RotoWire Partners

2014 Nationwide Series: Driver Rankings

Mark Taylor

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

1. Kyle Busch/Sam Hornish Jr. - No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota - Busch and his comrades absolutely dominated this series in 2013 with the powerful No. 54 Toyota team. Busch alone grabbed 10 poles, 12 victories and led more than 2,000 laps in his 22 starts for this team. He was joined by Drew Herring, Owen Kelly and Joey Coulter to round out the full 33-race schedule. Combined they had a spectacular season, but let's be honest it was Busch who did most of the heavy lifting. This team returns intact for 2014 and once again it will be JGR star Busch getting all the companion starts to Sprint Cup Series events, and newcomer Hornish Jr. getting all of the fill-in events (about seven starts). With this driving duo, this team will be a threat to win each and every week of the season.

2. Brad Keselowski/Ryan Blaney/Joey Logano -
No. 22 Penske Racing Ford - The only team that offered as much dominance as Joe Gibbs' No. 54 team was Penske Racing's No. 22 team. The driver lineup remains much the same in the upcoming season. Keselowski alone collected a staggering seven victories in just 16 starts with this team. Logano chipped in with three victories of his own in 15 starts and Blaney added one win in his two starts. It seemed that each and every week last year came down to the No. 22 Ford team and who could outsmart them in order to win. We don't see that changing much in the new season. The driver lineup remains about the same, as does the talent level. There is no appreciable change to the team or leadership, so we expect many great returns from this team again in 2014.

3. Regan Smith -
No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet - The JR Motorsports team had a successful first campaign with Smith behind the wheel last season. The veteran finished third in the final driver standings on the strength of two victories and 19 Top-10 finishes. Now that he's got his feet wet, Smith is really ready to get down to business. With Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon now out of the picture, Smith is the frontrunner for this season's championship. Greg Ives returns as crew chief and the two look to build on the chemistry they formed in 2013. Smith now has over 300 starts in NASCAR's top two divisions, so things should really begin to click for this driver. If someone else is hoisting the Nationwide championship trophy in Homestead this November, it will be a surprise to us.

4. Ty Dillon -
No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - The defending championship team of RCR takes to the track in 2014, but this time with another Dillon. The younger brother of the 2013 Nationwide Series champion promotes from the truck series and now gets his turn at the wheel of the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro. Dillon just completed a 47-race Camping World Truck Series career that had three victories, 31 Top-10 finishes and two standings finishes inside the Top 4. The younger Dillon appears to be every bit as talented as his reigning champion brother. He'll get thrown into the fire head first and given the chance to prove his skill with this seasoned, championship-capable team. This 21-year-old is no stranger to the Nationwide Series. He has 12 starts scattered over the last two years, with four Top-10s in those efforts. Dillon will be the leading contender for Rookie of the Year.

5. Elliott Sadler -
No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota - The 19-year NASCAR veteran is coming off a bit of a down season in 2013. Sadler was held out of victory lane although he did pick up 20 Top-10 finishes and come in fourth in the final driver standings. Still, those marks fall well below the numbers he's fetched the prior two seasons. Sadler expects to win races and he expects to challenge for championships. The move to Joe Gibbs Racing last season just proved more challenging than first thought. Now that he and crew chief Chris Gayle have had a season to develop some chemistry, things should start to take off once again for the veteran driver. If there's any driver in the championship hunt with experience on his side, it's Sadler and his JGR Toyota team.

6. Trevor Bayne -
No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford - Now entering his sixth season of Nationwide Series racing, Bayne is not the fresh new face that he was a few years ago. Quite the opposite, he is now one of the seasoned veterans of this series. At just 22-years-old he now has well over 100 starts in this series and races like it as well. Bayne had a career-best season in 2013 with one win and 21 Top-10 finishes. That performance led to a respectable sixth-place finish in the final driver standings. In 2014 he gets a new sponsor, AdvoCare, and new crew chief in veteran Chad Norris. The changes will be very welcome for a team that has struggled to attract sponsors. Bayne should push into more legitimate championship contender territory this season, and he should add to his win totals.

