The 2016 season is without a doubt one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory. Solid racing is creating even better finishes. With photo finishes in two of the first five events, NASCAR is on pace to have one of the most exciting seasons ever. In addition to a new aero package, NASCAR has also found two of its future stars. This years Rookie of the Year battle may be between five total drivers, but the spotlight belongs to Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.
In this post, I want to showcase what the two youngsters have done through the first five races from a statistical perspective. Secondly, I will tell you why both drivers are bound to be the future stars of NASCAR. I will discuss both drivers individually and without comparison. Before we get going, I want to acknowledge that I have nothing against Brian Scott, Chris Buescher, and Jeffrey Earnhardt, but these three drivers have not shown the success of the #24 and #21 teams thus far. Well, enough talking... let's get to it!
Chase Elliott: 0 Win's, 0 Top-5's, 3 Top-10's, 1 Pole. Completed 93.7% of all laps, led 4.
The 'new' 24 team virtually looks the same as it did last season. Through five races Elliott and his NAPA Racing team have collected 3 top-10 finishes. In addition, Chase scored his first pole award during speedweeks in Daytona. With two 8th place finishes (Atlanta & Phoenix) and a 6th place result at Auto Club, fans may question why Elliott still finds himself 16th in the drivers standings. Yes, Chase has found success early, but his success has been accompanied with failure. After scoring the pole for the Daytona 500, Elliott spun early in the 'Great American Race', resulting in a 37th place finish. To make matters worse, Elliott was running top-10 all day at Las Vegas before colliding with a spinning Matt Kenseth, which sent him to the garage in the closing stages of the race, coming home 38th.
For Elliott, 2016 looks very promising, even with the early failures at Daytona and Vegas. The first thing to notice is that Elliott has ran top-10 in EVERY race this season. Honestly, Chase should be batting 1.00 in the top-10 column, while sitting top-10 in the standings. He had a solid car at Daytona and as I stated before, ran top-10 all day in Vegas. Another aspect to look at is how Chase has qualified and moved through the pack each week. Thus far Elliott has an average starting position of 12.6 (15.5 if not including pole at Daytona), meaning his top-10 finishes have been accompanied by quality passes during each race. If you average the three events in which he finished top-10 (Atlanta, Phoenix, Auto Club), you would see that Elliott has moved up an average of 9 positions per race. Here are the numbers, at Atlanta Chase started 24th and moved up 16 spots to finish 8th. At Phoenix, the #24 team started 17th and went home 8th again (9 spots). Lastly, at Auto Club, Chase went from 8th to 6th. If you consider Vegas, Chase started 13th and ran top-10, which again shows his progress during the race. Putting two-and-two together, the point to be made is that Chase Elliott continues to EARN solid finishes. He qualifies mid-teen's and lands in the top-10 by the checkered flag. This is a sign of a great driver, someone who doesn't have to qualify top-5 to get a solid finish. Holding you're position is one thing, but to go out and pass veteran drivers is another. Elliott has surpassed my expectations in the early stages of 2016.
Ryan Blaney: 0 Win's, 0 Top-5's, 2 Top-10's, 0 Pole's. Completed 99.1% of all laps, led 0.
The classic #21 is back! Wood Brothers Racing has gotten it's grove back with 22-year-old, Ryan Blaney! The High Point, NC native has shown flashes of brilliance since 2012, and now gets his chance with the 'big boys'. Despite the early controversy over not being rewarded a NASCAR charter, Blaney has kept his #21 team relevant all season long. With back-to-back top-10 finishes at Las Vegas and Phoenix, Blaney has found himself as high as 12th in the drivers standings. After a late crash at Auto Club Speedway, Blaney now finds himself sitting 17th in points tied with his ROTY rival Chase Elliott.
Looking at Blaney's results, 2016 has been a roller coaster. At Daytona, Blaney came home 19th after having a relatively quiet day. Atlanta was no different, as Blaney ran mid-pack to come home 25th. Up to this point, Blaney had shown little to impress until his #21 team thrived in Vegas bringing home a 6th place finish. To follow things up, the Motorcraft Ford brought home another top-10 with a 10th place finish at Phoenix. With back-to-back top-10 runs, fans expected another solid run out of Blaney in California. Simply looking at the final rundown, you will see Blaney came home 35th, but before you think this rookie is no contender, you must know that the #21 car was running in the top-15 before their issues in the closing laps. Blaney's approach has been simple all season long, hold what I have and work to gain as much as possible. Blaney has been very good at holding ground during races and not losing many positions throughout the day. While more passing may be favored, Blaney is showing that he can run with the best, and assure rookie mistakes won't take him out early. While I believe this team has more to prove in order to become ROTY winners, Blaney has impressed me thus far. Solid finishes along with running over 99% of the laps shows a future star is on the rise.
Thanks for reading!!! Make sure to tweet me your favorite rookie in 2016 at @nascar_opinion! I welcome all opinions, questions, and comments, so don't be afraid to follow either! In addition, find NASCAR OPINION on Instagram! Lastly, tune in tonight to "From the Stands Sports Talk Radio" from 7-9pm to hear me and my college buddy talk sports!! We will talk some NFL, MLB, March Madness, and of course... NASCAR! Go to tunein.com and search Winthrop University, then download the stream and launch the app! Hope your tune in, and have a great rest of your day!
(STATISTICS FROM racing-reference.info) (PICS NOT MINE, USED FROM VARIOUS SITES)