NASCAR Drivers Facing the Most Pressure in 2014

Chad Robb@@MrFantasyNASCARCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2013

NASCAR Drivers Facing the Most Pressure in 2014

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are already starting to prepare for the 2014 season. Most teams tested their cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week. The new season brings hope for all teams, but pressure for some drivers in the garage.

    The drivers who will feel the most pressure next season to run well are the drivers who had disappointing seasons in 2013, the drivers entering the last season of their contract and one rookie driver who will be in the spotlight because of the car he will be driving.

    Here is a list of the drivers who will be feeling the pressure in 2014…

Austin Dillon

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Austin Dillon will be the first driver since the late Dale Earnhardt to drive the iconic No. 3 car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Earnhardt fans will expect the No. 3 to run up front and win races. This will bring a lot of pressure on Dillon in 2014.

    Dillon also enters the season as the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award. He will have some tough competition from Kyle Larson and Justin Allgaier.

    Dillon has proved that he can handle the pressure in the past, by backing up his third-place finish in the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series with a Championship in the series last season.

    It will be fun to see how the young driver deals with the pressure and where the No. 3 car runs on the race track.

Tony Stewart

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Tony Stewart enters the 2014 season with a lot to prove for two reasons.

    Stewart’s 2013 season was a disaster. After getting off to a slow start, Smoke could not heat up during the summer like he usually does. Then a wreck in a Sprint Car race in Ohio ended his season. Stewart must prove he can bounce back from the tough season he had last year.

    Stewart Haas Racing made big changes at the end of the 2013 and Stewart will be held responsible if those changes do not work out. Ryan Newman has been released from the organization and Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are in. With Stewart, Harvick, Busch and Danica Patrick on the team, what could possibly go wrong?

    There is little doubt that Stewart is one of the best drivers in the sport and will be in the Hall of Fame when his career ends. He must not only get back to the dominant driver he once was, but must also ensure Stewart Haas Racing is not a flop next season.

Denny Hamlin

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Denny Hamlin had a horrible season in 2013. He was forced to miss four races after injuring his back in a wreck at Fontana. Hamlin was not the same driver the rest of the season. He finished 2013 with eight top-10 finishes.

    Hamlin ended the season on a positive note, as he won the final race at Homestead. Hopefully that momentum will carry over into the 2014 season.

    Once considered one of the drivers with the best chance to win his first championship, Hamlin will need to bounce back in 2014 to prove he still belongs in that category.

Jamie McMurray

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    With Juan Pablo Montoya out at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Jamie McMurray is now the leader of the team. The pressure will be on McMurray next season to not only win some races, but to help rookie Kyle Larson transition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

    McMurray is entering the last year of his contract at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. He performed well in some races last season, but he must be more consistent if the team is going to re-sign him at the end of the 2014 season.

Marcos Ambrose

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Marcos Ambrose is entering the last year of his contract at Richard Petty Motorsports. So far Ambrose has a career average finishing position of 19.9 and has only won two races in six years. He needs to run well in 2014 to return the following season.

    Richard Petty Motorsports has two talented young drivers in their development program. The team has been working with Ryan Truex and Corey Lajoie to eventually move up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The team probably would like to wait to move them to the highest level of racing, but if Ambrose does not show he can run up front, one of the young drivers could be in the No. 9 car in 2015.

Carl Edwards

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Carl Edwards is not only the leader of Roush Fenway Racing; he is also the top driver in the Ford garages.

    It was a bad year for Ford in 2013. Only two Fords made the Chase and the highest Ford in the standings was Joey Logano at No. 8. Edwards missed the Chase and finished a disappointing No. 13.

    Once a favorite to win the championship, Edwards now has to prove he can get back to where he was in 2011 when he had 19 top-five finishes and ended the season second in the point standings.

Ryan Newman

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Last season Ryan Newman had to lead the Stewart Haas Racing team after Tony Stewart was injured. Newman was able to make the Chase and finish No. 11 in the point standings.

    This season Ryan Newman will be the most experienced driver for Richard Childress Racing. The team will look to Newman for leadership and to be the driver from the team to make the Chase. It will not be an easy task for Newman, but he has proved in the past that he can overcome the odds.

    Newman has never been the favorite to win the major races in NASCAR, but he was able to win two of the most prestigious races in the sport. In 2008 Newman won the Daytona 500 and last season he was able to win the Brickyard 400.

    The pressure will be on Newman in 2014 to prove once again he can overcome the odds and lead Richard Childress Racing to a spot in the Chase.

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