As with each NASCAR season, some drivers showed greatly improved results during the 2016 Premier Season campaign.
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Following are five drivers who stepped up in a big way this past season. And, no, we’re not including Jimmie Johnson, who went from 10th in point in 2015 to first this year. We figure he probably already knew how to drive.
Trevor Bayne, +7 positions
Bayne didn’t have a great season, but the fact that he finished 22nd in points after winding up 29th in 2015 shows he’s on the rise. And given that he finished between his Roush Fenway Racing teammates Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (21st) and Greg Biffle (23rd) in the standings suggests he can hold his own in equal equipment.
Austin Dillon, +7
No question about it, the 2016 season was the best of Dillon’s still young career. He made the Chase for the first time and finished 14th in points, well ahead of teammates Ryan Newman (18th) and Paul Menard (25th).
Kyle Larson, +9
In his third season, Larson was finally able to break through and park his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in Victory Lane at Michigan, earning himself a spot in the Chase and a ninth-place points finish. He will head into the 2017 season as one of the favorites to make a run at a championship.
Matt Kenseth, +10
To be fair, this one is a little bit misleading. Kenseth finished 15th in points in 2015 mostly because he was suspended for two races for wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville. Still, this year Kenseth came within about half of lap of making to the Chase final before crashing on an overtime restart at Phoenix.
Tony Stewart, +13
Honestly, this one was a bit of a shocker. The 2015 campaign saw Stewart finish 28th in points with only three top 10s. This year, in his final season of NASCAR racing, Stewart wound up 15th in the driver standings with a win at Sonoma, five top fives and eight top 10s.