Predicting Where Each Sprint Cup Rookie Will Finish in 2014
With the Daytona 500 less than a month away, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is faced with one of the deepest and most diverse rookie classes in recent memory. Six drivers will be vying for the honor of best rookie in the 2014 Cup season.
While some of the drivers won't have a shot at winning the award, there will be a close battle at the top of the list. Perhaps it will be one of the closest rookie battles in the last decade.
Here's a look at how the 2014 Sprint Cup Series rookies will fare during the season:
Although there are some big changes in the Swan Racing camp, don't expect anything more than a couple of lucky top 10s from Parker Kligerman's No. 30 Toyota. It won't be for lack of effort on the young driver's part. Kligerman is a born racer.
Aside from winning the pole in his Nationwide debut at Kansas in 2009, Kligerman has been a consistent driver in both the Camping World Truck Series, where he has a win (2012 Talladega) and a best points finish of fifth (2012), and the Nationwide Series, where he finished ninth in points last year with a season-best finish of third at Road America.
But, if anything, this feels like a rushed move on Kligerman's part. He's with an underfunded, unproven team and if he expects to establish his footing as a Sprint Cup driver, he'll have his work cut out for him.
In the 2013 Nationwide season he posted three top fives and 13 top 10s, with emphasis being put on his mile and mile-and-a-half efforts while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. But if he is to translate that consistency to the Sprint Cup, he'll have a rough time with Swan Racing.
Of all the rookies in the 2014 Sprint Cup RotY class, expect Cole Whitt to struggle the most. His claim to fame happens to be one week in 2011 where he led the points as a rookie driving for Stacy Compton in the Camping World Truck Series. Whitt is a talented driver who has been getting stuck with sub-par equipment.
In 2012, he ran a moderately successful rookie campaign in the Nationwide Series, finishing seventh in points with four top fives and 14 top 10s. However, that was with JR Motorsports, an organization with equipment that trumps anything Swan Racing is able to put together.
Whitt's a strong road racer, so perhaps he'll do well at Sonoma and Watkins Glen in the No. 26, but that would be a stretch. Other than yet, expect a fair share of DNQs and DNFs.
The pairing of Tommy Baldwin Racing and Michael Annett may not be such a bad idea. Sure, TBR is another unproven team in the Sprint Cup garage, but like Annett, there has been much improvement since the team's inception in 2009.
Meanwhile, had Annett not been injured at Daytona in February of 2013, a win could have been a major possibility in the Nationwide Series. Since his rookie year in 2009, Annett's stock had been on the rise, going from just four top 10s and a 10th place points finish in 2009 to six top fives, 17 top 10s, and a fifth-place points finish in 2012.
The move to TBR could be seen as questionable, considering that Annett has yet to win a Nationwide race and missed a substantial amount of the 2013 season due to injury. Yet Annett not only brings much needed sponsorship in the form of Pilot Flying J Travel Centers, but he also brings fresh input that could possibly help the team grow.
Considering Annett will make his Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500, expect him to make every race this season as well as scoring a few top 10s. TBR cars have done exceptionally well on the restrictor-plate tracks, so look for Annett to shine at Daytona and Talladega.
Ryan Truex's rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series may not be as bad as originally thought. Sure, in three starts in 2013 he finished no better than 32nd at Dover in September, but that was driving the No. 51 Chevy for James Finch/Harry Scott which has had a history of being a sub-par team.
He will be driving for BK Racing this season which is a step up, albeit a small one. For the past two seasons BK Racing hasn't tasted an ounce of success although they were devoting their resources to two drivers who weren't able to deliver. The organization is taking the right step in devoting precious time and money to two young drivers (Truex's teammate will be Alex Bowman). As a result both team and drivers will be able to grow.
Truex may not earn RotY, and he looks to have his work cut out for him by way of strong finishes, but he is good at taking care of his equipment. Expect 2014 to be a year of growth for Truex.
