 for the small team. He then started seven races for Swan Racing at the Cup level toward the end of 2013 with a best finish of 27th.

BK Racing, like Swan Racing, will go with two rookie competitors in 20014. Alex Bowman will drive the No. 23 Toyota. At 20-years-old he is the youngest of the rookie class. Bowman won four races in the 2012 ARCA season and then in 2013 moved up to the Nationwide Series with RAB Racing. He really showed speed by winning two poles and having an average starting position of 12.1 for the 32 races he ran. He finished the season with six top tens and was 11th in the points.

He will team with Ryan Truex who will drive the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing. Truex has the least amount of top tier NASCAR competition of any of the rookie drivers. He has never competed in a full season in the Trucks or Nationwide Series. He was the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion in 2009 and 2010. In 35 career Nationwide starts Truex, the younger brother of Martin Truex Jr, has nine top ten finishes and won the pole at Dover for Joe Gibbs Racing and finished second that race in what was his most impressive display in 2012. Truex made three starts for Phoenix Racing at the Cup level last year.

Michael Annett rounds out the rookie class as he will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Like Allgaier he has paid his dues in the Nationwide Series for the past five years. He started with Germain Racing in 2009 and 2010 before driving for Rusty Wallace Racing in 2011. His breakout season came in 2012 for Richard Petty Motorsports when he had 17 top tens and finished fifth in the points. He had high hopes for 2013 but those plans were derailed in the first race at Daytona when he was injured in a crash.

This class of rookies could prove to be the deepest class of top talent since 2006 when that class produced stars Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr and also included Reed Sorenson, JJ Yeley, David Stremme, and David Gilliland. Time will tell whether this class is even better but it is sure loaded with a lot of untapped talent which is about to take the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series by storm and provide a good base of competitors for the years to come.

Tags: Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, BK Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Cole Whitt, HScott Motorsports, Justin Allgaier, Kyle Larson, Michael Annett, Motorsports, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Parker Kligerman, Richard Childress Racing, Ryan Truex, Swan Racing

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