7. Chase Elliott -
No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet - The son of NASCAR legend, Bill Elliott, gets his first big promotion in his young career. The 18-year-old will make the jump from the Camping World Truck Series after just one part-time season and race for Rookie of the Year honors in the Nationwide Series. Elliott had one victory and seven Top-10 finishes in just nine truck series starts last season. He was so impressive that Hendrick Motorsports has moved him up the ladder with the help of big corporate sponsor NAPA. Elliott has won at every level he has raced, so it's no wonder that his star is rising fast. With the JR Motorsports team that is assembling behind him, Elliott will be the top contender for Rookie of the Year in this racing series.

8. Brian Scott -
No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - Scott returns for his second season at Richard Childress Racing. The 25-year-old is coming off a career-best 13 Top-10 finishes and seventh-place finish in the championship standings. While these were good marks, Scott and RCR were expecting much more, a possible championship. He'll try to move up the ladder in 2014, and throw his hat in the championship ring in the upcoming season. Scott now has 142 starts in the Nationwide Series and is starting to really discover his talent. He's still searching for that first career win, which should come this season. With the No. 2 Chevrolet team returning virtually unchanged, they should continue to push the bar higher and build a stronger team chemistry.

9. Brendan Gaughan -
No. 62 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - After a three-year hiatus from full-time racing in the Nationwide Series, Gaughan returns and Richard Childress will put him in a strong Chevy Camaro. He's coming off a truck series campaign that saw him collect 13 Top-10s in 22 races and finish a respectable seventh in the standings. Gaughan will try to carry that momentum into his new No. 62 team. The veteran driver is not short on experience. Gaughan has close to 350 starts combined in NASCAR's top three divisions. He's an eight-time winner in the truck series and he boasts 22 Top-10 finishes in 84 career Nationwide Series starts. His skillful presence will be steadied by crack crew chief Shane Wilson. If there's a sleeper in the pre-season Top 10 drivers, it's certainly Gaughan.

10. Drew Herring/Other Drivers -
No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota - Herring and a collection of other young drivers mixed with some Sprint Cup stars will fill the seat of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota. Considering Herring only has 15 career starts in this racing series, he's not long on experience like other drivers his age. However, he's been somewhat productive in those limited starts with five Top-10 finishes. When other drivers fill the seat of this Toyota, especially the Cup veterans, the potential for performance will certainly be high. The rotating driver lineup will limit this team's potential but a Joe Gibbs Racing team still garners high respect due to its equipment and personnel.

11. Driver Lineup TBD -
No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - At the time of this writing, the driver lineup has not been determined for the RCR No. 33 Chevrolet. However, this team offered a lineup of polished NASCAR drivers in 2013. We can only suspect it will offer the same in 2014. For example, Kevin Harvick alone had 10 starts with this team and grabbed one win and nine Top-10 finishes. Drivers like Paul Menard, Matt Crafton, Max Papis and Dakoda Armstrong were regular drivers for this team last season. The team is among the best in this racing series and the experience of the varied driver lineup is without question. The No. 33 team will get their Top-10s and race with the leaders each week this season.

12. James Buescher -
No. 99 RAB Racing Toyota - Buescher will make the jump from full-time racing in the Camping World Truck Series to the Nationwide Series this season. He'll fill the seat of the No. 99 Toyota that Alex Bowman drove so brilliantly last season. The 23-year-old Texan is the 2012 truck series champion, so he's not short on talent. In his last two seasons alone, Buescher claimed six victories and 28 Top-10s in that racing series. Given the performance potential of this team and the obvious talent of Buescher, this would seem to be a match made in heaven. His 58 career Nationwide Series starts only bolsters his portfolio and gives legitimacy to his jump in racing series. We expect Buescher to make a big splash in 2014.

13. Dylan Kwasniewski -
No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet - The 18-year-old from Nevada gets the big stock car racing promotion in 2014. Kwasniewski takes over the seat of the No. 31 team that Justin Allgaier has so impressively filled the last couple seasons. This young driver appears to have talent in spades. Kwasniewski is the 2012 K&N Pro Series West champion and 2013 K&N Pro Series East champion. In two seasons combined racing in these two lower tier divisions of NASCAR he's earned two championship, 11 victories and 36 Top-10 finishes in just 45 races. Now he gets his chance at seat with a good team in one of NASCAR's top three touring divisions. Kwasniewski is flush with talent, so the adjustment period should be short for this future star of the sport.

