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Drivers to watch in 2021 Cup season

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton, and Dale Jarrett review the top storylines from the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season and look ahead to what the 2021 season has in store from a schedule, driver, and team perspective.

While Chase Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports enjoy their championship, it’s not hard to ponder what the 2021 NASCAR Cup season will bring.

Elliott’s title defense is one of several compelling stories in the coming year.

A frenetic Silly Season - headlined by the inception of Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s 23XI Racing with driver Bubba Wallace, as well as the return of Kyle Larson - has shuffled the grid.

In addition, an overhauled schedule sees new road course events, the Cup Series’ first dirt race since 1970, and a long-awaited return to Nashville (albeit in the suburbs, not at the Fairgrounds).

So who are the drivers and teams that need to make the most of it all?

In the latest edition of Splash & Go, NBC Sports’ Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Steve Letarte each have a name in mind for the 2021 NASCAR Cup season.

Burton is looking at Ryan Blaney. The Team Penske driver closed the season with five consecutive top-10 finishes - and at No. 3 in the Power Rankings - but suffered a first-round exit from the playoffs.

“He did show up in the playoffs - but too late,” Burton said. “Every time we looked up, he was running second, third, fourth. It sounds kinda crazy, but I’m not so sure they didn’t have the fastest (Team Penske) car. But they didn’t execute.

“The offseason will give them a chance to kind of collect themselves and figure out how to execute.”

Jarrett, the Hall of Famer and 1999 Cup champion, is watching Larson as he begins his NASCAR comeback with a Hendrick Motorsports stable that’s aimed toward the future.

As for Letarte, he’s focused on Christopher Bell, who faces high expectations in his move to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Check out the video above for more of the trio’s thoughts on what to expect in 2021.