Fantasy NASCAR: 8 rookie drivers to watch

by Brian Polking on February 10, 2014 @ 15:30:51 PDT

 

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Last year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick created a little buzz around the Rookie of the Year Award for the first time in ages, but when all was said and done, their off-track romance made more headlines than their on-track performance ever did.

Fortunately for fantasy owners, the 2014 rookie class finally seems destined to produce a few drivers who will make a substantial impact from the get-go. As many as seven drivers could compete for ROY honors by the time the season begins, but in the meantime, here is a closer look at what fantasy owners can expect out of the members of the 2014 Cup Series rookie class.

Austin Dillon

While Dillon has been in the headlines this offseason mainly because he will be the first driver to get behind the wheel of the No. 3 in the Cup Series since the death of Dale Earnhardt, his on-track results should do most of the talking once the season begins. After all, Dillon won the Truck Series title in 2011 and won the Nationwide Series title last year. Sure, he benefits from having Richard Childress as a grandfather, but for fantasy purposes, who cares how he landed his ride? The bottom line is that Dillon heads into 2014 with a full-time ride for a quality organization, giving him a chance to make an immediate impact in fantasy leagues.

Of course, success in lower series has never guaranteed instant success at the Cup level, but Dillon did enjoy some moderate success in 11 Cup Series starts last season. He compiled a 23.1 average finish, cracking the top 15 in both starts at Michigan. Now, he will be driving for an RCR organization that made Kevin Harvick a title contender the past few seasons and has made Paul Menard a top-20 driver. Throw in the fact the he has traditionally been at his best at the intermediate ovals that make up the bulk of the Cup schedule, and the groundwork for a respectable rookie season is there. Look for Dillon to be the most consistent of the rookies and finish around the top 20 on a regular basis with a top-10 run from time to time.

Kyle Larson

The hype around Larson has been building over the past couple of seasons, and the youngster flashed enough potential in his first Nationwide season to land a full-time Cup ride, replacing Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing. Larson's stock car resume includes a K&N Pro Series East title in 2012, a Truck Series victory and Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2013. His overall racing resume includes even more accolades in a variety of cars on a variety surfaces, and Larson may have the most upside of any rookie in recent memory.

Granted, his Cup Series experience only entails the four starts he made last season, but Larson did log a top-15 at Homestead-Miami in the season finale, and he was headed to another top-15 at Charlotte in the fall before an engine issue ended his night. Sure, he might run a little too hard at times, but every mistake is likely to be offset by an impressive performance. Expect some ups and downs from Larson in 2014, but he could easily lead all rookies in top-10s.

Justin Allgaier

Allgaier is expected to compete for Rookie of the Year honors in the Cup Series in 2014 as the full-time driver for the Phoenix Racing No. 51 team. The former Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year has enjoyed a lot of success in the lower series, winning races and finishing in the top five in points. Meanwhile, Phoenix Racing has been busy this offseason, landing a sponsor and signing crew chief Steven Addington for the no. 51 team and starting a second, part-time team. In short, the new organization seems serious about becoming more competitive, and Allgaier should be the beneficiary.

Based on his four Cup starts alone, it is tough to make much of an argument for Allgaier. He compiled a 30.3 average finish in four starts at the end of 2013 in the No. 51, finishing outside the top 25 in three of his starts. However, I already mentioned the major changes that have gone on with the team since the end of last season, and better equipment should do wonders for a driver who was as consistent as they come at the Nationwide level the past few years. Although Allgaier and his team will be a work in progress, he will have a great chance to be a top-25 driver in 2014 when all is said and done.

More rookie drivers are around the corner

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About Brian Polking

Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.

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