HUNTERSVILLE – One year ago, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon were preparing for a run at the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.
The two now make up one-third of the group of Nationwide drivers heading to the Sprint Cup Series.
Dillon, not even three months removed from winning the Nationwide title, headlines Sprint Cup’s biggest rookie class in eight years. Larson is another big name in the group, which also includes four more Nationwide-to-Cup drivers: Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman and Parker Kligerman.
Ryan Truex and Cole Whitt wrap up the rookie class, which, while successful in Nationwide competition, didn’t win a single Nationwide race last year.
That hasn’t stopped Dillon from being confident he can run in the sport’s top series. Dillon, grandson of his team owner, Richard Childress, said in December that he was ready for the move to Sprint Cup.
Annett believes the same thing.
“It’s going to be different than the Nationwide Series, but I’m glad to have the opportunity,” he said.
Winning races isn’t impossible for rookies.
Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson won a record three races as a rookie in 2002, a feat first accomplished by three-time champion Tony Stewart in 1999.
Davey Allison (1987), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) and Kevin Harvick (2001) won twice as newcomers to Sprint Cup.
Joey Logano – who posted the first of his three career wins as a 19-year-old rookie in 2009 – cautioned the newcomers: It’s not easy to move from competing for Nationwide wins to fighting for trophies in Sprint Cup.
“The jump from Nationwide to Cup, to me, was harder than any other jump in my career,” Logano said. It’s probably the biggest step in motorsports. It’s not late models to bigger cars. The competition level is so different for the teams and the drivers.”
Part of what makes it different is the higher number of drivers who are in winning equipment.
Logano knows the story better than most. He burst on the scene when he was an 18-year-old Nationwide driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. The team needed a driver to replace Stewart when he left after the 2008 season, so JGR moved Logano to its No. 20 Toyota.
Now the driver of the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, Logano believes that success is attainable when you’re a Sprint Cup rookie. It just takes more time than most think it should.
“They’re going to have hard times, and they’re going to have good times,” Logano said.