We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the 2016 Nascar season, and one of the most exciting storylines is this year’s rookie class. While the 2015 rookies were lackluster (Rookie of the Year Brett Moffitt can’t even find a ride) the 2016 group has a number of promising prospects. Here we take a look at this year’s rookies and rank them by how likely they are to succeed in Nascar’s big leagues.
Ryan Blaney, son of former Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney, will be running a full-time schedule in 2016 with the historic Wood Brothers racing team. Blaney finished 2nd in the truck series in 2014, before being forced to a limited schedule last year. Blaney won two Xfinity races and a truck series race driving for Penske, but what was perhaps most impressive were his performances in the Sprint Cup series. Driving for the Wood Brothers, Blaney notched 6 top 20’s in the 11 races he competed in without engine problems. With the Wood Brothers’ new technical alliance with Penske, expect Blaney to be very competitive in 2016 and to have a long and successful career once he eventually moves to Penske’s full team.
Chase Elliott, the son of legendary Nascar racer Bill Elliott, will be taking over Jeff Gordon’s 24 car in 2016. Chase and Ryan Blaney are equals in almost every way–they are both excellent racers who look to be in the Sprint Cup series for a long time. Elliott has experienced far greater success at Nascar’s lower levels. He burst onto the racing scene in 2013, winning the Silverado 250 at Mosport with a daring last-lap pass. Elliott won the Xfinity series championship in 2014 and placed 2nd in 2015, racking up 4 wins and 27 top 5’s in his two year stint. Chase Elliott has big shoes to fill. If he can translate his lower series success to the Sprint Cup, he’ll be able to write his own legacy.
The man Chase Elliott lost this year’s Xfinity series championship to is Chris Buescher, the 23-year old from Prosper, Texas. While Elliott’s racing style was often boom-or-bust, Buescher took a more conservative, methodical route, racking up 2 wins and 20 top 10’s en route to a championship victory. Although he drove for Roush in the lower series, Buescher will be racing for perennial backmarker Front Row Motorsports in the Cup series. Why? Although Buescher is a top prospect, funding is very tight for Roush these days. Rather than add a 4th car to their stable, Roush formed a technical alliance with Front Row, bringing Buescher in this season. Expect to see Buescher in a Roush car sin the near future, possibly as soon as next year–Roush driver Greg Biffle is the oldest Sprint Cup regular and is entering the final year of his contract. If Biffle bows out, Buescher could fill his seat.
Lastly, we have Brian Scott. Scott has shown himself to be a capable racer in the Xfinity Series–although he has never won a race, he’s recorded 73 top 10’s in the past 5 years. While many other drivers would have lost their ride to younger prospects, Scott has held steady, supported by his family’s Shore Lodge sponsorship. Scott brings this money to Richard Petty Motorsports this year, taking over Sam Hornish’s ride. Scott projects to be at best, a racer like Paul Menard–a consistent, if mediocre driver who can occasionally put together a strong performance. However, don’t count him out just yet–many great drivers, such as Jimmie Johnson, were lowly-regarded in lower series before making the jump to the Sprint Cup. Scott showed decent speed in a limited schedule for Richard Childress Racing last year–maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs.