The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is upon us, as fans are gearing up for what is to be an intriguing season, especially once the Chase begins in September. In the meantime, here are my annual top 40 preseason driver rankings.
40. 87/66-Joe Nemechek, Toyota
Nemechek is likely to split time in the #66 Michael Waltrip Racing entry, which partnered with Jay Robinson and Nemechek, and his own #87 team. Expect a number of start and parks for this former Cup winner.
39. 98-Josh Wise, Phil Parsons Racing Chevrolet
Wise takes over for Michael McDowell in the #98 entry. Additionally, the team swaps the blue ovals for the bowtie. This is another group that is likely to primarily start and park.
38. 77-Dave Blaney, Randy Humphrey Racing Ford
Blaney was replaced by Michael Annett at Tommy Baldwin, thus he takes over for Mike Bliss in the Randy Humphrey-owned ride. Humphrey split from Mark Smith and TriStar Motorsports and switched the number from #19 to #77. Do not expect too much on-track time for Blaney.
37. 23-Alex Bowman, BK Racing Toyota
Bowman enters his rookie season following a solid rookie season in the Nationwide Series with RAB Racing. He is the least experienced rookie and will struggle with a team that limped through 2013 with veterans.
36. 36-Reed Sorenson, Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
Sorenson replaced J.J. Yeley in this ride. Yeley to Sorenson is a lateral move, thus expect similar results from 2013.
35. 26- Cole Whitt, Swan Racing Toyota
Whitt is a talented young driver still trying to re-establish himself following a disappointing stint with JR Motorsports. He will get an opportunity with the upstart Swan Racing group. This team doesn’t tend to start and park, so we will get a chance to see how this kid performs in subpar equipment. If he overachieves, this ride could lead to better opportunities.
34. 83-Ryan Truex, BK Racing Toyota
The younger of the Truex boys gets his first full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series. Unfortunately, it is with a team that will not give him many chances to flourish big brother Martin. If a two-time winner like Reutimann struggled in this ride, expect much of the same for this rookie.
33. 30-Parker Kligerman, Swan Racing Toyota
Like BK Racing, Swan Racing debuts two rookies in 2014. Kligerman displayed flashes of potential last season in the Nationwide Series. He will get a chance in the Cup series to overachieve with lesser equipment. As with the three previously mentioned rookies, Kligerman has a chance to position himself with a better ride if he can keep his nose clean.
32. 7-Michael Annett, Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
Annett is another rookie hoping to open some eyes in 2014. He brings his Pilot Flying J sponsorship to a team that needed the funding. Baldwin’s team has steadily progressed each season since its inception in 2009, so we could see some solid performances out of this group.
31. 38-David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports Ford
Outside of Talladega and Daytona, and perhaps Sonoma, Gilliland will remain as a backmarker.
30. 34-David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports Ford
Ragan cashed in on a huge push from his teammate last year at Talladega. The likelihood of this occurring again exists considering that Ragan is a solid restrictor plate driver, but I don’t see it happening.
29. 13-Casey Mears, Germain Racing Chevrolet
This team switches from Toyota to Chevrolet, as Germain Racing formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. This should allow Mears and the gang to improve, but the field is too deep this year to consider them a potential breakout team.
28. 51-Justin Allgaier, HScott Motorsports Chevrolet
Allgaier and sponsor Brandt move up from the Nationwide Series to the team formerly known as Phoenix. Technically allied with Hendrick Motorsports, this team should have some solid performances. With that said, top 15 finishes will be few and far between.
27. 10-Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Patrick embarks on year two of her NASCAR career. Her rookie season was underwhelming and provoked thousands of critics to speak out, including one Richard Petty. While she takes the criticism in stride, she needs to let her driving to the talking. Patrick is a solid restrictor plate driver, so that will be her best opportunity to land a spot in the sixteen-driver Chase.
26. 47-A.J. Allmendinger, JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
Like Germain Racing, JTG-D Racing will partner will Richard Childress Racing. This should allow this tea to improve upon their dismal 2013 results. When this team was aligned with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2009 and 2010, they turned in some solid results with Marcos Ambrose behind the wheel. Allmendinger will make the most of this second chance and could possibly be a sleeper at several tracks this year.