Final yr’s class of freshmen NASCAR Cup Collection drivers led by Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and two-time Xfinity Collection champion Tyler Reddick was one of the crucial buzzed about rookie crops lately.
Bell had an up-and-down season peaking with a third-place run within the third-to-last race of the yr at Texas Motor Speedway, Reddick confirmed extraordinarily promising flashes in a fourth-place end at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a runner-up end at Texas in the summertime. Nonetheless, it was Custer who nabbed a win with an exciting restart at Kentucky Speedway in July, made the playoffs and captured Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. The victory made Custer the primary Cup rookie to win since Chris Buescher did so at Pocono in 2016.
Who would be the finest of their respective sophomore seasons? Reddick and Custer have continuity on their facet as they’d the identical crew chiefs and rides as final yr with Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, respectively. Bell is on the transfer to Joe Gibbs Racing to pilot the No. 20 Toyota and may have two-time championship-winning crew chief Adam Stevens atop the pit box.
NASCAR.com’s RJ Kraft and Pat DeCola debate which driver from the trio is most primed to make a soar of their second Cup season.
KRAFT: Every driver on this group has an interesting purpose to decide on them. Custer got here on within the second half of the season with 12 prime 15s (together with the Kentucky win) within the last 21 races of the season (after he had simply two prime 15s within the first 15 races) and Reddick’s high-line, hard-charging type is thrilling to look at even when does lend itself to higher variance in his peaks and valleys.
That mentioned, I’m taking Bell as he strikes from Leavine Household Racing to JGR for 12 months 2. Bell was a bit unfortunate in his rookie yr because the COVID-19 pandemic process pressured a change from qualifying periods to a lineup components that damage his beginning positions for a lot of the summer season. He began 15 races 26th or worse — one thing that’s unlikely to occur a second yr in a row. A great beginning place can result in important stage factors — Bell completed with simply 75 on the yr — and be a significant boon in a playoff push and transfer up the standings.
Whereas Bell completed the lowest in the standings of the three 2020 rookies we’re discussing, I imagine he has the largest ceiling. The transfer in-house to JGR is huge for Bell — LFR was affiliated with Toyota and JGR — now being immediately linked to the mothership for Toyota. He has championship-winning teammates to lean on in Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and a driver who has reached the Championship four the previous two seasons in Denny Hamlin in the identical secure as him.
The most important purpose for optimism with Bell’s 2021 season is atop the pit field in Stevens. Paired with Busch, Stevens gained 28 races on the Cup stage in addition to the 2015 and 2019 championships, however is coming off a disappointing 2020 that finally led to his new project. Bell is coming off a season that left slightly to be desired as properly. Each events have one thing to show — Stevens that he can succeed away from Busch, and Bell that he can get it completed on the Cup stage.
I liken the Stevens-Bell pairing to when William Byron and Chad Knaus have been paired collectively after Byron’s first Cup season — beginning with the 2019 marketing campaign. Byron was coming off a learning-filled rookie yr that resulted in 4 prime 10s (Bell had two prime fives and 7 prime 10s in 2020) and a 23rd-place end within the standings (Bell completed 20th). Byron’s sophomore yr produced 5 prime fives, 13 prime 10s, a playoff look, a berth within the Spherical of 12 and an 11th-place end within the standings. Stevens and Bell can actually observe that blueprint. A extra formidable path could be that of Erik Jones, who gained in his sophomore season on the Cup stage … in the identical experience Bell can be piloting in 2021.
DECOLA: All compelling factors per ordinary, RJ, however I’m going to go along with Reddick on this one.
Lots has modified over the previous few years, in fact, however we’re nonetheless not too far faraway from Reddick topping each Bell and Custer in two straight Xfinity Collection Championship four races in 2018 and ’19 — whereas driving for 2 totally different organizations. This season additionally marks the primary time since Reddick’s Brad Keselowski Racing days (2014-16) that he’ll be with the identical group for a 3rd straight season.
Regardless of Custer being the one one of many three to win in 2020, after I assume again to which one in all them appeared to seek out his option to the entrance and battle the leaders probably the most … it’s Reddick. His general stats have been the most effective of the trio as properly, touchdown simply behind seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson within the standings and practically matching him in prime 10s (9 to Johnson’s 10) and common end (17.5 to Johnson’s 17.3). For a rookie to attain that, I’m keen to wager he’s simply scratching the floor of his potential.
his trajectory inside his personal group, Reddick’s rookie season was statistically higher than every of teammate Austin Dillon’s first two. AD then broke by for his first playoff look in 2016 together with his first win coming a yr later. After Reddick practically stored up the tempo, stats-wise, together with his teammate in Dillon’s seventh Cup marketing campaign, it feels extra doubtless than not that Reddick lands in Victory Lane this yr quite than down the highway.
Reddick confirmed persistently all through the ’20 season — and en path to these back-to-back NXS titles, which really feel price re-mentioning — that he’s not afraid to drive aggressively and battle with the game’s veterans, a trait that may doubtless solely be fine-tuned in his sophomore marketing campaign.
It’s slightly regarding that six of his 9 prime 10s got here within the season’s first half final yr, however one thing tells me he and crew chief Randall Burnett are properly conscious of this and have targeted on bringing extra consistency to the Californian’s outcomes this season.
Actually, you possibly can’t go incorrect with any of those rising stars within the sport, however Reddick stands out to me because the one to take advantage of noise in ’21.