The top tier of NASCAR racing is an ever-changing cycle of new faces in different places. This season is no different, with two standout rookies taking over rides from veteran drivers and another joining a brand new team for a breakout program.In the last three years, Erik Jones, Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez have combined for 18 wins and two championships across the Camping World Trucks and Xfinity Series. Granted, 15 of those checkered flags and both titles came from Jones and Suarez, but who’s counting?Joe Gibbs Racing’s tandem is clearly the duo to beat in this year’s rookie class, but Dillon has the backing of Richard Childress Racing in the garage. With the 2017 NASCAR season kicking off in two weeks with the Daytona 500, here’s a look at the top three drivers in the Rookie of the Year discussion.Erik Jones, Furniture Row RacingThere isn’t a level of NASCAR that Jones hasn’t blistered en route to his first season in the Monster Energy Series. After winning the Truck Series championship in his first full-time season in 2015, Jones won four Xfinity races last year and finished fourth in points.How good is Jones? Furniture Row Racing created an entirely new team just to put the 20-year-old driver at the top level of NASCAR. Similar to Suarez with Edwards, Jones has a great mentor to work with in teammate Martin Truex Jr.”[Truex] and I haven’t had a chance to talk a whole lot in the offseason,” Jones said. “I hadn’t talked to him much before we announced this deal at Watkins Glen. I think that relationship will grow when we get back in the racing mode. I’d love to talk to him more about transitioning into the Cup Series more since he went through the same thing.”I think he will be a great teammate and for Furniture Row, it will be beneficial to have two cars at the track.”Already sponsored by both 5-Hour Energy and Sports Clips, Jones has the backing to make FRR’s second team a success. Couple that with a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing and a rookie who describes himself as a “checkers-or-wreckers kind of driver” and Jones enters the year as the top candidate for Rookie of the Year.Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs RacingOne month ago, the NASCAR world learned the shocking news that Carl Edwards would not return to the sport. Luckily for Joe Gibbs Racing, the defending Xfinity Series champion Suarez was ready to immediately make the leap into the No. 19 car.While Edwards is stepping away from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that’s still a mouthful he hasn’t left the JGR garage completely. The two-time runner up for the title has offered his advice to Suarez ahead of his rookie campaign.”He’s an amazing driver,” Suarez said of Edwards. “He has won at almost every raceway in NASCAR. … It’s a huge deal for me. For him to help my entire team, I really appreciate that a lot.”Suarez doesn’t need much help, however, after a dominant Xfinity Series season last year. The former Drive for Diversity participant has seen his star rise quickly after just two full-time seasons in NASCAR.He might need some time to emerge from under Edwards’ shadow, but Suarez is yet another strong driver out of the JGR stable. And with Toyota Racing’s recent success, a win in Suarez’s first season isn’t out of the discussion.Ty Dillon, Germain RacingLet’s be honest, Dillon’s transition to the top level of NASCAR was bound to happen. The fact that it came at the expense of veteran driver and all-around good dude Casey Mears was unfortunate.While he hasn’t captured a championship at any NASCAR level like his fellow rookies, Dillon does have the backing of Richard Childress Racing. Germain Racing hasn’t been in contention in recent years, but bringing Dillon in helps from a competitive standpoint.He may be part of one of the biggest NASCAR families, but he isn’t resting on his laurels heading into this year.”I still have a lot to accomplish,” Dillon said. “My grandfather [Richard Childress] said the other night that he feels like he still hasn’t made it, and that’s how I kind of feel. I’m not going to be satisfied until I win races and championships, and then maybe be back here like he was.”If the past is any indication of how Dillon will fare as a rookie, just looking at his brother Austin Dillon’s first season should help. While Austin made the playoffs last season, he posted just nine top-10 finishes in his first two years.Suarez and Jones might get off to hot starts in their first season under the JGR umbrella, but Ty has some work to do in the No. 13 car. If the curve for Ty eventually hits a peak like Austin did in 2016, however, the wait might be worth it for the entire RCR team.
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