One thing that a lot of stick-and-ball sports use to compare athletes by are championships. Another is how well you fare against your draft class. NASCAR is a bit different in the sense that we don’t look a lot about rookie classes coming in.
Everybody’s situation is different. Some drivers come into great situations with an already well established team where others come into one with lower budgets and therefore don’t produce the cars to get good results out of.
But, last year’s rookie class is one that could rival the best ones to come through the sport. I mean you get 1959 with Richard Petty and Buddy Baker. What about 1979 that had Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Harry Gant? 1987 featured Davey Allison and Dale Jarrett. 1993 was Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte. 2000 was Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth among a large class. A year later was Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. A yer after that was Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. 2006 was Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. 2014 had Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Alex Bowman with 2016 with Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher.
Granted, most of those talented classes above had other drivers in them, but you see which ones stuck.
See, we’re two years into their brief NASCAR Cup Series careers and now all three rookies from last year have now made the playoffs. Cole Custer did so last year with both Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell this time around. That’s why I wonder if they could end up being a class that produces potentially three future champions.
The skies the limit for this talented crop of sophomore drivers. All three driver for capable teams now with Custer and Stewart-Haas Racing, Bell at Joe Gibbs Racing and Reddick at Richard Childress Racing.
Custer, won at Kentucky last year to make himself playoff eligible to go along with two top fives and seven top 10’s as a rookie. This season, the stats have dipped but that’s not 100% his fault since SHR is struggling in general. Even his teammate Kevin Harvick is winless and has just one finish better than fourth all season. But, SHR has all the resources to turn this ship around eventually and I think Custer will pay dividends by that.
For Bell, he was with Leavine Family Racing a year ago and had a pair of top fives himself with seen top 10’s. Similar to Custer, its just that he didn’t win. Now that he’s with JGR, Bell won in just his second start with them and has four top fives, 10 top 10’s and 68 laps led compared to 18 a year ago.
Reddick had three top fives a year ago and two this season. He did up his top 10’s from nine to 13 though and looking like he’s on the cusp of a breakthrough.
Where this class is different than all the others before them is, they only had four races last year with practice before COVID altered the way we do things. We had one qualifying round (Coca-Cola 600) and no practices over the final 32 races. Testing was also limited so the seat time wasn’t there.
For 2021, we’ll only have eight total races with practice and qualifying with 28 others without. The testing limits are still in place, meaning these drivers stepped into the pinnacle of NASCAR and getting their feet wet without much seat time.
That’s why it’s impressive that after two years, all three have made the postseason already. Imagine what happens with a new car coming out next year and them being on an even playing field finally.
We saw this coming though. They shined in the NASCAR Xfinity Series prior.
Reddick won eight times in two straight championship seasons between 2018 and 2019. Custer was second in points in both years and also won eight times those two seasons. Bell, won 15 times between 2018 and 2019 himself as all three made the Championship 4 in 2018 and again in 2019.
That type of accomplishments will eventually come in Cup as the writing is clearly already on the wall.