Rookie wonders: Dillon, Larson have impressed so far in 2014

Austin Dillon (left) and Kyle Larson (right) lead the Sprint Cup Series' 2014 rookie class.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Saturday night at Darlington put eight races of the 2014 season in the books. Probably the biggest surprise to me so far has been rookie Kyle Larson. I think it would be safe to say he has exceeded expectations so far. I believe he’s already proven to everyone that Chip Ganassi made a great decision to go with this young man.

In those eight races, Kyle already has a top-five finish and four top-10 finishes. He also finds himself sitting 14th in the points as we head into this off weekend. Chip has to feel pretty good that we are all watching the future of Chip Ganassi Racing.

In the same boat is Austin Dillon. I think he’s done a great job, and he’s a rookie, too. Despite not getting the finishes yet that he has hoped for, Austin is currently 10th in the points. Obviously, the highlight of his eight races so far was putting the No. 3 car on the pole back in February for the Daytona 500.

So both rookies have easily turned my head so far this season with not only their consistency, but with their boldness out on the track at times. I think both have handled the pressure really well that has been put on them. You have Austin driving the legendary No. 3 car and you had Kyle who was facing as much doubt from folks in the garage area as there was optimism about him. That’s a lot to put on rookies in NASCAR’s premier series but they both have done an excellent job.

I am a little bit puzzled right now about Joe Gibbs Racing and Matt Kenseth in particular. Sure, teammate Kyle Busch has won a race already, but as a whole, there just haven’t been a lot of bright spots. They just aren’t where I anticipated them to be at this point in the season.

In Matt’s case and, ironically, Jimmie Johnson has also admitted the same thing, being so focused on winning the 2013 championship can hurt your preparation for the 2014 season. Jimmie readily says that’s why the No. 48 started out so slow this year, and I would wager that’s the same thing Matt would say. Remember that we had a change in the off season of the handling and aero package, so neither driver has been as strong as they were in 2013.

Obviously, I expect both cars to come around and they’ll win their fair share of races. I think it would be a bigger surprise if they don’t. I just had expected both Matt and Jimmie to have made more noise by now, eight races into the season. These two fought it to the end for the championship last year but right now, like everyone else in the garage, they are chasing Kevin Harvick.