NASCAR

Power Ranking the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookies

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

Power Ranking the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookies

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    Austin Dillon (left) and Kyle Larson are the top performing Sprint Cup rookies thus far this season.
    Austin Dillon (left) and Kyle Larson are the top performing Sprint Cup rookies thus far this season.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Trying to power rank the eight 2014 full-time rookie drivers in the Sprint Cup Series—well, there were eight drivers when the season began, that is—is more difficult than ranking the Cup regulars.

    The reason? So many moving parts and pieces, first-year drivers who are doing great and others who, frankly, haven't been so great.

    That's why ranking the field of rookies after the first 14 races of the season is an exercise in patience and tact—in part due to trying to find something nice to say about guys whose seasons haven't been so nice to them.

    That being said, we're going to give it a whirl. Send us some comments after you read through this article and let us know if you agree or think otherwise.

8. Parker Kligerman

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    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Why He's Here

    Parker Kligerman's stats for 2014 are abominable (more about that in the next paragraph). He's out of a job, his current prospects appear slim and he likely asks himself several times a day, "How the heck did I get here?" Things looked great and promising coming into the season, until Swan Racing imploded less than two months later.

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Kligerman made eight starts before Swan Racing shut its doors. In that time, he had four DNFs and his highest finish was 29th in the Daytona 500. It was all downhill from there, literally and figuratively.

    Kligerman finished his tenure with Swan Racing ranked 40th in Sprint Cup standings. He never completed a full race (all laps contested), though he still managed to earn $835,233 in winnings (one of the few bits of good news for him). His average start was 37.1 and his average finish was 37.2. And starting with Daytona, his finishes were: 29th, 42nd, 40th, 34th, 42nd, 41st, 40th, 30th.

    Ugh!

     

    What's Next?

    That is the $1 million question. Ever since he was plucked from his now nonexistent ride following Darlington, Kligerman has been knocking on more doors than a Bible salesman. He's even expanded his job search into the IndyCar world.

    The biggest problem he'll have in finding work is how those eight races played out: in a word, terribly. But don't get us wrong, Kligerman has a great deal of talent. He just needs to find a new team owner who will have the money and resources to further develop that talent, be it in NASCAR, IndyCar or another series.

7. Ryan Truex

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    Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

    Why He's Here

    The younger brother of Martin Truex Jr. is having a very difficult first season in Sprint Cup. He failed to qualify at Daytona and Texas, two of the biggest races thus far this season. And in the other 12 races he did qualify for, he wound up with DNFs in four of them (three crashes, one motor failure).

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Through the first 14 races, Ryan Truex is now 37th in the Sprint Cup standings. Failing to finish four races and completely missing two others is certainly not a promising debut for a first full season in the Cup series. Even worse, his best finish to date has been 30th (Martinsville). It's no wonder he's 37th in the standings.

     

    What's Next?

    Only 22 years old, Truex is a good, young talent, but we have to wonder if he wasn't brought up to NASCAR's big leagues a bit early. Another season in the Nationwide Series may have been a better idea, but when you are given the opportunity, you have to grab it. From here on out, the best Truex can do is log as many laps as he can. Experience will help him tremendously.

Alex Bowman

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Why He's Here 

    Ales Bowman is another example of a young (he's 21) driver who may have come up to the Cup Series too early. He had only one full season on the Nationwide circuit (last year, but to his credit he finished 11th in the final standings), but making the jump to Cup has proven difficult for Bowman.

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Bowman is 35th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Michigan. His best finish to date was 22nd at Fontana. To his credit, Bowman has qualified for all 14 races thus far, but he also has three DNFs (two crashes, one bad brakes). He seems like he's stuck in a vacuum of finishing between 28th and 36th, do so in the last nine races.

     

    What's Next?

    Just like Ryan Truex, Bowman needs more track time—a lot more. While he has a great opportunity with BK Racing, the kind of finishes Bowman has posted to date are not going to assure a long-term future with the team if those poor finishes continue.

    He may be better in the second half of the season as the Cup Series begins returning to tracks for a second go-round. That will be a big determining factor in how much Bowman has improved—if he does.

5. Cole Whitt

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    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Why He's Here

    Just like most other rookies, Cole Whitt is learning and has begun to show signs of improvement. But the fact remains he still hasn't cracked the top 30 in the standings. He's had only one somewhat decent finish, ending up 18th at Fontana. Admittedly, it's been a rough year, what with Swan Racing—the organization he began the season with—folding out from under him, but Whitt has made a nice transition and fit in quite well with his new organization, BK Racing.

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Whitt is 31st in the Sprint Cup standings. One thing of note is that, coming into Sunday's race at Michigan, he has shown a significant uptick in his finishing prowess, with five consecutive finishes between 21st (Talladega) and 30th (Pocono).

     

    What's Next?

    It would appear that given how he's done in his last five races in particular, Whitt is starting to get the hang of Cup racing—and his finishing results are showing that. As we move into the second half of the season and return visits to first-half tracks, we expect Whitt to continue to improve.

