Last season, Martin Truex Jr proved to be the biggest surprise for 2015 as he scored 14 top 10 finishes in the first 15 races. Even though he went into a slump for most of the second half, Truex still managed to make the Championship Four at Homesteadplacing fourth. The most amazing part of this story was new crew chief Cole Pearn and driving for a single car team, Furniture Row Racing, which he and Kurt Busch help put on the NASCAR map. Now these three drivers will have the opportunity to claim the dark horse title for 2016.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: With all the turmoil that circled around Roush Fenway Racing, Mr Roush himself wasted no time making changes on the track and inside the shop. Whatever those changes were, they must be helping the former two-time Xfinity Series Champion. Stenhouse is starting to qualify better from when he did the first three races this season. He’s went from a 27.6 average start to 13.3, five points better than Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne. Stenhouse is currently 11th in points.
- Ryan Blaney: You had to imagine that an open driver would have a say when competing against charter drivers. Wood Brothers Racing were left off the list due to lack of participation the last three seasons, but picking up Ryan Blaney full time is so far paying dividends. Though Blaney isn’t getting the top finishes he’s looking for, he has stayed competitive in the top 10 early in the season. His best finish so far is sixth in Las Vegas,best starting position seventh at Daytona. So far Blaney is in the running for Rookie of the Year as he sits 14th in points.
- Chase Elliott: Jeff Gordon’s replacement has looked fairly well in his rookie season withHendrick Motorsports, but circumstances have prevented him from getting the finishes everyone is expecting. Clinching his first ever pole at the Daytona 500 and an eighth place finish in Atlanta is all he can show at this point. The rookie race looks to be between Elliott and Blaney, but Elliott will find his opportunity when it is presented. He currently sits 28th in points, but don’t try to count him out yet.
Much is left to debate as the season rolls along. A new dark horse contender could emerge after the West Coast swing is over. But the real question is, who will it be?
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Bryan Law