There are a handful of established championship contenders in NASCAR entering the 2018 season, and the list includes the usual suspects of Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.
But there’s another group of contenders without a championship who are lurking. A plethora of young drivers are expected to contend for the title next season, and a recent article from Forbes predicts that rookie driver Alex Bowman is the ultimate “wild card” for the 2017.
Bowman is taking over the No. 88 car for Dale Earnhardt Jr., but his move to Hendrick Motorsports has been overshadowed by William Byron’s arrival. Byron won the Xfinity Series, and he’ll be the youngest driver in the field next year.
But the article makes the case for Byron and said he has the experience to contend immediately.
“Hendrick employed Bowman the rest of 2017 as a test and simulator driver. His on-track credentials in 2017 include only the Clash, two Xfinity Series races and a truck race. But he won one of the Xfinity Series races, at Charlotte in October, and the experience he gained behind the scenes for Hendrick had to have helped.”
While Bowman is an interesting choice for a wild card, it would be rare to see a rookie contend for a title right off the bat.
Our choice for a wild card is Erik Jones. He is coming off of a Rookie of the Year season, and he’s making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jones had a five top-5 finishes last year, and he has 14 top-10s in his short career. He didn’t make the playoffs last year, but he showed flashes of excellence as a rookie with Furniture Row Racing.
Bowman might be a playoff contender for Hendrick Motorsports, but Jones could be a contender for the championship. He has the benefit of driving a Toyota, which dominated the sport last year. Bowman’s new Camaro could help him if the Chevy makes the strides its expected to, but Toyota will still be the favorite among the three manufacturers.
The youth movement in NASCAR could reinvigorate the sport next year, and Jones and Bowman will be a big part of it next season.