Ranking the Top 10 Prospects in NASCAR's Developmental Series
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For young stock car drivers, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is the ultimate goal.
For many drivers currently competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series, those dreams are very much within reach. Kyle Larson, Austin and Ty Dillon and Chase Elliott are among the young guns who look to be on the track to Sprint Cup stardom.
But who is the sport's top prospect?
Taking past performance, age and affiliation with Sprint Cup teams into account, here are the top 10 drivers in NASCAR's top two development series.
Note: All driver stats courtesy of Racing-Reference.info unless otherwise noted.
Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 99 in the Nationwide Series, narrowly missed the top 10 but is a driver to watch in the coming years.
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Alex Bowman doesn't get enough credit for the season that he's having in the Nationwide Series this year. Driving for RAB Racing, a mid-level team at best, Bowman earned a third-place finish at Daytona in February and has scored three more top-10 finishes since.
His 10th-place run at New Hampshire, a race track where a good driver can overcome the limitations of his car, is probably his most impressive run to date. Though he doesn't have a driver development contract with a big team, he is just 20 years old and has plenty of time to impress the Sprint Cup garage.
There may be no more interesting prospect than Drew Herring. According to Racing-Reference.info, Herring has an average finish of 8.5 between Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series competition since signing with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2011.
But Herring is rarely used, having run just one Nationwide Series race in each of the past two seasons. He's 26 years old, slightly older than most of the drivers on this list, but he has shown that he can get the job done. For whatever reason, he hasn't yet been given an opportunity to show it on a full-time basis.
Chris Buescher, the 2012 ARCA Racing Series champion, has a bright future in NASCAR. The 20-year-old is under contract with Roush Racing, a team for which he has scored two top-10 finishes in seven Nationwide Series starts.
His seventh-place runs at Bristol and Michigan this year were impressive, but he is currently without a full-time ride. Buescher will remain an unknown commodity until Jack Roush is ready to give him a full season of work in the Nationwide Series. Hopefully, that opportunity comes soon.
10. Nelson Piquet Jr.
Nelson Piquet earned a hard-fought victory in the 2012 Nationwide Series race at Road America.
Nelson Piquet Jr. is certainly not your typical prospect.
He has already reached a pinnacle of the sport, having made his Formula 1 debut in 2008. However, two years later, he was out of F1 and on his way to America.
Piquet has adapted quickly to NASCAR racing. He has three victories, including his Nationwide Series win at Road America in 2012, along with 16 top-fives and 32 top-10s in 76 races.
As talented as Piquet is, his unique career arc hurts him as a prospect. He's now 28 years old, by far the oldest driver on this list. Though he's racing for one of the best teams in the Nationwide Series in Turner Scott Motorsports, he still does not have a driver development deal with a Sprint Cup team.
His path to Sprint Cup won't be easy, but Piquet has the talent to get there.
9. Parker Kligerman
Parker Kligerman, who drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, has been steadily improving since debuting in the Truck Series in 2011.
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Parker Kligerman is a driver who is starting to figure things out.
After a mediocre rookie campaign in the Camping World Truck Series in 2011, Kligerman found his groove last year, finishing fifth in points on the strength of eight top-fives and 15 top-10s. He also earned two poles and picked up his first career victory at Talladega.
This year, he has carried that momentum with him to Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he has earned three top-fives and seven top-10s in 19 starts.
Though not on a driver development contract, his affiliation with KBM means Joe Gibbs Racing will be keeping close tabs on the youngster from Connecticut.
8. Jeb Burton
Jeb Burton earned his first Truck Series victory at Texas in June. The win should be the first of many for the young driver.
Before this season, Jeb Burton would not have made this list. He had started five Camping World Truck Series races in 2012 with a best finish of eighth at Charlotte.
But he has made the most of his opportunity with Turner Scott Motorsports this year, earning six top-10 finishes, including his first career victory at Texas in June.
Son of 2002 Daytona 500 Champion Ward Burton, Jeb is proving to be a very quick learner. He sits second in points behind Matt Crafton, a position he's held since the second race of the season.
Though Burton does not yet have a driver development contract with a Sprint Cup Series team, he will certainly be on the radar of every owner in the garage.
7. James Buescher
James Buescher earned the 2012 Camping World Truck Series championship and is looking for a second in 2013.
By any measure, James Buescher has already had a successful NASCAR career. The 2012 Camping World Truck Series champion earned five victories last season, including a win in the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona.
At 23 years of age, Buescher is one of the most experienced drivers on this list, having competed in 160 combined NASCAR races. In those starts, he has 33 top-fives and 65 top-10 finishes.
Buescher is another driver without a driver development contract, but he does have talent. It certainly helps that his father-in-law is Steve Turner of Turner Scott Motorsports. Because of that, Buescher will have plenty of chances to prove himself in NASCAR's lower ranks.
6. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney (left) looks to follow his father Dave (right) into the Sprint Cup Series.
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Another second-generation NASCAR driver, Ryan Blaney, son of Dave Blaney, has been very good since arriving on the scene last year.
He made his Nationwide Series debut at Richmond last April, starting eighth and finishing seventh. He now has a combined 33 starts in Nationwide and Camping World Truck competition, racking up six top-fives and 19 top-10s.
The highlight of Blaney's career so far is his Truck Series victory at Iowa last year in just his third series start.
He has been very good this year in his first full Truck Series season, and he has the added advantage of a driver development deal with Penske Racing. As good as the 19-year-old is, it won't be long until he takes the next step in his career and eventually makes a name for himself in the Sprint Cup Series.
5. Ty Dillon
Ty Dillon has two career Camping World Truck Series wins. He will likely follow his brother, Austin, to Nationwide and, eventually, Sprint Cup.
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As the grandson of car owner Richard Childress, Ty Dillon is on the fast track to the Sprint Cup Series. But it is his talent, not his grandfather, that will carry him there.
Dillon earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series last year and now has two career victories in the series. He has earned 11 top-fives and 24 top-10s in 35 Truck Series starts.
He also has eight career Nationwide Series starts with three top-10 finishes, including a third place finish last July at Indianapolis.
The younger of the Dillon brothers hasn't made the same forward leap that older brother, Austin, did in his second full year in the Truck Series, but Ty still has plenty of time and plenty of talent to get it done. And with the backing of Richard Childress Racing, he will be given all of the tools he needs to succeed at the sport's highest level.
4. Darrell Wallace Jr.
Darrell Wallace Jr. started his NASCAR career as part of the Drive for Diversity, but he is now Joe Gibbs Racing's top developmental driver.
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After earning six victories in three years in the K&N Pro Series, Darrell Wallace Jr. made the jump full-time to the Camping World Truck Series in 2013, where he has six top-10 finishes in 10 starts.
Last year, Wallace made four starts in the Nationwide Series, earning top-10 finishes in three of them, with a 12th place run in the fourth.
The 19-year-old got his NASCAR start in the Drive for Diversity program, and he is now the top development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing.
With Brian Vickers probably moving to Sprint Cup in 2014, Wallace could be in line for a full-time Nationwide Series ride next season. If past success is any indication, he will be competing for race wins right away, and the Sprint Cup Series will calling soon after.
3. Chase Elliott
Everyone at Hendrick Motorsports speaks highly of Chase Elliott's talent. With Lance McGrew as his crew chief, the team has set him up for great things in the future.
Chase Elliott now has four career starts in the Camping World Truck Series, and he has run up front in all of them, finishing sixth, fifth, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Elliott, son of 1988 Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, also has top-10 finishes in each of his nine ARCA Racing starts and in 17 of his 29 K&N Pro Series events.
Those numbers look even better when you consider that he is just 17 years old.
Eliott's greatest asset is his affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports. As you can see in the video, the team thinks very highly of its young talent.
Rick Hendrick saw enough in Elliott to give him Lance McGrew as his crew chief. McGrew has called the shots for some of the team's best development drivers, including Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. His experience could be key in moving Elliott up through the NASCAR ranks before ultimately taking him to the Sprint Cup Series.
2. Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon's talent was never more evident than in his victory in the Truck Series race at Eldora in July.
Like his younger brother Ty, Austin Dillon is almost guaranteed a place in the Sprint Cup Series. Just don't think he hasn't earned it.
He is easily the most accomplished driver on this list, earning seven victories between Nationwide and Camping World Truck competition. He is also remarkably consistent, scoring top-10 finishes 65 percent of the time.
Dillon already has proven that he is ready to make the jump to the Sprint Cup Series, a move he is likely to make for the 2014 season. The 23-year-old has seven Sprint Cup starts under his belt, with a career-best 11th at place finish in the June race at Michigan International Speedway.
Dillon has the name to make it to the top of the sport, but he also has the talent to become a star.
1. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson's aggression was on full display during the Whelen All-American Series race at Daytona in February when he knocked C.E. Falk out of the way for the victory.
Kyle Larson is the total package.
He has breezed through the NASCAR ranks. After winning last year's K&N Pro Series East championship, Larson was promoted straight to the Nationwide Series, where he has an average finish of 12.0 with 11 top-10 finishes in 19 races. In two Camping World Truck Series races this season, he has a win and a second-place finish, leading 238 of his 358 laps.
I described what makes Larson so good in a previous article, but what's most impressive is that he has only been driving stock cars since last year. Before making the jump, he was one of the best sprint car drivers in the country.
Just two years into his NASCAR career, the 20-year-old is already making an impact. His contract with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will no doubt land him a ride in the Sprint Cup Series, where he's sure to find the same success he has found at every other step of his career.