14. Ryan Reed -
No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford - The 19-year-old Californian made such a strong impression on Roush Fenway Racing that they decided to give him a full-time ride in 2014. Reed made six starts with this team last season and picked up one Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes. A respectable performance for a young driver without a lot of experience. Reed will be one of the top contenders for Rookie of the Year in this racing series, but make no mistake; this will be a campaign of ups-and-downs for this young driver as he makes the adjustment to full-time racing in one of NASCAR's upper divisions. Reed will need a lot of tutoring but his raw talent alone should add up to some good performances this season.

15. Kevin Harvick/Kasey Kahne/Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet - Harvick comes over from Richard Childress Racing and joins this strong race team and talented driver lineup in 2014. The team was pretty strong before Harvick's addition, and now they'll be quite formidable. The veteran boasts 40 career wins in this racing series and over 300 starts. He'll join Kahne, Earnhardt and some younger drivers to run a 16-race schedule. The team grabbed many Top-10s in 2013 but seemed to lack the killer instinct to get into victory lane. With the addition of Harvick, we should begin to see the No. 5 Chevrolet in winner's circle on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. The half-season schedule is all that keeps this team from being a Top 10 unit.

16. Nelson Piquet Jr. -
No. 30 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet - Piquet returns to the No. 30 team of Turner Scott Motorsports this season for his second full campaign in the Nationwide Series. Coming off a 12th-place finish in the standings of 2013 with only five Top-10 finishes, much improvement is desired. Piquet showed us glimpses of promise last season, but never could get the consistency needed to really compete. Crew Chief Pat Tryson guided Piquet to two of those Top-10s down the stretch run of last season. He returns to sit atop the team's war wagon again in 2014. His knowledge and experience should help Piquet improve.

17. Dakoda Armstrong -
No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford - The No. 43 RPM team has tabbed truck series driver Armstrong to replace the departed Michael Annett in the team's Ford. Armstrong claimed a 12th-place finish in the driver standings of the Camping World Truck Series last year. He'll look to improve even more in his rookie campaign in the Nationwide Series. Armstrong will have a pretty good team to prove his talents. Annett proved the team capable with 21 Top-10 finishes over the last two seasons. With Phillipe Lopez calling the shots once again, Armstrong should have every chance to shine with this well-established team.

18. Chris Buescher -
No. 60 Roush Fewnway Racing Ford - The ace of the ARCA Series will be one of a deep rookie class in the Nationwide Series in 2014. Buescher is the 2012 ARCA Series champion and he finished runner-up in the standings of that series in 2011. Over his five-season career in ARCA, Buescher picked up an impressive 10 victories and 43 Top-10 finishes. He's made as many as nine Nationwide Series starts over the last three years so Buescher isn't completely unfamiliar with these stock cars. Roush Fenway Racing has put him in the Ford that Travis Pastrana vacated at the end of 2013. The schedule has yet to be announced, but it is assumed to be a full-time schedule at this point. Buescher could do some pretty impressive things with this team if given the opportunity to race each week.

19. Mike Bliss -
No. 19 Tri Star Motorsports Toyota - It is assumed that TriStar Motorsports will return in the upcoming season and once again they'll field the No. 19 Toyota for veteran Bliss. He collected two Top-10 finishes with this team last season en route to a respectable 13th-place finish in the final driver standings. At 48-years-old, Bliss is past his prime and glory days, but he's still a steady hand behind the wheel of a stock car. His nine Top-15 finishes in the 2013 season are a testament to this fact. Bliss won't win any races or blow away any pole position records, but he'll be a steady and consistent performer once again for the TriStar Motorsports team.

20. Kyle Larson -
No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet - The 2013 Rookie of the Year returns for another round in the upcoming season. Despite Larson's promotion to full-time racing in the Sprint Cup Series, he'll still race a significant number of events in the Nationwide Series this season. TSM plans on fielding Larson in the No. 32 Chevrolet for all the companion events which should put him in 20+ races in 2014. He'll follow up a campaign that saw him collect 17 Top-10 finishes last year and finish eighth in the final driver standings. With the limited schedule this year, Larson's impact will be somewhat limited, and it's not clear that Turner Scott Motorsports will even field the team in the non-companion events when Larson can't race. But they'll be very good on the weekends when the young prodigy can take the wheel.

