Young guns ready to make their mark

Youth springs life into NASCAR, and never more so than in 2014, when the sport is in the midst of a movement that promises to eventually alter the landscape of top levels. The best crop of young drivers in years is climbing the ladder.

Not every driver will meet their potential or exceed the expectations placed upon them, just as factors such as sponsorship and ride availability always threaten to end a shorten career. Now, the number of young guns is vast, that it seems only a matter of time before many of them break through and make their own marks.

This is a transitional period, with some older drivers moving away from full-time competition and leaving open rides in their wake. The NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series ranks are already overflowing with young talent. It all adds up to a potential banner year for young drivers in NASCAR. Here are some of the top talent moving up the ladder this year.

* Ryan Reed, Roush Fenway Racing: The 20-year-old Reed is perhaps best known for competing with Type 1 diabetes, and will indeed have the diabetes awareness campaign of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly on the hood of his No. 16 car in 2014. But he has a chance to be better known for his results on the race track, given that he’ll wheel one of Jack Roush’s entries full-time in the Nationwide Series. Reed has shown some flashes, placing ninth last season in a Nationwide race at Richmond, and finishing on the lead lap in all but one of his six Nationwide starts in 2013.

* Ty Dillon, Richard Childress Racing: Ty moves up to the Nationwide Series this season, and into the same No. 3 program that his older brother Austin won the championship with a year ago. The runner-up for the Truck Series title last season, Ty has always been competitive in Nationwide events, and in 2014 he’ll have the benefit of crew chief Danny Stockman Jr. calling the shots. Ty could claim his first championship this year.

* Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing: Austin will be driving the No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series this year. The older grandson of Richard Childress will move into the ride vacated by Kevin Harvick in 2013. He’ll have the asset in crew chief, Gil Martin, who’s seen it all, done it all in the Cup series.

Austin finished 11th in a Cup event last year at Michigan, and then 14th at the same track later on as Tony Stewart’s injury substitute. No question, RCR is a team in transition with the departures of Harvick and Jeff Burton, and history has shown that the organization is prone to rollercoaster swings in performance. Given what we know, though, the combination of team, crew chief and driver here appears pretty close to ideal. It may take a while before Austin is ready to compete for another series trophy, but all of the ingredients are there to make a championship team in the near future.

The crop of drivers is strong with talent and tenacity, but the future has yet to be written.

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