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2013 Top Rookies: Newcomers to Watch

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A four-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the 2016 Racing Writer of the Year. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

The 2013 rookie class will be a small group once again. In fact, this year's field has only one eligible candidate for Rookie of the Year at the time of this writing. Danica Patrick has too many Sprint Cup starts to qualify for the award even though this will be her first full-time schedule in NASCAR's top division. Still, we have some talented, young drivers that will be making some part-time forays into the world of Sprint Cup Series racing from the lower divisions of the sport. The transition from the Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series to the top division of NASCAR is always a big adjustment for young drivers. Joey Logano's performance in 2011 is a good example of how a future star of the sport even takes some time to adjust to NASCAR's top racing series. We'll look at the lone ROTY candidate and some of the young, up-and-coming drivers who will likely make part-time starts in the Sprint Cup Series this season, and give you some in-depth analysis on which rookie drivers are the ones to watch closely in the future.

1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Owner: Roush Fenway Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

ARCA Series21231014
Nationwide Series106883962
Sprint Cup Series50000

The two-time Nationwide Series champion will be making his big move into the Sprint Cup Series in 2013. The Roush Fenway Racing youngster has piled up eight victories and two championships in the last two Nationwide Series campaigns. There's no doubt that Stenhouse has world-class driving talent, but now he gets to compete against the very best in stock car racing. He takes over the famous No. 17 Ford that Matt Kenseth vacated at the end of last season, so Stenhouse will have the very best sponsors and equipment right out of the gate. He's not completely unfamiliar with the Sprint Cup Series level of competition. Stenhouse has made five starts in NASCAR's top division over the last two seasons. The highlights in that handful of starts are an 11th-place finish in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 and an impressive 12th-place finish in this past season's AAA 400 at Dover. The talented youngster should hit the ground running in the upcoming season and easily challenge the 10-to-12 Top 10 mark in his first year.

2. Danica Patrick
Owner: Stewart Haas Racing
Manufacturer: Chevy
ARCA Series10001
Nationwide Series580117
Sprint Cup Series100000

Patrick's warm-up is over and now it's time to get down to the serious business of racing weekly in the Sprint Cup Series. With just 10 starts under her belt, the brief experience will have to be enough in 2013. Patrick returns to the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 team in the upcoming season and she hopes to take a big leap in performance. If she wants to be more than just a media fascination, Patrick will have to take some steps forward in her first full season of competition. Improvement finally came at the end of this past season. Patrick made five of her 10 starts during the Chase for the Cup and the late-season cramming paid dividends. She posted her first career Top 20 with a 17th-place finish at Phoenix and she stayed on the lead lap the week before to finish a respectable 24th at Fort Worth. The part-time slate worked out to an average finish of 28.3, so improvement is expected in 2013. Just how much is what remains in doubt. Patrick faces a potentially up-and-down campaign in her first full season of Sprint Cup Series racing.

3. Austin Dillon
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet
ARCA Series40023
Camping World Truck Series524121732
Nationwide Series44231627
Sprint Cup Series20000

The 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion just finished off his first full season of racing in the Nationwide Series. To no one's surprise, Dillon finished an impressive third-place in the final driver standings and picked up a pair of victories. The grandson of team owner Richard Childress will once again spend a full season racing in the Nationwide Series in 2013, but he should make room for a handful of Sprint Cup Series appearances during the coming year. With two Cup starts already under his belt, Dillon should handle himself well in any limited action he may face. The 22-year-old will focus primarily on winning the Nationwide Series championship in 2013, but fantasy racing players will need to watch the weekly entry list closely. Any time Dillon takes to the track in a Cup car in the upcoming season, he presents a golden opportunity for a spot start in weekly lineup leagues.

4. Cole Whitt
Owner: TBD
Manufacturer: TBD
Camping World Truck Series2701211
Nationwide Series3600414
Sprint Cup Series70000

Another driver that seems to be on the fast track to raise up the NASCAR ranks is Whitt. After two successful seasons in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series, we're starting to see Whitt's name appear on the Sprint Cup entry list from time to time. Whitt picked up 11 Top-10 finishes and finished a respectable ninth in the rookie season in the truck series. He followed that up in 2012 with 14 Top-10 finishes and an even more impressive seventh-place finish in the final Nationwide Series standings of last year. With only seven Sprint Cup Series starts, Whitt has a lot more experience to gain and it will likely come in 2013. He spent most of last year start-and-parking for a couple different teams, most of which came for Stacy Compton's Turn One Racing team. It remains to be seen who he will race for in the upcoming season, but it's certain his impact will be insignificant for the time being.

5. Kelly Bires
Owner: Go Green Racing
Manufacturer: Ford
ARCA Series30013
Camping World Truck Series80001
Nationwide Series8800313
Sprint Cup Series30000

Bires has been around NASCAR for a few years now. At 27 years of age he's hardly a youngster in the sport. He got his first taste of Sprint Cup Series action in 2012 with the small Go Green Racing team. Bires made three starts in six attempts while sharing this No. 79 Ford with Scott Speed. As of this writing Bires' schedule in 2013 is yet to be determined. However, there is a really good chance that Go Green Racing will deploy again in the Sprint Cup Series and use Bires behind the wheel. This team's start-and-park status severely limits Bires' impact. However, it's clear that he has the gift of wheeling a stock car around the oval, so if he's ever given the opportunity to race there's little doubt that he would impress.