With the 2013 season drawing to a close, we are left to wonder about the 2014 Sprint Cup season. Who will be strong? Who will struggle? Who will win the title? Who will win the Daytona 500? Also, who will win the 2014 Rookie of the Year title?
With Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon throwing their hats into the ring, we look to see a very interesting rookie race between two drivers with different styles, both of whom are no stranger to the limelight. Early projections label Dillon as the man to beat, given his stats behind the wheel, but Larson is an anomaly. He'll be a force to reckon with.
Both drivers have run the full Nationwide Series schedule for 2013, and while Dillon leads the points, he has gone over a year without winning a race, while the rookie Larson sits ninth in points. Still, that's not for lack of trying as both drivers have come very close to Victory Lane this season.
Meanwhile, looking at their respective organizations, it's clear Dillon might have an edge.
His boss (who is also his grandfather) happens to be none other than Richard Childress, a man who is no stranger to success behind the wheel. He's won many races as an owner over the years and has a few championships to boost, spanning across NASCAR's three major touring series.
Dillon actually gained a truck championship under the RCR banner, so he knows of this success just as much as anyone. It certainly reflects in the way he carries himself on and off the track.
Meanwhile, looking at Larson, he's going to be a driver under the Earnhardt-Ganassi banner.
Despite having a banner year in 2010 with four Sprint Cup wins (three from Jamie McMurray, one from Juan Pablo Montoya), they have only made the Chase once (Montoya in 2009). Since then, they have underperformed and are nothing more than an afterthought these days.
Larson will be replacing Montoya, and he could be bringing something to the table that Montoya was unable to, but realistically speaking, it might not bode as well for him as it would for Dillon.
Going into Charlotte where Larson is making his Sprint Cup debut, Dillon has 11 more starts in the Sprint Cup than Larson. He hasn't posted any legitimately strong results other than an 11th at Michigan, but given the fact that he's a two-time Rookie of the Year (2010—Camping World Truck Series; 2012—Nationwide Series), he should be familiar with the challenges a rookie faces.
But Larson is no spring chicken. He races anything and everything under the sun and is the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion.
He made a lot of his fellow competitors uneasy in 2012, when he made four starts in the CWTS, earning one top-five and three top-10s. He won his first truck race at Rockingham this year and almost won at Eldora in the summer, which would have been fitting given his dirt experience.
Larson will be sure to milk everything he can out of the No. 42 that he'll be taking over next year, and he's apt to surprise us. You can expect him to have a rookie year similar to Kasey Kahne's in 2004. He may have a few brushes with victory, but don't be surprised if he pulls through at least once.
He's clearly the Marcus Mariota to Dillon's Johnny Manziel. Dillon, however, could have a rookie season similar to Kevin Harvick's if anything. He has what he needs to win during the season and could be a threat to make the Chase.
Overall, it might be a close battle. Dillon's got momentum on his side, and he might be the likely RotY winner. I have my money on him. But don't count Larson out.
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