NBC Sports Washington is counting down big NASCAR moments leading up to the Daytona 500. Be sure to check out our other coverage below.
This year's rookie class is about as stacked as ever, with the “Big Three” who dominated the Xfinity Series last season all moving up to the Cup Series. All driving for a premier organization (or aligned with them), the battle for the Rookie of the Year award is set to be a good one.
3. Cole Custer, No. 41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing
Coming off a series-high seven wins en route to a second-place finish in the championship standings last season, Cole Custer, for most of the season, may as well have been considered the Xfinity championship favorite. But Tyler Reddick + Homestead = dominance.
Driving for SHR means Custer will be competitive right off the bat in 2020. The team he’s inheriting finished 17th in the standings last season, plus he’s bringing Mike Shiplett, his crew chief from Xfinity, up with him. A playoff berth is a strong possibility for Custer. Heck, he has the best shot of the “Big Three” to make an appearance, given his equipment.
2. Tyler Reddick, No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing
Reddick may be the most under-hyped, back-to-back and reigning Xfinity Series champion of all-time...because he’s the only one and well, his situation is the worst of the “Big Three.”
Richard Childress Racing has a top-notch Xfinity Series program--there’s no debating that. Reddick won the championship and six total races last season, and was the popular pick to win the title at season’s end. But there’s also no debating that RCR’s Cup program is a C-tier one.
However, there has been an overhaul of personnel at the company this off-season, much in part due to Richard Childress’ obsession (in the best way possible) with Reddick. He’s compared him on the record to Cale Yarborough and has gone out of his way to keep him in the fold. Although his grandson Austin Dillon is the present face of the team, Reddick is the future.
1. Christopher Bell, No. 95 Toyota for Leavine-Family Racing
The most highly-touted in recent memory and most invested in prospect in NASCAR history, Bell needed to move up to Cup, but Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t have enough room. What were they supposed to do: release Kyle Busch (reigning champion), Denny Hamlin (hitting his peak and brings sponsorship), Martin Truex Jr. (champion and led the series in wins in 2019) or Erik Jones (won Southern 500, qualified for the playoffs last season)?
You see Gibbs’ dilemma. So why not lend him to a satellite team in Leavine-Family Racing, have Toyota essentially give LFR Gibbs prepared cars for Bell to drive and wait until a spot opens up. Jones was signed to a one-year deal, essentially being told to prove he’s better than Bell, and things will be reevaluated at or near the end of 2020.
Until then, Bell will do the best with what he’s got, and Gibbs will hope for some clarity.
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