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Three young drivers appear to be on fast track in NASCAR's elite series

Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Trevor Bayne, all in early 20s, face high expectations in Sprint Cup Series

For three promising young drivers in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, there's nowhere to go but up. And that makes for a pressure-packed season.

Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Trevor Bayne — all in their early 20s — are highly touted because they have already achieved milestones in their nascent careers.

So expectations are high for the three as the Cup series holds its third race of the season Sunday, the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The trio is part of a crop of talented young drivers in NASCAR's elite series. Joey Logano, 24, already has established himself as a premier driver with five wins in 2014 and a victory at this year's season-opening Daytona 500.

Here's a look at the other three drivers, what they' hae accomplished so far and their view of dealing with heightened expectations this year:

Kyle Larson

If any of the three is expected to win soon, it's the 22-year-old Larson, who qualified fifth for Sunday's race.

The Elk Grove, Calif., native is starting his second full season in the Cup series, driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for the team Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

He finished second three times last year, was 17th in the standings and just missed the 16-driver Chase for the Cup title playoff. As a result, he was the series' rookie of the year.

Larson is a racing prodigy who excelled at driving open-wheel midget cars and sprint cars before moving to stock cars. NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart were praising Larson's skill even before Larson joined their ranks.

Larson finished 34th in the Daytona 500 and 26th last weekend at Atlanta, with his car collected in crashes in both races.

Still, "it's good this early in the season to have this much speed in our cars," Larson said Friday. "I think we can get a win, hopefully before halfway" through this season. "We just have to put a whole race together."

Austin Dillon

High expectations are nothing new for Dillon, 24, because he's the grandson of famed NASCAR team owner Richard Childress and drives for Childress' team.

Dillon won championships in NASCAR's second-tier Xfinity Series and its truck series, then made a splash a year ago by winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in the return of the No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.

But Dillon often has struggled; his best finish is fifth in 51 Cup starts to date. At Daytona this year, he finished 14th after being involved in a last-lap crash and he finished 39th at Atlanta after spinning out early in the race.

Still, Dillon said he wasn't concerned about feeling added pressure to finish well now that he's no longer a Cup rookie.

"I've had to deal with that [pressure] in my entire career, so moving to the Cup series is just another step," said Dillon, a native of Welcome, N.C., who's known for almost always wearing Stetson cowboy hats.

Childress said he'd be surprised if Dillon did not win a Cup race this year and that "we don't put any pressure on him because we know he puts all the pressure on himself." Dillon starts 25th in Sunday's race at Las Vegas.

Dillon did win Saturday at Las Vegas in the Xfinity Series race, in which he drove Childress' No. 33 Chevy.

Trevor Bayne

Bayne stunned the NASCAR world in 2011 when he became the youngest winner of the Daytona 500, at age 20, driving a car prepared by the Wood Brothers team.

But that victory did not lead to a steady ride in the Cup series, so Bayne mostly toiled in the Xfinity Series until this year.

The Tennessean now drives the No. 6 Ford full-time for Roush Fenway Racing, which gave him the ride after Carl Edwards left for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Bayne, 24, hopes to run well this year but acknowledged that the entire Roush Fenway team — which also includes Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — is struggling to keep pace with NASCAR's best teams.

"As an organization we want to get better," said Bayne, who starts 35th on Sunday. In addition, "even though I've been around the last five years, this is still my first full season of Sprint Cup racing. We just have to be realistic."

Regardless, "Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, they're proving the young guys can do it," Bayne said. "I want to be one of those guys proving that."

Gordon setback

Jeff Gordon, who won the pole position for Sunday's race, instead will have to start at the rear of the field because of a crash in practice Saturday.

Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet was damaged after the four-time champion couldn't avoid hitting a spinning Danica Patrick. That forced Gordon to use a backup car Sunday and, under NASCAR rules, start at the rear.

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