Something odd is happening in NASCAR. Should you only watch the Cup coverage on Sunday, you wouldn’t notice. But tune in on Saturday or even the occasional Friday and the difference can’t be avoided. After about four seasons, a herd of young drivers are ready to stampede over the list of about 30 names that headline our sport week after week.
Who are they? Let me introduce you.
On Saturday at Iowa, Ryan Blaney – all of a whole 18 years old – became the youngest driver ever to win a Camping World Truck Series race. Yes, he is the son of a veteran Cup racer, and that certainly earned him a good amount of spotlight earlier in the season, but it wasn’t his Dad beating out hard-edged wheelers like Todd Bodine and Johnny Sauter restart after restart. Did I mention the youngest ever? Destroying the previously held record by one Kyle Busch, who may finally have some competition on hand, who not only can take him on fender for fender, but were born in the same decade.
It should also be noted Blaney wasn’t the only driver unable to raise a cold one in the top-five with week. Ty Dillon, one of the two much discussed and touted grandchildren of Richard Childress driving the famed black No. 3, just passed his 20th birthday in February. But the low number of years accrued in this pair’s lifetime doesn’t indicate an inability to bring it when the green flag drops. In fact, look at who’s at the top of the points race in the Truck Series. That’s right – like his brother, Ty’s wasting no time in adding a series title to his list of achievements.
Now, one could dismiss this success as a result of having the perfectly set-up truck and Blaney or Dillon just came along for the ride. But no. There’s just too much competition even in NASCAR’s third-tier racing series for that statement to hold water. We’re seeing more youngsters trading paint (you can add Parker Kligerman, James Beuscher, Joey Coulter… sheesh, look at ’em all!) We’re seeing them turn the tradition of the Truck Series upside down.
In the past, if you lost your ride in the Cup Series, a Truck team snatched you up and you’d have a real chance at making good. Mike Skinner, Johnny Benson, Bodine, Ron Hornaday, Ted Musgrave; the list goes on. All of them were capable of teaching any new rookies their place in the world and introducing them to the ways of beatin’ and bangin’ that is an integral part of stock car racing. Along the way, the veterans stomped the field and became champions.
But it seems, like our entire sport, the Truck Series is evolving into something new. Something younger. Drivers like Blaney and Dillon are arriving on NASCAR’s doorstep in machines capable of taking on the vets, and they are also gaining training in lower series before they do their first big national TV interview. Now, instead of an uncertain rookie, we have young, eager and capable competitors ready to race and to win.
Win races and even series titles. Austin Dillon stole the Truck trophy in 2011 and is currently giving another youngster – yes, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s been in the headlines of late, too – a run for the money in the Nationwide Series. All the while, Elliott Sadler‘s frustration with his inability to just put the young ‘uns away grows week after week. His No. 2 was supposed to be a shoe-in for the NNS trophy. So much for the older and wiser dominating NASCAR, everywhere we look.
So yes, go ahead and grumble that all SPEED and ESPN can talk about are the aging Chasers and their regular appearances in the lesser series; the networks’ lack of peripheral vision is too true. But know there’s hope! We will have a brighter future, one that has not be pimped and pushed by a certain .com. The sound of different names can be heard every week. They are even becoming familiar. These guys can muscle their way around an oval, look at the camera while smiling and even go chest-to-chest with some of the most intimidating personalities in the garage.
NASCAR isn’t dying. It’s actually enjoying a rebirth. I’m loving every minute of it.
Author’s Note: I finally made it to Facebook! You may follow my doings on and off the track when you like my page.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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