21. Jeremy Clements -
No. 51 Jeremy Clements Racing Chevrolet - Clements is coming back for another season of action in his family-owned No. 51 Chevrolet. This will be his fourth full season of racing in the Nationwide Series. Clements is coming off a respectable 16th-place finish in the driver standings with a pair of Top-10 finishes during the season. This small race team is quite capable and Clements is a good wheel-man. Ricky Pearson returns as crew chief for the team and they will continue building on what they established last year. This driver and team have some room to grow in the upcoming season.

22. Landon Cassill -
No. 01 JD Motorsports Chevrolet - JD Motorsports will retain the services of Cassill once again in 2014, but he moves from the team's No. 4 Chevrolet to the No. 01. This will be the team's primary or lead car of the stable, so Cassill should get all the team's technical support and focus in the upcoming season. It should be his best opportunity to race in the Nationwide Series of his career. Cassill has 56 starts over six years, so he'll get a heaping dose of action this season. Veteran experience behind the wheel coupled with a solid race team should add up to some good racing and surprising finishes in 2014.

23. Blake Koch -
No. 44 Tri Star Motorsports Toyota - Koch takes over the seat of the No. 44 Toyota for Tri Star and gets his best racing opportunity in the Nationwide Series in his six-season career. The 27-year-old Florida native will have a full-time ride and one with the ability to race, not start-and-park. That will be a change for this seasoned driver. We'll finally get to see what Koch can do with a good car and good team support. In his 86 career starts in this series, he's yet to log a Top-10 finish, but that should change this season. Koch will have veteran crew chief Greg Connor calling the shots and guiding the team, and he'll have the best chance yet to showcase his skills and get that first Top 10 in his Nationwide career.

24. Jeffrey Earnhardt -
No. 4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet - Earnhardt gets a good promotion in the upcoming season. He makes the jump from part-time racing in the Nationwide Series to full-time racing in NASCAR's second-highest division. JD Motorsports has hired the 24-year-old to pilot their steady No. 4 Chevrolet. Earnhardt has 27 combined starts in Nationwide Series racing, but no Top-10 finishes to his credit. This will be the best team situation he has been in five years of competing in this racing series, so that statistic should change. We expect Earnhardt to log a couple Top-10s in the coming campaign and to mix it up with the middle of the driver standings in the Nationwide Series.

25. Chad Boat -
No. 84 Billy Boat Motorsports Chevrolet - The 21-year-old will get his first taste of Nationwide Series action in the upcoming season. Boat will race a minimum of 15 events in 2014 and could add more dates if funding is found. He comes from NASCAR's lower divisions and with quite an impressive resume. In Boat's three seasons of K&N Pro Series racing he grabbed six Top-10 finishes in 26 starts. His ARCA Series numbers over the 2012 and 2013 seasons were even more impressive with six Top-10s in just 10 starts. Before even setting foot into a stock car, Boat was winning championships as a teenager in the open wheel ranks. This is a promising driver and team, but only tempered by their reduced schedule this season.

26. Eric McClure -
No. 14 Tri Star Motorsports Toyota - The 34-year-old returns for his 12th season of Nationwide Series racing this season. McClure has battled a couple seasons filled with injuries, but hopefully he's primed for a full 33-race schedule in 2014. The driver of the No. 14 Toyota continues to get backing from his personal sponsor, Hefty, and that will once again power his efforts in the Nationwide Series. McClure is not a name you expect to see in the Top 10 often during the year, but he's more than capable of putting up 14-16 Top-25 finishes and being competitive on a weekly basis. That's the form we should see again in the upcoming season.

27. Ryan Ellis -
No. 24 SR2 Motorsports Toyota - Ellis will make the leap to full-time Nationwide Series racing in 2014. The 23-year-old has two partial campaigns of seven starts under his belt and he's looking to compete for Rookie of the Year in this racing series. Ellis has been a start-and-park driver to this point in his career, but that should change in the upcoming season. SR2 will give him the cars and support that have been missing to this point in his Nationwide Series career. Based on Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona, Ellis already is running with a lot more speed and confidence even before the season begins.

