- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Say hello to the new guys in NASCAR.

Don’t worry if you can’t remember them all just yet, because they’re coming in one booming wave.

They already made a splash at Daytona - and they’re in it to win big over the long haul.

Austin Dillon holds the top spot for the Daytona 500.

Kyle Larson wants to finish as the top rookie in NASCAR.

The two preseason favorites for rookie of the year have to hold off a crowded field of six other drivers - a whopping number for NASCAR - eligible for the award. The new faces have squeezed veteran stalwarts like Jeff Burton and Mark Martin out of rides, leaving open the possibility that Sunday’s Daytona 500 could be viewed down the road as one that swept in a new era in NASCAR.

“I don’t think there has been a rookie of the year battle in quite a while like this one,” Larson said.

Larson and Dillon are the lynchpins of a class that include Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt.

Austin Dillon’s got to be the favorite for that with everything he has accomplished,” Larson said. “If I could beat him I think that would say a lot about myself and our team.”

The 21-year-old Larson has been touted as racing’s next big shining star for the last few years. Larson ran four races last season as a warm-up for his move to Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 Chevrolet. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are among the NASCAR champions that have been wowed by the natural speed, talent and versatility flashed by Larson. Gordon once said, “he makes me look like nothing,” at his age.

His A-list fan club has only boosted his profile.

“It’s definitely helped me get me to where I’m at right now,” Larson said. “Having guys that everybody looks up to talk about me, I definitely pay attention to it, or have. I try not to pay too much attention to it because I don’t want to add any much pressure to myself or even let me get cocky or anything like that.”

Larson won a low-level NASCAR developmental series championship in 2012, the first time he raced in stock cars. He finished eighth in the standings with nine top-fives in his first full season in the Nationwide Series.

Larson, whose mother is Japanese and father is of Native American descent, is just one of the prospects set to take over as today’s crop of 40-something Cup drivers inch closer toward retirement.

Martin, who went 0 for 29 in “The Great American Race,” has no races scheduled for this season and consults for Stewart-Haas Racing. Burton parted ways with Richard Childress Racing and joined NBC Sports. Gordon even said he’d consider retirement if he could win a fifth championship.

Story Continues →