ThatsRacin

NASCAR’s top rookies flashed plenty of promise in 2014

One rookie won a championship. Another went toe-to-toe with some of NASCAR’s biggest stars. And a third finished among the top 10 in points.

The 2014 rookie award winners in NASCAR’s national series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck – weren’t short on memorable moments this season.

On the Cup side, Kyle Larson got heads turning early in the year by finishing second to Kyle Busch in Fontana, Calif.

While his season had ups-and-downs typical of rookies, Larson, 22, came close to qualifying for the Chase and finished second three times.

“We were really competitive all season long and came really, really close to winning a couple of them,” said Larson, who drives the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

“There was a lot of room on the Kyle Larson bandwagon to start the season. I think a lot of people chose (fellow rookie) Austin Dillon to win it. I was pretty confident in myself and in my team that we could do it.”

While Dillon by no means had a bad season, he never came close to contending for wins like Larson.

Everyone knew Chase Elliott was talented, but no one – not even his father, NASCAR legend Bill Elliott – could foresee the type of year Chase enjoyed.

Chase Elliott, driving in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, won back-to-back races early at Texas and Darlington, S.C., and added a third victory at Chicagoland.

Once he took over the series points lead at Chicagoland, he never relinquished it and clinched his first series championship at Phoenix with one race left.

“It’s just been a very, very fun road. Just honestly, this is the best group of people that you could possibly have surrounding you in racing,” Chase said of his JR Motorsports team.

“I feel like all these people along the way have made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am.”

Chase, 19, will run another season in Nationwide, but Hendrick Motorsports also plans to run him in a handful of Cup series races as well.

Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., started his first season in the Truck series in the spotlight, winning the pole for the season opener at Daytona Beach, Fla. He led 52 laps in the race before finishing 15th.

He added a third-place finish in the next race at Martinsville, Va. – a hard-nosed short track that rarely is kind to rookies.

Kennedy, 22, ended up edging Tyler Reddick for rookie honors in a battle that went down to the season finale at Homestead, Fla.

“I think everyone wants to get rookie of the year, …and it’s awesome to get it,” Kennedy said. “I’m definitely humbled by it, and I’m looking forward to the future and seeing what we can do in the future.”

Kennedy’s plans for 2015 remain unsettled, but he is certain to compete in either Truck or Nationwide, or perhaps a combination of both.

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