As we prepare for a new NASCAR season there are new faces in each series and drivers with new teams. The new changes in each series will bring an interesting take for a new year. Here are 10 drivers not to be overlooked heading into 2016.
- Chase Elliott (No. 24 NAPA/3M Chevolet): 2014 Nationwide, now XFINITY, Series champion Chase Elliott begins his Sprint Cup career in 2016 with Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott recorded one top-10 and three top-20 finishes in a five-race Cup stint in 2015. He will no doubt be a front runner and a top candidate for rookie of the year. Elliott has great influences to guide him through while all eyes will be on him, but his future shines brightly with his own talent alone.
2. Erik Jones (No.20 Gamestop Toyota): The 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion is moving forward in 2016 racing full time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the XFINITY Series. Erik Jones won twice in the series in 2015 on a part time schedule with the same team. The young star has already had starts in each national series. He has the equipment, teammates, and ability to compete with the Cup stars and challenge for even more wins.
3.Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance/Great Clips Chevrolet): Coming into the 2016 NASCAR season, Kasey Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden have one year under their belts as a driver/crew chief combo. As they look for a complete turnaround of their 2015 season, where Kahne’s average finish was 18.1, a major gain is the 2016 rule package. The new rule package can greatly benefit Kahne who has previously shown in years past that he works well with a lower downforce. If the 5 crew can find speed and use the new package to their advantage, look for not only improved performance, but many victories as well.
4. Tyler Reddick (No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford): Tyler Reddick made a name for himself in his 2015 breakout season, claiming two wins and finishing 2nd in the NASCAR Truck Series championship standings. The Brad Keselowski Racing driver returns in 2016, switching from the No. 19 to the No. 29. The addition of a Chase format and Caution Clock may cause some challenges, but look for Tyler and the No. 29 team to make an appearance in the 2016 Chase for the Truck Series championship.
5. John Hunter Nemechek (No. 8 Nemco Chevrolet): Following a successful 2015 that included a win and NCWTS Most Popular Driver honors, John Hunter Nemechek will pilot the No. 8 full time. The 18-year-old scored eight top-5 finishes in just eighteen starts in 2015. Nemechek quietly made an impressive run in 2015 and will likely carry his momentum into the 2016 season. The young driver’s talent may get overlooked, but will carry him far in the NASCAR championship rankings.
6. Darrell Wallace Jr (No. 6 Ford Ecoboost Ford): Darrell Wallace Jr proved to be a competitive factor in the XFINITY Series in 2015. He held his own by placing in the top-10 fourteen times throughout his rookie campaign. However, the season fell short of the driver’s standards. Putting the No. 6 into victory lane early can improve Wallace’s chances of competing for the championship and completing what was missed in 2015.
7. Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet): After a sophomore slump in 2015, this Chip Ganassi Racing driver is looking for a breakout year. Larson has yet to win a Sprint Cup race during his career. A win would give the team confidence, momentum, and a chance at making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The addition of new crew chief Chad Johnston is a good foundation to build off of.
8. Rico Abreu (No.98 Toyota): The two-time Chili Bowl Nationals winner is headed to NASCAR full time racing for ThorSport Racing. Previous to 2016, Abreu focused mainly on dirt and NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East, winning for the first time in the series at Columbus Motor Speedway. Rico Abreu’s strive for success in anything he does is apparent and will carry him far throughout his career.
9. Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet): As he waits to take over the No. 14 from Tony Stewart, who is preparing for his last full-time season in NASCAR, Clint Bowyer will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet with HScott Motorsports in 2016. Bowyer has gone winless in the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup seasons, but looks to prevail with a new team and return to Chase contention. Better consistency is key for this small funded team to succeed past their low expectations.
10. Justin Allgaier (No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet): Taking a step down from Sprint Cup to XFINITY, this JR Motorsports driver’s experience will be beneficial for success in 2016. Allgaier has three wins in the series. The opportunity with winning equipment should help the driver feel optimistic heading into the season. With Allgaier’s talent and JRM’s equipment, their winning ways should continue.