20 NASCAR Drivers Who Need Full-Time Sprint Cup Series Rides in 2014
Most Drivers will Eventually Find a Ride in NASCAR
Money does a lot for everyone. It can mess with people's ego sometimes, actually most of the time (when they have a lot of it at least). However, in NASCAR, money does more than just give people a pay check, it gives them a job.
Racing is all about a winner. Well, that's what it is supposed to be about at least. With the way the economy is, however, things just seem to be getting increasingly difficult for drivers to land a respectable ride. I'm not trying to be an economist or anything like that, but when drivers have sponsors to back them, they're more than likely going to be racing a lot, and with a good team too.
With "silly season" in full force, NASCAR teams are looking for talented drivers. The main thing they're looking for is a driver that can win races, but the more important thing is having sponsorship dollars to go along with that talent. It may seem ridiculous to think that the sport is at the stage where veteran drivers can't get jobs because of young guys having multi-million dollar sponsors, but those millions of dollars are what makes a team run well.
Sure, there are some guys that have family owned sponsors such as Paul Menard, but he's proved that he can run well, now that he's in the equipment to do so. Then there's a guy like John Wes Townley. Townley has had numerous teams sign him, including Richard Childress Racing and Roush Racing, but has never shown the results to be a winning driver. He's basically holding a seat that a guy like Todd Bodine can be racing in, only because he has a sponsor.
Now that it's late August, it's time for teams to get their 2014 plans settled. There's some NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers that have clearly proven they should be in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but with the shuffling going on over there, those drivers may not be getting the opportunities they believed they were going to earn with a solid effort in 2013.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.
Burton doesn't have too much experience, but deserves to have a shot at the top next year. He'll be in the Truck Series for another year, but he's making his Nationwide Series debut at Kentucky in a few weeks. Expect Burton to have a competitive deal in the Cup Series within a few years.
Scott has proven that with time, he's able to run consistent in the top-10 if given the opportunity. Driving for RCR this year, he's been driving better than ever before. If RCR has room for a fourth team in 2014, maybe Scott wouldn't be that bad of an addition, at least on a part-time basis, just to see what he's capable of.
Travis Kvapil has been running for small teams for the last few years. He's used to running around 25th-35th on a weekly basis. Sure he wants to do better, but the former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion can't seem to find sponsorship to get a better ride since he left Robert Yates Racing back in 2009, when it closed. Kvapil should resign with BK Racing, as he's the lead driver for the team and has helped develop them since the beginning. They're starting to run slightly more consistent after having trouble early in the year while developing the new car.
Michael McDowell has been driving for a start and park team for several years now. He wasn't able to capitalize on replacing Kyle Busch at Texas when he was suspended a few years ago, but now he's proven he can drive rather well. Though McDowell hasn't really had the chance to prove himself, he's rumored to be a possible candidate for the No. 78 car. If not, expect him to return to Phil Parsons Racing in 2014, running the same amount of races.
Kyle Larson is a lean, mean race car driving machine. He's clearly an amazing talent and has everything it takes to be a winning driver in NASCAR. He may be replacing Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Chevrolet next year, which would be huge for the sport. However, he still hasn't won a NASCAR Nationwide Series race, and has proven to be slightly inconsistent. The last thing that Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing needs to do is to rush Larson up to the Cup Series when he isn't ready. He should get at least another year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule in a third Ganassi car before they let him race full-time.
Blaney is the reason that Tommy Baldwin Racing is still around today. They weren't too wise to expand to two cars. The team doesn't have the resources for it, and has made both cars struggle since they expanded. However, expect Blaney to return in 2014 with more sponsors. He brought several sponsors in this year and brought several sponsors to the team (including Golden Corral). The team would be wise to shrink back down to one full-time car and one part-time car, but who knows with Tommy Baldwin. Blaney brings a ton of experience and leadership and may be an owner of his own one day.
Cole Whitt was one of the hottest young drivers on the NASCAR circuit a few years ago. He was once a development driver for Red Bull Racing, and then for JR Motorsports. Both of those didn't work out, even though he was by far one of the most impressive drivers in the sport. This year, Whitt has driven in the Nationwide Series for Tri Star Motorsports on a part-time basis and has brought a car that usually runs outside of the top-20, to a top-10 car somehow or another. He clearly has talent, but not so much sponsorship to back that talent up. Whitt is driving for Swan Racing in a few races to close out the year and may drive for them in 2014. However, he may not be ready to drive on a full-time basis in the Cup Series. His best bet is to get enough sponsorship to drive for Tri Star Motorsports on a full-time basis.
Buescher is expected to make the jump to the Nationwide Series next year. However, with Harry Scott Jr. owning Phoenix Racing now, maybe he'll give the reigning Truck Series champion a chance at stardom. No one knows how well Buescher will do in the Cup Series considering he hasn't been given the opportunity, but he should do well once he makes the jump.
Regan Smith was looking like the favorite to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship this year. However, after a series of inconsistent races, Smith has dropped back in the standings. He does have two wins, and clearly was a decent driver while with Furniture Row Racing in the past. He's Jimmie Johnson's backup driver at Richmond in a few weeks in case Johnson's wife gives birth. Smith is capable of running in the top-20 on a weekly basis in the Cup Series, but there just doesn't seem to be a fit for him. He could go to the No. 42 car, but that's unlikely at this point.
