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2014 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 2014 rookie class will be one of our biggest and most talented groups in some time. In fact, this year's field has six eligible candidates for Rookie of the Year at the time of this writing. Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are arguably the most talented of this group, and they certainly have the best team support, so we expect this duo to do battle all season long for the coveted ROTY award. In addition to our four full-time rookies we have some 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. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s performance in 2013 is a good example of how even a future star of the sport takes some time to adjust to NASCAR's top racing series. We'll take a look at the ROTY candidates 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 this season.

1. Austin Dillon
Owner: Richard Childress Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

ARCA Series50024
Camping World Truck Series555121834
Nationwide Series772103153
Sprint Cup Series130000

The 2011 Camping World Truck Series and 2013 Nationwide Series champion makes his move into full-time Sprint Cup Series racing this season. Dillon will take over the vacant No. 29 team of Kevin Harvick and the car number changes to the No. 3 that Dale Earnhardt made famous. Needless to say, there will be a lot of attention focused on the grandson of team owner Richard Childress. His 13 starts of Cup Series experience will have to be enough for the big demands and expectations for this driver and team. However, we feel that Dillon will be up to the challenge. He is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year and he'll have all the team and equipment support that Childress can muster. We don't expect a wildly successful rookie season like Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch, but we don't expect Dillon will be far off that. The ceiling is high and this young driver has the talent and backing to achieve it.

2. Kyle Larson
Owner: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

K&N Pro Series East1421812
ARCA Series20011
Camping World Truck Series61035
Nationwide Series3300917
Sprint Cup Series40000

While Larson has less of a pedigree than Austin Dillon, he is no less talented. The new driver of EGR's No. 42 entry is just on a faster track to the Sprint Cup Series. After winning the 2012 K&N Pro Series East championship, Larson swept right into a Nationwide Series ride with Turner Scott Motorsports last season. After a campaign that had nine Top-5 and 17 Top-10 finishes, Larson finished a respectable eighth in the final driver standings and took rookie honors for the series. Add to that a surprising victory in a spot start in the Camping World Truck Series (Rockingham) last year, and the 20-year-old had a pretty big season in 2013. Larson also managed to squeeze in four Cup starts at the end of the year and that will be valuable experience to start 2014. Larson is raw, but wildly talented and we expect him to give Dillon a pretty good run for his money in the Rookie of the Year competition.

3. Justin Allgaier
Owner: Phoenix Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

ARCA Series86823145
Camping World Truck Series80000
Nationwide Series174342984
Sprint Cup Series40000

At 27, Allgaier is the eldest of the rookie class. He brings more experience in NASCAR's upper divisions than Dillon and Larson combined. Allgaier's three victories are highlighted by three seasons of finishing inside the Top 5 of the final Nationwide Series standings. While the Turner Scott Motorsports driver never has been a big threat to win the championship in his five full seasons of racing in the Nationwide Series, he has been a steady performer. The No. 51 team of Phoenix Racing is looking for some stability after a couple campaigns of the driver carousel. Allgaier will have limited potential since this race team is still climbing the ladder in NASCAR's top division, but Harry Scott's recent purchase of the team will have an impact. Allgaier got in four starts in the team's Cup car in the closing stages of 2013, and that will only help him to make the adjustment as we head into the new season.

4. Michael Annett
Owner: Tommy Baldwin Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

ARCA Series102158
Camping World Truck Series80012
Nationwide Series16300734

Like Justin Allgaier, Annett is also a “seasoned” rookie in this 2014 class. He is also 27-years-old and has well over 150 Nationwide Series starts to his credit. Annett finished a career-best fifth in the final 2012 driver standings of that series. The one thing that separates this driver from other rookies in the field is his lack of experience in a Sprint Cup car. Annett has no starts in NASCAR's top division so that will be a big disadvantage compared to the rest of these young drivers. Tommy Baldwin Racing has put Annett in the driver's seat of Dave Blaney's old ride at TBR, the No. 7 Chevrolet. Considering the lack of experience and the nature of this race team, it will be a steep learning curve in 2014. Annett is up to the task of growing with this team, but it's going to take some time.

5. Ryan Blaney
Owner: Penske Racing
Manufacturer: Ford

K&N Pro Series East70024
ARCA Series50345
Camping World Truck Series31221018
Nationwide Series1610210

Blaney won't see much action this season, but that doesn't mean he's not as talented as the other drivers of the rookie class. In fact, he has made a splash very quickly with three victories in 47 combined Truck Series and Nationwide Series starts. Blaney has been one of the most impressive young drivers of the last two seasons in these two racing series. Blaney should get a couple spot starts in Penske Racing's third, part-time car, the No. 12 Ford. While his impact will be small in 2014, all eyes should be on the Penske development driver. Blaney has already accomplished so much at just 19-years-old and in only two seasons of competition. He will race full-time in the Truck Series once again, in pursuit of that championship, but there's no mistaking that Blaney is one of the rising stars of the future in NASCAR.

6. Parker Kligerman
No. NA
Owner: Swan Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

ARCA Series23901420
Camping World Truck Series49121325
Nationwide Series5101318
Sprint Cup Series20000

The 22-year-old gets an exceptional opportunity this season. Kligerman spent the last five years racing in the Truck Series and Nationwide Series, and performing at a high level. He will get a shot at Rookie of the Year honors with the growing Swan Racing team. Kligerman spent last season competing with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. He collected 13 Top-10 finishes and ended the season an impressive ninth in the final driver standings. Considering what Kligerman has accomplished in his brief career, his outlook is bright. He'll have to do some growing and learning in this opportunity with this small race team. Swan is growing quickly and it could take some time for the performance to catch up with the shop and other aspects of the operation. However, Kligerman is just as talented as many of the drivers in this rookie class, and it will show up on the track occasionally this year.

7. Cole Whitt
Owner: Swan Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

K&N Pro Series East100267
Camping World Truck Series2701211
Nationwide Series5100418
Sprint Cup Series140000

Whitt is the other half of the one-two rookie punch of Swan Racing in 2014. He comes over from TriStar Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and expands to his first full-time schedule in the Sprint Cup Series. However, this is not Whitt's first foray into NASCAR's top division. He's made 14 starts spread over the last three seasons racing for multiple teams, but he's finally settled with Swan Racing, who he spent all of last season competing in the No. 30 Toyota. Whitt may pale in comparison to most of this deep and talented rookie class, but he's still a pretty strong hand behind the wheel of a stock car. As this organization grows and improves, so will Whitt in the upcoming season.