28. Unknown Drivers -
No. 40 The Motorsports Group Chevrolet - Reed Sorenson, Josh Wise and a handful of other drivers raced for this team last season to limited effect. Sorenson alone had the most success of any but only managed a marginal 25.3 average finish on the season. TMG's driver for 2014 is not known at this point, but the team could turn to a handful of experienced drivers they've used in the past. The limiting factor as always is sponsorship and funding. The margins are razor thin, and it can be the difference between racing competitively and start-and-parking.

29. Joe Nemechek -
No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota - The owner/driver of the No. 87 Toyota should return for another full season of racing in the Nationwide Series. Nemechek had a down season in 2013. He raced in only 28 of the 33 events and finished a three-season low of 19th in the final driver standings. Nemechek failed to crack the Top 10 last year for the first time in the last three campaigns. He'll hope to turn all these problems around in the upcoming season, but the reality is that he's a small team owner with funding constraints. At 50-years of age, Nemechek's skills are also in decline. He'll face an uphill battle in a racing series that continues to get younger and more competitive all the time.

30. Johanna Long -
No. 70 ML Motorsports Chevrolet - Long has not been announced as returning to the ML Motorsports' ride as of this writing. However, she should be in this ride or an equivalent small race team in 2014. Her first two seasons of Nationwide Series racing have yielded mixed results. Part of this is due to the fact that she's only averaged about 20 starts in her first two seasons. Long will likely race part-time again in the upcoming season. She's still looking for her first career Top-10 finish in this racing series, and not likely to find it this season. Long's 23.5 average finish across her first 41 starts in the Nationwide Series is indicative of where you'll find her in the results each week.

31. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet - This part-time team will feature owner Earnhardt in a few events, including the season-opening Daytona race. He made four starts with this team in 2013, and although the impact was limited the results were very good. Earnhardt claimed three Top-5 finishes in those four events and contended for the win in each. While this is one of the stronger stables in the Nationwide Series, the No. 88 team's impact is limited due to the very light schedule. However, Earnhardt and this car are worth a look on the events where they enter.

32. Joey Gase - Jimmy Means Racing -
No. 52 Chevrolet - Gase returns to the No. 52 Chevrolet again this year. The 20-year-old has effectively been a start-and-park driver to this point. While the team does race full-time, they often DNQ and when they do race they often park early. Currently there are no signs that this situation will change in 2014. This reason alone makes Gase a limited impact driver. Unless funding can be found, the team will likely start-and-park again this season with Gase finishing near the end of the field each week.

33. Jamie Dick -
No. 55 VIVA Motorsports Chevrolet - The team plans 20 races for the upcoming season. Dick will have a competitive team, but limited impact due to the part-time schedule. This has been the pattern for his first three years in this racing series and will continue in 2014. Dick has raced competitively though when he has raced. He claimed seven Top-25 finishes in his 17 starts last year. VIVA Motorsports should give him good cars and support once again, but the part-time schedule will once again be a limiting factor in his performance potential.

34. David Ragan/Other Drivers -
No. 98 Biagi-Denbeste Racing Ford - This team has some serious upward potential in the rankings, but the uncertainty of their schedule limits our ability to rank them higher. What is known is that the team will field veteran Ragan in the season-opener at Daytona. Beyond that, it's a big question mark. We could see a schedule approaching 15 or more dates, but we don't know at this time. Also the driver lineup remains unclear beyond the Daytona race. Depending on the schedule, funding and drivers the No. 98 team could have some impact, but it's not clear at this point.

35. Bobby Gerhardt -
No. 85 Bobby Gerhardt Racing Chevrolet - The ARCA Series ace is always good for few Nationwide Series appearances in a given season. Gerhardt attempted three events in 2013 and made two of those. However, they were disappointing 29th- and 31st-place finishes at Daytona and Talladega. The 55-year-old driver is on the far horizon of his racing career, and he's much more suited for the smaller budgets of the ARCA Series. Gerhardt's part-time Nationwide Series forays are just a fascination or hobby at this point.