Matt Crafton deserves a shot in the Cup Series. He didn't get a shot in the Nationwide Series until now and that's just horrible considering how long he's been racing. Crafton has been exceptional this year and Thorsport Racing should truly move up through the ranks instead of holding back the team's two drivers which can surely win if given the opportunity. Expect Crafton to return to the team yet again, but also run numerous Nationwide Series races with RCR.
Trevor Bayne will be driving for Roush-Fenway Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series again in 2014. It took until this year for them to give him a full-time ride, but he showed he's able to win after his impressive victory at Iowa. The team wants Bayne to run some Cup races in 2014 in the No. 6 Ford, but he's likely returning to the Wood Brother's as well. He hopes to combine the two teams and run the full season, and that may happen if sponsorship is found. He's better off running the same schedule Mark Martin ran the past two years, just to get him adjusted to running a lot of races while doing double duty.
Poor Bobby Labonte. That's the face he's probably been making all year. JTG-Daugherty Racing just isn't a good fit for him. He needs to take some time and think if it's time for him to retire or not. If he doesn't call it quits, he would make a great fit to split a car with Mark Martin, giving a team two veterans to split the season. Labonte is still a great driver, but he doesn't have the chance to show his skills.
Expect Ryan Blaney to be in the Nationwide Series on a full-time basis either in 2014 or 2015 with Penske Racing. He's driven several races for the team and has done particularly well. Blaney has been exceptional with Brad Keselowski Racing and is going to be a star in a few years.
Justin Allgaier should be in the No. 51 next year, as long as Harry Scott Jr. actually did purchase Phoenix Racing. He's a proven winner, and beyond consistent in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. No matter what, expect Allgaier to go Cup Series racing with Turner-Scott Motorsports in 2014.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Unfortunately, Roger Penske doesn't want to expand his operation to three cars in 2014. That leaves Sam Hornish Jr. stuck in the NASCAR Nationwide Series once again. Hornish has been amazing this year, and has Alliance Truck Parts to back him. With the way Penske Racing has been performing as of late, he may be able to get a part-time gig, even though he deserves a full season.
Elliott Sadler has been bouncing around the NASCAR Nationwide Series for three years now. His crew chief is inexperienced, which is the main reason as to why he hasn't contended for any wins this year. Joe Gibbs Racing gave him a chance to run at Kansas, but after not being inside of a Sprint Cup Series car at a 1.5 mile track for several years, Sadler struggled with handling mightily, and wrecked because his crew chief didn't know what changes to make. Sadler is one heck of a driver, and more importantly, has backing from One Main Financial, which should follow him where ever he goes in 2014. Gibbs may give him a part-time or even a full-time deal in the Sprint Cup Series next year, possibly splitting the year with a rookie like Parker Kligerman or even Drew Herring.
The "Dinger" might have finally found a home. JTG-Daugherty Racing wants A.J. Allmendinger, and Allmendinger wants a full-time ride as long as it's competitive. He has several options of where he can drive for in 2014; it all depends on where Kurt Busch signs, if Busch signs with Stewart-Haas Racing, the Furniture Row Racing seat is going to be wide open, and all of those Nationwide Series drivers are going to be fighting for it. Even with all that confusion, it's safe to say Allmendinger will drive the No. 47 car next year. Allmendinger evidently signed with JTG.
Rocket Ryan needs a job. He may not have the he biggest personality, but he's a great guy, and when given the chance, he can win two races a year. Ryan Newman hasn't been anything special since his early years at Penske Racing, lets be honest. However, after winning the Brickyard 400 pole and race, Newman is likely going to bring Quicken Loans with him to whatever team he signs with. He's definitely going to have a job in 2014, but no one knows how good it'll be. He's rumored to be in discussions with RCR to drive a fourth car next year, which could be a perfect fit for him. He could also drive the No. 42 car, but no one knows what Ganassi wants to do. Newman signed with RCR and will drive the No. 31 in place of Jeff Burton.
Mark Martin will race in 2014, hopefully. A few years back, Martin convinced everyone he was going to retire. Now, he's not speaking at all about his future which has many wondering what he's going to do. Martin clearly won't race full-time in the Cup Series, he just doesn't want to do that anymore. However, him and Burton splitting the schedule at Swan Racing wouldn't be the worst idea. It would help a small team grow and give them two different opinions with veteran drivers. If not, expect Martin to drive a large portion of the schedule in the Truck Series or Nationwide Series with a few Cup Series races.
Burton is being replaced by Newman at RCR. It comes to a surprise considering he had a contract with the team until the end of next season. However, he was basically pressured out of the team as they couldn't come up with sponsors for Newman, but knew he was a better fit for the organization. Burton could end up at Swan Racing (if he wants to stay in the Cup Series), but he's better suited to end his career with a top tier Nationwide Series team. He could possibly drive for JR Motorsports, or even RCR in the No. 33 on a part, or even full-time basis. Burton clearly has what it takes to be successful in the Cup Series, but there just aren't any teams for him.