Each season, a new rookie class emerges with yellow strips and little experience. With fresh eyes, they take a look at the task at hand and try to learn everything they possibly can about the car, the track and the team each weekend, building that important notebook that they can look back on for years to come.
This season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is seeing its biggest rookie class in recent history. With eight new drivers running for the coveted Rookie of the Year award, 2014 is gearing up to be one of the best Rookie of the Year battles ever.
Here is a look at two of the rookies in the class of 2014, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Michael Annett.
Kyle Larson: With just one full season in NASCAR’s lower series, 21-year-old Kyle Larson will take the wheel of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. Although he has just a little experience racing at NASCAR’s highest level, Larson could do very well in the Sprint Cup Series. With youth on his side, Larson has proved that he can drive just about anything you put him in.
Collecting nine top five and seventeen top 10 finishes in his 2013 rookie campaign in the Nationwide Series, Larson is talented far beyond his years. Four of his top fives were runner-up finishes at tracks of varying difficulties: Bristol, Michigan, Dover and Homestead. There doesn’t seem to be a track that Larson can’t handle and after finishing 15th at Homestead in the Sprint Cup Series finale, he heads to Daytona with a good run in the books.
The one big question lingering over Larson are those wondering if he moved up too soon. The 2014 season will be a learning experience for this young driver but given a few years, he may just be the next generations Jimmie Johnson.
Michael Annett: Tommy Baldwin and Michael Annett reunite as Annett signs on to drive the No. 7 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet in 2014 for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Working together during Annett’s ARCA Series tenure, Baldwin guided Annett to two race wins with Bill Davis Racing.
Replacing veteran Dave Blaney, 27-year-old Annett spent five full seasons in the NNS with his best finish of five in the standings (2012). Missing a handful of races in 2013 due to injury, Annett bounced back to end the season with eleven straight top 20 finishes.
Annett’s best year in the NNS came in 2012 when he collected a total of six top five and 17 top 10 finishes. After a hard crash in Daytona and the resulting fractured sternum, Annett was sidelined for nine races in 2013. His championship hopes went out the window early in the season.
Moving up to the NSCS with Kevin “Bono” Manion on top of the pit box could prove to be a good combination for this small team. Although he has yet to make a start in the NSCS, Annett should do well on the mile-and-a-half tracks as well as the superspeedways.
Sporting a yellow bumper all season long, both Larson and Annett have a lot to learn about racing with the veterans. Larson may have the most to prove this season with only one season in NASCAR’s junior class but with a little patience, I think we may be looking at a Sprint Cup Series champion in the future.