Erik Jones makes his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend with a start at Kansas Speedway for Joe Gibbs Racing – that is, unless you count his partial race filling in for Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway last month, and we’re not.
His entrance into the Cup Series makes for what has already been a fairly interesting 2015 in that two drivers who are being counted on as the future of the sport will have made their debut in the series this year, following Chase Elliott at Martinsville Speedway.
Four others of varying levels of intrigue have joined them in making Cup debuts: Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, Jeb Burton and Matt Crafton, plus a failed attempt from Tanner Berryhill. More certainly are to come.
But who are those drivers? Who could get the call to the big leagues sometime before the end of November, either by virtue of performance or because they had the money to do it for a ride-buying operation? More importantly, who should?
Try these on for size.
Darrell Wallace Jr.
The obvious choice! Roush Fenway Racing has been known to field a separate car here and there lately for its younger contingent, like Trevor Bayne last year (not that it resulted in anything more than a DNQ) or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pre-rookie season. Darrell Wallace Jr. hasn’t been a dominating presence in his first full Xfinity Series season, but after multiple Truck Series wins and the Roush co-sign, it’s time to give him at least a one-off shot. Maybe at Daytona or Talladega? He’s been around so long at this point that it just feels strange that he hasn’t had at least one start, right?
He’s one of NASCAR’s best at doing a lot with a little. Ryan Sieg‘s family-owned RSS Racing has slowly progressed through the ranks of NASCAR’s national series, starting with the Truck Series and moving up to NXS on a full-time basis last year. Should Sieg run for his own team in Cup, too? Hey, the No. 39 is open, certainly. But Sieg also seems like a solid bet for someone like Go FAS Racing, if the money/opportunity presented itself. That said, Sieg and co. are off to a sluggish start in NXS, so it may be best to get their ducks in a row there first.
Ooh, controversial! Timothy Peters hasn’t raced higher than the Camping World Truck Series since 2007, back when he was a flavor of the week at Richard Childress Racing. Since then, he’s been one of the Truck Series’ best while driving for Red Horse Racing, winning eight races since 2009. Too old? Far too much time spent in trucks? Maybe, but Crafton made his Cup debut this year, and he’s four years Peters’s senior. He’d be cool to see in a one-off at, say, Martinsville, given his past success there.
Basically a similar situation as Wallace given that they’re at the same team (and if both race in Cup, all three Roush young guns will have made their debuts this year after Buescher did so), but with an added bonus: money! Ryan Reed brings the funding Wallace can’t exactly provide, which makes him a more desirable one-off in that the finances may not be in as dire circumstances if a rookie wrecks the car. He has shown he can win, too, after his season-opening Daytona victory.
An incredibly pleasant surprise so far in 2015 has been Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing’s main NXS rookie (as in the one that was going to get most of the attention before Jones came along with an expanded schedule in place of Busch). Suarez didn’t exactly impress in his two-race stint last year, so a full schedule for such an unproven competitor was… questionable. Instead, he’s rattled off three top 10s, one of those a near-win at Bristol. In fact, his short-track game has been on point. Let’s see him in a Cup car at one of those tracks. Seriously.