2015 Truck Series Champion Erik Jones and Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch
Ready or not, here they come. 2016 will bring changes to NASCAR in more ways than one. It will be more than merely a matter of what’s new, there’s a lot of who’s new in the Sprint Cup Series. Jeff Gordon has already driven off into the sunset, Smoke will be singing his swan song, and it won’t be much longer until Junior, Kenseth, JJ, the Biff and Harvick will be joining them. The Busch brothers, Bad Brad, Cousin Denny, Carl and Joey aren’t kids anymore, they now sit at the big boy’s table. On the horizon to join Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon was NASCAR’s new wave is a bumper crop of fresh faces eager to make their mark.
In more ways than one, Chase Elliott has some big shoes to fill. Not only does he succeed Jeff Gordon in the 24 car at Hendrick Motorsports, he bears the surname of a man named NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” 16 times. The 2014 Xfinity Series champion has held up well under the glare of the spotlight, and it will shine even brighter as the 20-year old takes flight with one NASCAR’s most decorated teams. While his 2015 stat line wasn’t quite as impressive as it was the year before, William Clyde Elliott II appears comfortable in his skin. Even it he isn’t, he’s faking it until he’s making it in convincing fashion.
Another son of an accomplished racer, Ryan Blaney will be racing full time in 2016. It also marks the return of racing full time by the Wood Brothers, one of NASCAR’s pioneering super teams. That alone may provide some built-in popularity for the progeny of World of Outlaws standout Dave Blaney. The 21-year old has already proven himself in the truck series and in Xfinity racing, it will be quite intriguing to see how a youngster spoken of highly by the likes of Tony Stewart amd Kevin Harvick develops with a team that has largely flown under the radar in recent years.
It’s only a matter of time before Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and Erik Jones find themselves in a full-time Cup ride. By every indication, Joe Gibbs plans to spend a little more time seasoning Jones for the Cup series. The 19-year old Michigander has a pair of wins in the Xfinity Series and seven victories in the CWTS, plus a 2015 CWTS championship
to his credit. Serving as a JGR super sub for Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kenseth, Jones reeled off a pair of late season top 20s while Kenseth was serving his suspension. You have to wonder how long Gibbs can hold him back, and where he would fit considering the JGR stable is presently full.
While Dillon’s resume isn’t quite as showy as some of the others, he’s certainly made the most of his time in the lower tiered series. Having rattled swords some with Elliott in the truck series, he already has a built in rivalry going. Dillon may get some flak being the owner’s grandson, having a name really only gets you chance; it’s up to you to stay there. Speaking of which, Richard Childress indicates how much 2016 seat time in the Cup Series may depend on business and sponsorship considerations.
Jack Roush is saying similar things about Buescher. “The Cat In The Hat” is eager to get the Texan into a Cup in a Ford. Buescher buttressed his stock with a 2015 Xfinity Series championship and he also managed to sprinkle a half-dozen Sprint Cup starts. Not coming from a celebrated racing family background may well offer the 23-year a chance to enter in with a lower profile and lower expectations, equaling lower pressure.
The list doesn’t end there. One would expect the eventual arrival of Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jeffrey Earnhardt will get more than a cursory look in the 32 car for Go FAS Racing. There are also a good list of youngsters already getting at least a little spot duty in the Cup Series.
Who will emerge a champion from the list? Who will wind up a bust? Such questions concerning this list of young talent will make things fascinating in 2016.