First and foremost, I want to make one thing clear: I have absolutely no problem with Danica Patrick.
I hope she has all the success in the world.
However, the media storm that Patrick has brought with her first foray into NASCAR has overshadowed some very talented drivers.
Patrick has all of the skills and marketability to succeed in NASCAR. I am very confident that she will do well. But these are 10 drivers that fans should become familiar with. They will be making a name for themselves in the very near future.
These drivers have yet to step into the bright lights of the Sprint Cup Series. They are still working their way up the ladder to the big time.
Soon they will be doing battle with Danica, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, and the rest of the stars in NASCAR's top series.
Here are the up-and-comers.
10. Austin Dillon, 19, Lewisville, NC
Dillon's name should be pretty familiar to anyone with knowledge of NASCAR. He is the grandson of Richard Childress and son of RCR's general manager, Mike Dillon. With a lineage like that, it's no shock that he has a chance to make a huge splash on the national stage.
He was the Camping World East Rookie of the Year in 2008 and had one win in the series. He is a multi-time winner on the dirt, winning in both Late Models and Sprint cars, including two major wins in the FASTRAK Late Model races at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2007 and 2009.
What makes Austin a shoo-in to have success is that his grandfather will be putting him in some of the top equipment in the sport every race.
Also, look out for his younger brother Ty, a winner of the FASTRAK race in 2008.
9. Parker Kligerman, 19, Westport, CT
Kligerman made a name for himself last year in the ARCA RE/MAX series, winning nine of the 21 races and finishing second in the final standings by only five points.
He signed a developmental deal with Penske Racing in 2008 and proceeded to sit on the pole for his first ever Nationwide Series race last October.
Prior to moving over to stock cars, Kligerman was an open-wheel racer who won the Formula TR Pro Series 1600 class title in 2006 by winning 11 of 14 races.
Not bad for a kid from an area of the country not really known for producing stars.
8. Justin Lofton, 24, Westmorland, CA
Lofton was the man that beat Kligerman to win the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series title, winning six races along the way and posting 15 top fives in those 21 races.
He began his career racing downhill mountain bikes in California before moving to the four-wheel vehicles, even winning a Late Model race at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.
In 2010, he is running the entire Camping World Truck Series for Red Horse Racing.
7. Ryan Truex, 18, Mayetta, NJ
Another driver with racing in his genes, Ryan is the younger brother of Sprint Cup star Martin Truex, Jr.
Ryan was the 2009 Camping World East Series champion, winning three times and racking up eight top fives in 11 races.
Ryan is currently a developmental driver for Michael Waltrip Racing and plans to make several starts in the Nationwide Series later this year.
6. Tayler Malsam, 21, Seattle, WA
Malsam hasn't put up any great stats yet in his first year-plus in the Camping World Truck Series, but he benefits from being aligned with one of the top stars in the sport.
He posted 10 top 10s in his first year, finishing outside the top 10 in points, and also ended up second to Johnny Sauter in the Rookie of the Year standings.
However, he was tabbed by Kyle Busch to drive for Busch's new truck team. That can only mean good things for the young Mr. Malsam.
When one of the unquestioned stars of the sports calls and offers you a job, you jump at that chance.
5. Timothy Peters, 29, Providence, NC
Peters is a little older than most of the other drivers on this list but could very well be a top contender with a few lucky breaks.
He struggled early in his NASCAR career, bouncing around from Bobby Hamilton's truck series team to a developmental deal with Richard Childress.
In 2008, he started running his own truck team and in 2009 partnered with Red Horse Racing to put him in a much more competitive ride. That partnership allowed him to win his first race at Martinsville last year. He then went on to pick up a win in a thrilling finish at this season's opening race in Daytona.
He currently is second in points behind Todd Bodine, and with a good showing this year he could have some top teams requesting his driving services.
4. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., 22, Olive Branch, MS
Stenhouse garnered attention by winning the Rookie of the Year honors in both the Midget and Sprint Car series on the USAC tour while driving for Tony Stewart in 2007.
He then moved up to racing in ARCA and won two races in the 2008 season, his first coming in only his sixth start.
The former go-kart racer has signed with Roush Fenway Racing and has made several starts in the Nationwide Series.
While he hasn't had the top finishes yet, he is driving for a team that has a history of turning its young drivers into top stars. Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle all started out at Roush's truck team and are now bonafide stars in the Cup Series.
3. Trevor Bayne, 19, Knoxville, TN
Bayne is another one of Michael Waltrip's development drivers along with Ryan Truex.
He collected numerous wins and championships while racing go-karts and even competed alongside fellow phenom Joey Logano in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Southern Division before being signed by Dale Earnhardt Inc.
He had one win and a fourth-place finish in the Camping World East Series standings for DEI before losing the ride due to the slumping economy.
He was scooped up by MWR and rewarded the team by qualifying on the outside pole at Nashville in his first start in the Nationwide Series. He earned a career-best seventh-place finish at O'Reilly Raceway Park in the same race that he captured his first pole.
2. Ricky Carmichael, 30, Clearwater, FL
Carmichael is by far the most well-known driver to anyone who has seen a motocross race in the last decade.
The "G.O.A.T.", or Greatest of All Time, as he is known in the motocross world, was a legend in his own right before transitioning over to NASCAR. He won 59 races on the AMA Supercross tour, as well as five championships over a six-year span.
He decided he wanted to prove himself in the world of stock cars and began racing part-time for Kevin Harvick in the Camping World Truck Series.
This year he is running the full season for an upstart Turner Motorsports team.
1. Justin Allgaier, 23, Riverton, IL
Allgaier has had the most success in NASCAR of anyone on this list.
He finished the 2009 Nationwide Series sixth in points, easily winning Rookie of the Year honors in the process. He earned one pole and three top fives along the way.
The 2010 season has already seen even more success for the top prospect for Penske Racing. He won the fourth race of the year at Bristol Motor Speedway, holding off his teammate Brad Keselowski for his first win in NASCAR.
He also currently sits third in points, ahead of former champions Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
It's still early in the season, but he has proved that he can certainly hang with the big boys.
Honorable mention: Chrissy Wallace, Brian Scott, James Buescher, Jason White, Michael Annett, Scott Lagasse, Jr., Nelson Piquet, Jr.
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