So who will one day challenge Kasey, Carl and Kyle for championships? For years virtually everyone in the Cup garage has bemoaned the lack of promising young drivers. But not anymore. By 2015, these three hotshoes should be contending for NASCAR's biggest prize.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The defending Nationwide Series champ, Stenhouse is likely to compete in a handful of Cup races this season, including the Daytona 500. Owner Jack Roush—who says the 24-year-old "possesses all the qualities of the best who have ever been"—expects Stenhouse to be piloting the number 6 Ford full time on the Cup circuit in 2013. "Then," says Stenhouse, "I hope to be consistent in 2014 and make the Chase that year. Then in 2015, I hope to challenge for the championship. That's the schedule I have mapped out in my head."
No car has carried the number 3 in the Cup Series since Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, but it could return when Dillon becomes a full-time Cup driver, which should happen in 2014. The '11 truck series champ and grandson of Richard Childress—who owned Earnhardt's number 3 Chevy—Dillon, 21, will run the Nationwide circuit this season. "I want to stay in Nationwide for two years, learn how to win, then move up to Cup," he says. "There are fans who live for the number 3. One day I hope to make them very happy."
Saddled with mediocre equipment last season at Richard Petty Motorsports, Allmendinger, 30, produced an impressive 10 top 10 finishes. Owner Roger Penske was so taken with Allmendinger that he signed the former Champ Car racer to a multiyear contract to replace Kurt Busch in the number 22 Dodge. "AJ has an incredible amount of potential," says Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. "We have to be realistic and try to hit singles before we hit home runs with AJ, but the long-term future is bright."