    Granted, each rung higher that he climbs on the Cup standings ladder will be more and more difficult to achieve, but if he can finish the year in the top 25, it will be a successful debut for the young driver from Alpine, California.

4. Michael Annett

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    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Why He's Here

    Michael Annett, who turns 28 on June 23, has logged the most time in the Nationwide Series of all eight rookies in the Cup Series, and that time has definitely helped him. But at the same time, we would have thought that being a veteran of more than 100 NNS races, he'd perform better than he has thus far. His best finish is 16th (Talladega), but pretty much every other showing has been 25th or worse.

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Annett is currently 30th in the Sprint Cup standings. He has two DNFs thus far this season (both crashes), and he's struggled to complete full races, with just a 91.9 percent finishing percentage through the first 14 events. One thing that he has going for him is driving for team owner Tommy Baldwin Jr., who is excellent when it comes to molding and teaching young drivers.

     

    What's Next?

    Annett is no stranger to 90 percent of the tracks on the Cup circuit, having run them numerous times during his Nationwide Series days. Admittedly, driving a Cup car is more difficult than an NNS car. Annett seems like the kind of driver that if he has one great breakthrough finish (perhaps a top-10), it could do a great deal for improving his confidence, as well as the motivation and inspiration for his team.

    We don't see a win anytime soon, but we think he can definitely get at least a few top-15s, if not higher, in the second half of the season.

3. Justin Allgaier

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Why He's Here

    The pride and joy of tiny Riverton, Illinois, has had a very strong rookie season. That's not really a surprise, considering Justin Allgaier's five-year run in the Nationwide Series, where he finished sixth, fourth, third, sixth and fifth in the standings. There's no question he was ready to make the jump to the Cup level this season. And while he's had a few bumps in the road, he's doing well.

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Allgaier is currently 29th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday's race at Michigan. The biggest thing that jumps out when looking at what he's done thus far this season is 10 finishes of 29th or higher. He's been very consistent in his performances, with a season-best showing of 17th at Bristol.

     

    What's Next?

    It's pretty clear that Allgaier is on a good pace in his progress as a Sprint Cup driver. Sure, we'd like to see more top-20 finishes, but that will come in time. He's learning and climbing forward. We expect that by season's end, if Allgaier continues his forward progress, he'll end up in the top 25 in the final standings, perhaps as high as 22nd or 23rd when 2014 is all said and done.

2. Austin Dillon

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Why He's Here

    Team owner and grandfather Richard Childress has taken a very methodical approach with Austin Dillon's development, and it's worked out quite well, with a Camping World Truck Series championship in 2011 and a Nationwide Series title in 2013. Dillon is more than ready to be a full-timer in the Sprint Cup Series and has shown that this season.

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Dillon is currently 14th in the Sprint Cup standings. He came into the season in a difficult position, what with bringing back the No. 3 to Sprint Cup competition for the first time since Dale Earnhardt was killed in 2001. And Dillon had to endure comparisons with the late driver and comments about bringing back the No. 3.

    But he's done quite well nonetheless. He has one top-10 finish, has an average finish of 16.6 and has done an outstanding job by not having even one DNF thus far.

     

    What's Next?

    Many people predicted that the battle for 2014 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors would come down to Dillon and Kyle Larson. And thus far, those predictions are pretty much spot-on.

    Dillon has a lineage and organization both predicated on success. He's done very well for a Cup rookie, having hovered in and around the top 10 and top 15 in the standings for the entire season thus far. Returning to tracks for the second time in the second half of the season should help him close the gap on Larson.

1. Kyle Larson

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Why He's Here

    Without question, Kyle Larson has had the best start of the eight Sprint Cup rookies in 2014. While there was concern that he was too young (21) and didn't have enough experience coming into the season, he's more than shown critics that he's the real deal.

    With three top-five and six top-10 finishes in his first 14 starts, Larson is at the doorstep of Victory Lane. His first win is arguably right around the corner. We wouldn't be surprised to see him win Sunday at Michigan, given how well he did at the track's twin, Fontana, earlier this season (he finished second).

     

    Key 2014 Stats

    Larson is 10th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Michigan. His key stats include completing 99 percent of all laps this season, a 14.3 finishing average per race, just one DNF and the aforementioned three top-fives and six top-10 finishes. That he's ranked higher than many Sprint Cup veterans—including former champions like Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, as well as guys like Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer—says a lot about just how good Larson truly is.

    Oh yes, one more thing: He's only going to get better!

     

    What's Next?

    Larson is definitely on a fast track, both on the race track and off. In the last week, he moved into a massive mansion (his first home) and announced Friday on Twitter that he will be a father by year's end.

    Larson has proved he has what it takes to succeed in Sprint Cup, and given where he's at in the standings currently, he has a legitimate chance to not only make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but also to win at least a couple of races and end the season with a top-15 finish in the standings.

    This kid is the real deal, and if he continues to impress, he could be NASCAR's next superstar and a champion-in-waiting.

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