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Ranking the 10 NASCAR Drivers with the Brightest Futures

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Ranking the 10 NASCAR Drivers with the Brightest Futures

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    Will Kyle Larson become the next Jeff Gordon?
    Will Kyle Larson become the next Jeff Gordon?J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    For those of you who are concerned about what NASCAR will become when current stars such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and others retire, don't worry.

    Between the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series, there are so many young stars on the horizon that NASCAR is going to be just fine.

    In fact, even though this list is about the 10 drivers with the brightest futures, we could easily add another five or more to the list, drivers such as James and Chris Buescher, Gray Gaulding, Ryan Truex Jr. and others.

    Our selection process was based primarily on age, with most drivers being 25 or under. We also chose based upon the impact they've had thus far in the sport, as well as the promise they show for the future.

10. Corey LaJoie

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The son of former two-time Nationwide Series driver Randy LaJoie, this young driver (22 years old) has a tremendous amount of promise.

    For example, in just 35 starts on the K&N Pro Series East, he amassed five wins, 17 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes.

    While he's had a tough time finding a full-time ride in either the Nationwide or Truck series, we feel confident it will come in time, and the younger LaJoie will show he's a winnerlike father, like son.

9. Erik Jones

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    Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

    We've been very impressed with this 18-year-old from tiny Byron, Michigan.

    We first heard of Erik Jones about three years ago and have kept up with his career since.

    Driving part time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, Jones has had 10 starts between last season and 2014, with two wins, three top-five and six top-10 finishes.

    He earned his first career Truck Series pole Wednesday for the MudSummer Classic and led the race early, only to suffer damage to his No. 51 truck, relegating him to a disappointing finish near the back of the field.

    He also finished seventh in his first Nationwide Series race last weekend at Chicagoland.

    And in prior ARCA competition, he had one win, six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 14 starts.

    While he's showed great growth in a part-time role, Jones needs to be racing full time. Either KBM puts him in a ride in 2015 or it runs the risk of losing Jones to a team and owner that can.

8. Jeb Burton

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    The son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton and nephew of retiring Sprint Cup veteran Jeff Burton, Jeb Burton turns 22 on August 6.

    He's done an outstanding job thus far in the Camping World Truck Series with a win, five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in just 37 starts. He finished fifth in the Truck series last season, with 11 top-10 finishes (including his lone win) out of 22 starts.

    He also has one top-10 in two Nationwide Series races.

    When you have a Daytona 500 winner as your manager and chief spotter—and he just happens to be your dad, as well—you can't get much better leadership and guidance, indeed.

    Keep your eye on the younger Burton. We think he has the potential to be as good, if not better, than his father and uncle.

7. Trevor Bayne

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Four words will always best describe Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner.

    Of course, that doesn't mean he won't win more editions of the Great American Race in the future, especially with his moving to the Sprint Cup Series in 2015 for Roush Fenway racing.

    Bayne has had somewhat of a rough season in his final Nationwide campaign this year, but his second-place finish at Chicagoland this past Saturday could help turn things around.

    He's still within striking distance of winning the NNS title, but he'll definitely need a much-improved second half of the season than the struggles he endured at times in the first half.

    Bayne is such a great kid, well-mannered and very thoughtful. We hope success in the Cup series—and it most definitely will come—doesn't eventually spoil him, but we get the feeling it won't.

6. Darrell 'Bubba' Wallace Jr.

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Including Wednesday night's win at Eldora, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. has become the winningest African-American driver in NASCAR history.

    With his first win last fall at Martinsville and two more this year (Gateway and Eldora), we hopefully can stop calling him an African-American driver once and for all and refer to him the way he should be:

    One hell of a driver, regardless of his skin color.

    Wallace is just 20 years old. If he keeps doing what he's doing, we predict he'll be in the Nationwide Series next season after potentially winning the Truck championship this year.

5. Ryan Blaney

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Yet another example of a chip off the old block, Ryan Blaney is most definitely Dave Blaney's son: a true winner.

    And after Wednesday's Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway, the younger Blaney is also atop the standings in the series for the first—but definitely not the last—time in his career.

    The 20-year-old has proven to be versatile and capable with whatever type of vehicle he gets behind the wheel of.

    In the Truck Series, he's made 41 starts, with two wins, 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes.

    In the Nationwide Series, he's made 23 starts thus far with one win, five top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

    This kid is the real deal. Rest assured he will become a Sprint Cup star in the next five seasons. He's a can't miss.

4. Austin Dillon

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    USA TODAY Sports

    You don't win a Camping World Truck Series and a Nationwide Series championship two years later and not have great potential.

    Much like other drivers on this list, Austin Dillon also has a strong family link—grandfather and Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series team owner Richard Childress.

    But Dillon wasn't just given rides by his grandfather. He went out and earned virtually everything he's ever sought.

    His talent is excellent and promises to be the cornerstone around the next generation of the RCR organization will be built around (as well as younger brother Ty eventually).

3. Chase Elliott

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    USA TODAY Sports

    At 18, the son of 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott has quickly made a name for himself in a very short period of time.

    In his rookie season on the Nationwide Series, Chase Elliott is once again back in the lead after his third win of 2014 this past Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.

    That's on top of his outstanding debut—as a 17-year-old, no less—in the Camping World Truck Series last season, when he made nine starts and finished with seven top-10 showings, including a win and four other top-five outings.

    In addition to his young age, what's even scarier is how Elliott makes his success look almost effortless. He's likely headed to Hendrick Motorsports in a few years, but he'll likely have to wait until Jeff Gordon retires.

2. Kyle Larson

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Arguably the most naturally talented driver of the bunch, Larson is our pick to win this year's Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year.

    We also predict he'll make the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season, as well.

    And as we've said since the start of the season, Larson is a win waiting to happen. And we expect that win to come sometime between this Sunday's race at Indianapolis and the final Chase qualifier seven weeks from now at Richmond.

    Larson may be only 21 years old, but with all of the experience he's had in his career, particularly in USAC and late-model racing, he drives like he's a seasoned 30-year old veteran.

    And also at 21, that's the scariest thing about Larson; he's only going to get better and better.

    We'll even be so bold to say he wins his first Sprint Cup championship in the next three to five seasons.

    Actually, let's clarify that a bit more: Make that Larson will win his first of several Sprint Cup championships to come in the next three to five seasons.

1. Joey Logano

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It's kind of hard not to include Joey Logano on this list, given he's only 24 years old.

    Plus, how do you not include someone who is already in his sixth Sprint Cup season, made the Chase for the first time last season and will do so again this year and has become part of one of the most potent one-two punches in the sport, teamed with Brad Keselowski.

    Logano is a Sprint Cup-champion-in-waiting. He's gained confidence and improved virtually every single year since he's been in NASCAR's marquee series.

    And the best career move he's made to date was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing (well, actually, he was pushed out to make room for incoming Matt Kenseth) and moving to Team Penske, where he's been able to shine and really showcase those talents.

     

    All statistical information used in this story came from Racing-Reference.info.

    Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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