NASCAR’s most memorable Cup Series prospects
By Staff Report | Tuesday, September 24, 2019
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Christopher Bell, 24, will join Leavine Family Racing in 2020, making his heralded Cup Series debut for the Toyota-backed team. Bell is considered one of the sport's top prospects. Getting his start on dirt, his introduction to pavement in the NASCAR national series has been sensational -- he has 22 total wins in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series. Read on to see some more of NASCAR's top Cup Series prospects over the years.
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Busch, a veteran of the local Las Vegas bullring as a teenager, drove his first NASCAR national series race at age 16 in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He was in the Cup Series full time at age 20 and now, at age 34, has the most NASCAR national series wins of all time (207 and counting).
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Byron made his name in the iRacing community, becoming one of its top drivers in the world before setting foot inside a race car. The skills transferred over. Byron was called up to Hendrick Motorsports at age 20, following one season in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2016 (seven wins) and one season in the Xfinity Series in 2017 (four wins, series championship).
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Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He had the name, and he had the skills, too. Earnhardt Jr. made his own name in the Late Model world, then won consecutive Xfinity Series titles from 1998-99 before being called up to the Cup Series full time in 2000.
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Known for handing out business cards whenever he could, imploring teams to hire him, Edwards also gained notoriety for his signature back flip. But it was his skill behind the wheel that made him one of the most sought-after drivers in his early 20s, and Jack Roush was quick to bring Edwards to the Cup Series full time at age 25.
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Perhaps the best NASCAR prospect of all time, Gordon had it all -- the skills, of course, but also a look, a certain California cool that ushered in a new NASCAR era. He retired in 2015 with 93 wins and as one of the best drivers of all time.
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Maybe the biggest unknown on this list, Hutcherson had won the International Motor Contest Association championship before coming to NASCAR. Because of that, although he arrived with great fanfare, he was not permitted to run for Rookie of the Year honors in 1965. That season he won nine times and logged 32 top fives in 52 starts, finishing second in the standings to Ned Jarrett.
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Kenny Irwin Jr.
Irwin was dubbed the next Jeff Gordon by many, and he was the 1998 Rookie of the Year in the premier series. Robert Yates pounced and gave Irwin the No. 28 ride in 1998. Irwin tragically died in a wreck during practice at New Hampshire in 2000.
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A late bloomer by today's standards, Labonte's 1991 Xfinity Series championship at age 27 put him on the radar -- as did being the younger brother of Cup Series driver Terry Labonte. Bobby won one Cup Series championship and will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next year.
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The "Sliced Bread" nickname stuck, and eventually, so did Logano's career. Logano is the youngest Cup Series winner of all time -- 19 years, 1 month, 4 days when he won at Loudon, but it took him nearly three years to win again. Eventually, he left Joe Gibbs Racing after two wins in 145 races and had a career renaissance at Team Penske driving the No. 22. He is the defending Monster Energy Series champion.
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Richard Petty, left, was a hot prospect in 1959 because of his father Lee's success. Richard Petty passed his father for first place on the all-time Cup Series wins list in 1967 at age 27, when he won a whopping 27 races in a season. He is the sport's all-time leader with 200 Cup Series wins, and he has seven series championships.
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A fourth-generation racer, Adam was the great-grandson of Lee, the grandson of Richard and the son of Kyle. He was tragically killed during a practice wreck in New Hampshire at age 19. The Petty family established the Victory Junction camp in Adam's honor in 2004. The camp exists to enrich the lives of children, ages six to 16, with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
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Hardly a "rookie," Stewart came into NASCAR white-hot as a prospect in 1999, considering he already was an open-wheel champion.