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NASCAR Draft Kit: 2017 Top Rookies

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A five-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year each of the last two years. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

The 2017 rookie class is a bit thinner than last season's group. However, the level of talent is still considerable when we examine the drivers' racing resumes. We have some very seasoned, young Xfinity Series drivers who will make the transition this season, and they're not entirely unfamiliar with Monster Energy Cup Series cars. In addition to our full-time rookies we have some young drivers that will make some part-time forays into the world of Monster Energy Cup Series racing from the lower divisions of the sport.

The transition from the Xfinity Series or Camping World Truck Series to the top division of NASCAR is always a big adjustment for young drivers. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s performance in 2013 and Austin Dillon's performance in 2014 are good examples of how even future stars of the sport takes some time to adjust to NASCAR's top racing series.

We'll look at the ROTY candidates and some of the young, up-and-coming drivers who will make part-time starts in the Monster Energy Cup Series this season, and give you some in-depth analysis on which rookie drivers are the ones to watch closely this season.

1. Daniel Suarez
Owner: Joe Gibbs Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

ARCA 50112
NASCAR Mexico 5810132534
K&N Pro East 43301222
Camping World Truck 27111016
Xfinity 68362745

In an unexpected move, Carl Edwards announced his retirement from NASCAR racing in early January. That left one of the premiere rides in the Monster Energy Cup Series open at Joe Gibbs Racing. The 2016 Xfinity Series champion had planned to defend his title in the upcoming season, instead Suarez will be racing for Rookie of the Year in Cup. The Mexican-born driver was able to squeeze in 95 combined starts in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series the last three seasons. He won one championship, won four victories and claimed an impressive 61 Top-10 finishes in those starts. However, Suarez hasnít made any starts in the Cup Series. That might be his only weakness on paper, which is the visible lack of seat time in NASCARís top division. The top-notch team, crew chief and equipment support he'll get in the No. 19 Toyota team will help ease these growing pains and bend that steep learning curve. Suarez should be seen as the front runner to win the ROTY and a potential candidate to make the Chase for the Cup in his first full season of racing.

2. Erik Jones

Car: 77
Owner: Furniture Row Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota

Camping World Truck41771934
Monster Energy Cup30000

For a while now Furniture Row Racing has talked about expanding to two teams. Itís been kicked around for a while, but they made it clear that it would take the right driver and right sponsorship package to make it happen. Last seasonís technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing would make the expansion to a second team possible. JGR's up-and-coming prodigy, Jones, would fit the bill. After four seasons of racing in NASCAR's lower divisions, the 20-year-old talent appears set and ready to go. He brings one championship (trucks) and 13 combined victories between the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series since the 2013 season. Jones has very rapidly ascended the ranks in NASCAR and now is ready to be a top contender in the 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign in the Monster Energy Cup Series. At Furniture Row Racing he'll get top notch equipment and some of the best minds in the sport to support his efforts. Jones won't be quite as good as last seasonís ROTY, Chase Elliott, but he will be surprisingly good in 2017. Expect him to reach double digits in Top-10 finishes in his first season at NASCAR's top level.

3. Ty Dillon

Car: 13
Owner: Germain Racing
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

K&N Pro East111026
Camping World Truck53351935
Monster Energy Cup180000

The younger brother of Austin Dillon is finally ready to make his big move full-time into the Monster Energy Cup Series. Dillon has spent the last five years preparing for this big step in his racing career and over that time he's amassed 164-combined starts between the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series. In those starts Dillon has combined to win four events and finish inside the Top 5 of the driver standings in all five of the full-time season's he's competed in. No championships during that time is a bit concerning, but it's obvious that Dillon has ďthe giftĒ. He'll take over the seat of the No. 13 Chevrolet at Germain Racing. This is the team that veteran Casey Mears has guided since the 2010 season. The team is an affiliate of Dillon's grandfather, Richard Childress, so this move was pretty obvious. The young driver will get all the support and equipment that the rest of the RCR stable enjoys. That will make him a competitive driver this season, but not likely to overcome Erik Jones in the Rookie of the Year race.

4. Gray Gaulding

Car: 30
Owner: The Motorsports Group
Manufacturer: Chevrolet

K&N Pro East38021122
Camping World Truck130012
Monster Energy Cup20000

At the time of this writing it has not been made official, but it looks like Gaulding could be headed to The Motorsports Group's No. 30 Chevrolet for 2017. The 18-year-old would race for Rookie of the Year with this small race team. Gaulding made two starts for this team last season, but both were DNF's. He also attempted the season finale at Homestead, but failed to qualify for that race field. Gaulding has enjoyed some limited success over the last four seasons in the lower divisions of NASCAR. That includes some really good racing, but no wins in the K&N Pro Series East. Gaulding still has a lot of driver development ahead of him, and his limited experience will only show on the race track. TMG didn't exactly end last season on a positive note either, so expect Gaulding to struggle most of the season with this single-car race team.