Who is the fan’s choice? Who is that driver not already eligible for the all-star race that fans want to see? Miss Sprint Cup has announced the top ten, and there are certainly an array of choices:
THE WONDER KIDS
Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson– Among the three, Larson looks like the favorite. In his extremely brief Sprint Cup career, the rookie has reeled off a number of strong finishes, and earned a lot of respect, but his challenge will be he could end up having to split votes with fellow Golden Stater A.J. Allmendinger, who has a following of his own. Dillon races in the iconic ‘3’ car made great by Dale Earnhardt, but that can be a plus or a minus. The same can also be said of Dillon having a familial connection to car owner Richard Childress. Connections may also work for or against Stenhouse as the boyfriend of Danica Patrick.
AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE, OYE, OYE, OYE!
Marcos Ambrose– Don’t count NASCAR’s Road Warrior and former V8 Super Car champ from Down Under. His sunny disposition and mastery of tracks of right and left turns have earned Ambrose a certain notoriety. About all that may work against him would be fans of any drivers this hard-charger has wrecked along the way.
Easily the most polarizing figure on the list, there will be no in-between for Danica Patrick. The Go Daddy Girl has a good sense of timing, having scored a career best seventh at Kansas. There’s ample evidence to suggest Patrick is more popular than her critics think, but her destractors are no doubt significant.
THE COMEBACK KID
AJ Allmendinger is faring relatively well in his first year racing for JTG Daugherty Racing. Having overcome a failed test for a banned substance, the diminutive Californian is a feel good redemption story. A former open wheeler, Allmendinger may lose out on votes he may have otherwise received to popular rookie Kyle Larson.
Aric Almirola, Casey Mears, Josh Wise– Toiling in relative anonymity, this trio has a tough row to hoe. By the same token, each has his own endearing qualities: Almirola built a nice resume in the truck series, and races for The King in the iconic 43. The Floridian of Cuban descent may also benefit from the Latino vote. Mears comes from a long line of acomplished racers. He and Almirola have also put up respectable numbers, and generally thought of as nice guys. Wise’s claim to fame is his competing in triathlons. He’s another driver who could divvy up the West Coast vote.
THE FALLEN ONE
Given what his career has been to this point, you’d think there would be no way Clint Bowyer would have to rely upon the fan vote for a berth in the all-star race. With eight career victories and a second place finish in the season standings in 2012, the quick-witted Kansan has the best-looking resume. But this is a fan vote, and Bowyer may have some issues to overcome.
“Richmond-gate” still looms in the memory of race fans. No matter what anyone says, there is still a widespread perception that Bowyer was part of a plot to get former MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the 2013 Chase. It’s a stain on his otherwise solid career similar to a baseball player getting busted for steroid use. This incident in his career will difficult for Bowyer to overcome in terms of securing fan votes.
The fan vote is a big deal. Not only is it an affirmation from the fans, in 2008, Kasey Kahne parlayed his popularity into all-star success.
There are a number of worthy candidates. If yours truly were a betting man, he’d put his money on Larson. With that said, with this field of contenders, a dark horse may emerge and find himself (or herself) racing for a dandy little payday and a heck of a lot of fun.