NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 2014: The Year of the Rookie

Welcome back, my friends, to another year of speed and hopefully fun. While 2013 ended on a predictable note, at least after the controversy of Richmond, there are many things happening at the start of this season that may manage to jump NASCAR out of its proverbial rut. However, despite a new Chase/Points system, new qualifying structure and a less opaque penalty system, I’m not looking to the sanctioning body to bring about the true winds of change. Something more exciting is coming to our track beyond new tricks for the Fantasy Leaguers to follow. We have a real rookie class!

We haven’t had this many rookies start a season and declare for the rookie class since 2006, when Denny Hamlin took home the RoTY honors. There are so many new faces to the Cup Series, and sitting in a few competitive cars, we may actually have more to talk about every week beyond how far down into the 30’s they finished.

All this excites me. Fresh blood will effect change in our sport far more than a new timing ticker on our TV screen—even if I do like the new FOX sidebar that replaces the old scroll. It will force new dialogue in the booth, hopefully challenging tried and true veterans to up their game. Who knows? New faces just might squeeze Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson out of Victory Lane a time or two. This makes me want to jump up and down and yell, “Yes!”

Thus, instead of following a single driver for the weekly Sonya Stat in 2014, at the bottom of Fan’s View this year you will be finding the stats for the Top 3 Rookies after each race. I fully expect Austin Dillon to steal most of the spotlight, driving his Grandpappy’s No. 3 Chevy. But the competition for the Rookie of the Year trophy will not be boring. Kyle Larson will be driving the wheels off his Target emblazoned No. 42. If there’s a driver in the roster who can win through talent and determination, Larson will be the one.

However, we can’t simply write off the remaining six competitors. Each of them have made their own noise in the Nationwide and Camping World Series over the years. Who are these six horsemen?

In the No. 51 we have Justin Allgaier, a charming young man who has more than a little fire under the hood. He may anger more than a few veterans with his impatience. And hey, the No. 51 has been actually capable of exploding into the Top 10 from time to time.

In the No. 7 there’s Michael Annett. Time and again we discussed who wasn’t getting enough love on television simply because the Cup boys were crowding out the NNS regulars. While Tommy Baldwin’s team keeps clawing their way up the ladder, Annett will finally be getting a little bit of love by rising into the Sprint Cup Series.

Alex Bowman will be piloting the No. 23. A son of the west, he has made an effort to race any car he could hop into for the last two years, with considerable success. He simply hasn’t enjoyed the high profile of a corporate development driver. I suspect there’s more talent hidden in Bowman than we’ve had the chance to see, yet.

Parker Kligerman moves up to the Cup Series after enjoying quite the year at KBM. If Larson and Dillon hadn’t stunk up the NNS show last year, Kligerman would’ve been the one in the top notch rides this year. Instead, he’ll be running the No. 30 car for Swan Racing. I only hope the S&P flu doesn’t sit him down more often than not. As it is, the equipment will not be able to stand up to his talent.

Joining Parker at Swan Racing will be Cole Whitt in the No. 26. (I still can’t say his name without echoing Family Guy’s Cool Whip jingle.) Another driver who has had to elbow his way into the spotlight past interloping Cup drivers, despite solid wheel skills. Whitt will also suffer at the hands of his team.

Finally, Ryan Truex will be running in the No. 83 at BK Racing. Both the Truex brothers suffer from a near silent PR presence. As good as Ryan may be behind the wheel, he has failed to inspire a fan following through wit and charisma. Such is the life of a stock car driver these days. I suspect we’ll see the No. 83 feature in more wrecks than true competition, just as last year. Their machines just tend to be weak.

And there you have it, the Rookie Class of 2014. Big and bad. This should be the indoctrination of at least two, possibly four, long term entrants into the Sprint Cup Series. While the fans and more experienced teams sort out new rules and regulations, these young men will be figuring out how to stay on track for a long and prosperous career. I am excited for them all.

SONYA’S STAT
Top Three Rookies
Daytona 500 Sunday Front Row Qualifying

1.) Austin Dillon in the Richard Childress No. 3 Chevrolet P1 ( 196.019 mph)
2.) Michael Annett in the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Chevrolet P18 (194.574)
3.) Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chip Gannassi Chevrolet P24 (194.410)

Annett and Larson will be competing Thursday to establish their final starting positions for the Daytona 500.

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