There is an overwhelming amount of young talent in NASCAR right now, but few are getting opportunities in Cup series, because there aren’t enough seats to go around. For the last five seasons, there has only been two or three new rookies every year, and most ran very poorly. Well, 2014 will be a big step up from recent years, with six or seven drivers battling for ROTY honors.
Richard Childress Racing No.3 – Austin Dillon (2011 Camping World Truck Series champion & 2013 Nationwide Series champion)
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing No.42 – Kyle Larson (2012 K&N East champion & winner at CWTS level)
Tommy Baldwin Racing No.7 – Michael Annett (Six year veteran of NNS & winner at ARCA level)
Swan Racing No. ? – Parker Kligerman (2009 ARCA championship runner-up & winner at CWTS level)
Swan Racing No. ? – Cole Whitt (2008 USAC National Midget champion)
Unconfirmed, But Rumored To Happen
Phoenix Racing No.51 – Justin Allgaier (2008 ARCA champion & winner at NNS level)
BK Racing No.93 – Alex Bowman (Winner at ARCA level)
All of these drivers have proven their worth, but some will be at a disadvantage, driving for underfunded teams. Dillon, Larson and Allgaier will all have backing from strong organizations and will definitely be the guys to beat. I have to give a nod of the head to Swan Racing, which was a start and park less than two years ago, however, now they run every single race and are expanding to a two-car operation with rookies behind the wheel of both cars. It’s a risky move, but one that I think will pay off for this small team (especially with the Kligerman signing).
If I had to pick who would win ROTY honors in 2014, I’d have to go against the majority and choose Larson. Dillon is the obvious favorite, but Larson is a special talent. No, I’m not just buying into all the hype; I’m looking at the facts, and they don’t lie. Larson has won in nearly everything he’s ever raced, and his career path looks eerily similar to that of NASCAR legends Tony Stewart (three-time champion) and Jeff Gordon (four-time champion). It takes him very little time to adapt to different race cars and there are countless examples of this.
His first full-time season racing stock cars was in 2012, and to see how well he’s run against NASCAR’s best with so little experience is astonishing. I can’t even begin to count the amount of wins he has across the board, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s dirt, asphalt, open-wheel or stock cars — nothing fazes this kid.
Larson was involved in a horrific airborne crash in his Nationwide debut that injured multiple fans, but this teenage phenom remained focused on the task at hand. Dillon will certainly be his toughest adversary and is a champion of both the CWTS and NNS, while Kyle’s lone NASCAR title is the 2012 K&N East championship. These two are incredibly talented, possess great fortitude behind the wheel, and are of impeccable character, which are the traits we use to describe HOF’ers.
I believe that the surprise of this group will either be Allgaier or Kligerman. Allgaier will have a solid team behind him, with his teammate/mentor being former Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte, which is a huge plus. Justin has finished no lower than sixth in his five full-time seasons at the Nationwide level and was running strong in his Cup debut before a crash ruined his promising day, so there’s no doubting his ability. Parker drove for Swan Racing in his Cup debut and shocked a lot of people with his solid performance. After giving the team their best starting position of the season (23rd), he followed it up with the team’s best finish of the year (18th). That car is rarely seen running inside the top 25, but he was able to put it in the top 20 with no Cup experience whatsoever.
Assuming all seven of these racers do run for ROTY in 2014, here is how I think the standings will look at season’s end after considering both the talent of each driver and the equipment they will have under them.
1. Kyle Larson
2. Austin Dillon
3. Justin Allgaier
4. Parker Kligerman
5. Cole Whitt
6. Michael Annett
7. Alex Bowman
Do you agree with my list? Post your personal list below and I’d love to debate it with you!
Nick DeGroot is a staff writer for Rant Sports NASCAR. Connect with him on Twitter @ndegroot89