This year's rookie pool isn't the traditional variety consisting of wide-eyed youngsters looking to make a name for themselves. This season, the field consists of a few drivers that are already champions in their own right and are looking to conquer racing's biggest stage.
Regan Smith | No. 01 Steak-umm/Principal Financial Sercives Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Smith signed a one-year deal to remain with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and drive the No. 01 car full time during the 2008 season. Smith, Mark Martin and Aric Almirola were acquired by DEI, along with an additional ride, when they merged with Ginn Racing last year. He remains eligible for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award after competing in seven races, with eight being the cut-off point for eligibility. In seven races, Smith's best qualifying position was 10th, while his best finish was 24th in the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway. DEIs resources get a significant boost with the merger and for Smith, whose contract has a team option for two more years, it could make for a breakout season for the 23-year-old. Take Smith as in the fourth round if he's available.
Dario Franchitti | No. 40 Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
Franchitti signed a multi-year deal in October of 2007 with Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 40 Dodge Avenger. He got his feet wet last season, competing in four races in the Nationwide Series and one race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. With 10 years of open-wheel driving experience under his belt, Franchitti enters this season having won the 2007 Indy Racing League Championship and a rain soaked Indianapolis 500. Franchitti joins the right team in Ganassi, who has experience transitioning open-wheel drivers into stock car drivers - as proven by the successful debut of Juan Pablo Montoya - who made the transition last season, winning Rookie of the Year. Franchitti is one of only three rookie drivers not to have to race their way into the first five races. With the experience of Ganassi, as well as teammates Montoya and Reed Sorenson, Franchitti has to be the early favorite to be this season's Rookie of the Year. Consider Franchitti as a No. 4 driver option.
Sam Hornish Jr. | No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge | Penske Racing
Hornish Jr. signed a deal with Penske Racing in November 2007 to drive the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge in the 2008 Sprint Cup Series. Hornish spent eight seasons in the IndyCar Series and is the ICS all-time win leader with 19. He also won three championships in 2001, 2002 and 2006, as well as winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500. Hornish competed in two Cup Series races in 2007 but managed to start no better than 26th and finish no better than 30th in each. Teammate Kurt Busch was allowed to transfer his owner points over to the No. 77 car, which guarantees Hornish a spot in the first three races. However, it appears that Hornish may find it difficult to keep his car on the track if he is forced to use up his exemptions in the first five races. Penske has struggled to get both Busch and Ryan Newman in the winner's circle. Along with the Penske's programs being an issue, Hornish, who admittedly does not like to ask teammates for help, could likely suffer from being the low man on the totem pole. Hornish could be considered as a No. 4 driver.
Patrick Carpentier | No. 10 Valvoline Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports
Carpentier made his NASCAR Nextel Cup debut in August of last season, after Gillett Evernham Motorsports decided to finish their season with a glimpse into the future. He replaced Scott Riggs in the No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge and managed to qualify for three races. Carpentier is an experienced driver, who whose resume includes being the former Toyota Atlantic Series Champion (1996) and CART Rookie of the Year (1997). Carpentier's predecessor failed to finish the top 35, which is a huge disadvantage to begin the year. Carpentier has some fantasy upside, but he will have to come out of the gate strong if he has any chance of competing for the Cup. Consider him as a No. 5 fantasy driver.
Jacques Villeneuve | No. 27 Toyota | Bill Davis Racing
Villeneuve will drive the No. 27 car for Bill Davis Racing in 2008. Villeneuve made two starts in the Nextel Cup Series in 2007, with his best performance coming at UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. He qualified sixth and finished 21st due to a large amount of accidents and mechanical failures. The 35-year-old brings along an impressive resume that includes being the 1997 Formula One World Champion and the 1995 CART Champion. However, the change of scenery should do Villeneuve good, considering he hasn't won a race since winning the championship in 1997. Villeneuve is perhaps the best pure driver of the rookie class, but he will also have to qualify in the first five races of the 2008 Sprint Cup Series in an attempt to get in the top 35 in owners points. Villeneuve should be considered a risk if he is taken any higher than your No. 5 fantasy driver.
Michael McDowell | No. 00 Aaron's Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
McDowell will drive the No. 00 Aaron's Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2008. McDowell is scheduled to take over for David Reutimann in the No. 00 car after the first five races. Reutimann is scheduled to replace Dale Jarrett - who's set to retire - after the first five races in the No. 44 car. McDowell has not started or competed in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in his career. However, he does have stock car race experience. In the 2007, McDowell competed in the ARCA RE/MAX Championship, grabbing four wins and nine poles, finishing second in the final point standings on his way to winning Rookie of the Year. Fantasy owners shouldn't forget about this 22-year-old rookie, whose fate is tied to how well Reutimann can start. McDowell should be considered a No. 5 fantasy driver.
About Fraser Lovat
Fraser is a Hot off the Wire Analyst with KFFL and has been with the company since 2007.
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