We could be surprised at what Alex Bowman does this season. We could be pleasantly surprised at his performance.
Sure, he'll be in the still-young BK Racing camp. But as previously mentioned, BK Racing is making the right decision in devoting their time and resources into Bowman and teammate Ryan Truex. But while Truex has been around long enough to have semi-established himself as a middle-of-the-road driver, Bowman is somewhat of a hot commodity.
He's a consistent qualifier for one. Secondly, in 36 Nationwide starts he has only one DNF because of an engine failure at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September last year. That goes to show that Bowman takes better care of his car than most drivers competing today.
He'll probably go without a win in 2014, but don't be surprised if he finishes in the top five a couple of times to go along with a handful of top 10s. Bowman will be a RotY wild card.
Justin Allgaier is the ultimate dark horse in the RotY race for 2014. It may sound crazy, considering the recent history of the No. 51 Chevrolet, but with new backing by HScott Motorsports and Allgaier's longtime Nationwide sponsor Brandt coming on board, what's left is a rejuvenated team with a fresh driver.
Allgaier has yet to disappoint. As expected of a limited introductory schedule, he has had his issues. But he hasn't been sent home following qualifying, and with the exception of a crash at Kansas he managed to keep his nose clean.
On top of that, Allgaier doesn't drive himself into a rough spot. He doesn't take too many risks, and although that could come back to haunt him, his main goal in 2014 is to keep his car out of trouble and learn how things are in the Sprint Cup Series.
He takes good care of his cars, and although that trait has only earned him three wins in the Nationwide Series, he has been at the top of the points list for the better part of his Nationwide career.
Overcoming Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon looks to be a tall order for Allgaier, but if any rookie can get it done it would be him.
A lot of fans this season are claiming that Austin Dillon will be the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year. With his credentials and success it would be hard to see otherwise, especially considering that he has the backing of his championship-winning grandfather, Richard Childress. It's easy to see that over the years, Childress has had more success than Chip Ganassi, car owner of Dillon's closest RotY challenger, Kyle Larson.
However, although it is highly likely that Dillon will be successful many times over, it will probably be closer than his fans will let on. More often than not, there have been drivers who have won titles in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series only to flounder in the Sprint Cup Series, so Dillon needs to be aware of what could happen.
That's not to say he isn't talented. Five truck wins, two Nationwide wins, the 2011 CWTS title and the 2013 Nationwide title (a title he earned on consistency alone) should go to show that he is a kid who knows what he is doing.
On top of that, he has only two DNFs in 77 starts in the Nationwide Series (both due to crashes) and only one DNF in 13 Sprint Cup starts (his spectacular crash at Talladega in October last year), so he is incredible when it comes to staying out of trouble. That is essential for success in the Sprint Cup Series.
He's at his most comfortable on tracks ranging from a mile and a half to two miles. The faster he can go, the better. So with that being said, look for him to put the No. 3 up front when the Sprint Cup is on a track that size.
It's easy to be high on Kyle Larson in this day and age, because if anything, he is literally the second coming of Tony Stewart.
What will make this rookie race so fierce and fun to watch will be Larson's talent versus Austin DIllon's backing. Because when it comes down to it, the 2014 Chili Bowl winner has immense talent and is why he will be the likely winner of this year's rookie race.
The acquisition of Larson is a victory in itself for Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates because in recent years their team, while sporadically victorious, has only made the Chase once (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2009). Sure, among those victories happened to be a Daytona 500 and a Brickyard 400. Yet lightning hasn't struck twice for Ganassi teams.
All that is poised to change with Larson. He'll race anything anywhere, and on top of that, he's had success in everything he's run, from one degree to another. Sure, he was winless in 2013 in the Nationwide Series, but he came close.
He will make a statement in the No. 42 this year and he will be a winner. He is the best shot to win the Rookie of the Year title.
Follow Joseph on Twitter: @ThatSheltonGuy