Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: The Future of NASCAR Paved By Its Past

On Sunday (Nov. 5), Dave Blaney got to watch his son Ryan take the checkered flag in second place, enough to crown him the NASCAR Cup Series champion in 2023.

It’s been a long time coming for Ryan, who has been competing in the Cup Series full time since 2016. For Dave, he got to watch his son accomplish something he was never able to in his successful career as a racecar driver.

And he was perhaps the happiest person in Phoenix on Sunday.

The Blaneys are just the most recent example of second-generation success in NASCAR. In the past, notable father-son duos were few and far between. But when NASCAR took off in the 1990s, more and more drivers’ kids found themselves with a desire to do what their father had done and compete in NASCAR.

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Teammates Have Nothing But Praise After Ryan Blaney's 1st Cup Title

Which is ironic considering the first successful second-generation driver came early in NASCAR’s history.

Lee Petty was influential in the early stages of NASCAR in the 1950s, winning 54 races and three championships. He was one of the first people to make racing his sole form of income, and in doing so, got his whole family invested in racing.

His son Richard was the next person in the family to bite. And what did he do again?

Oh, he only notched 200 wins (including seven Daytona 500s), 123 poles and seven championships, rightfully earning the nickname of “The King.” Ironically, he would’ve had 201 wins had he not had a win taken away due to a protest by none other than his own father.

Lee had already cemented the Petty name in the NASCAR history books, but Richard decided that he wanted in on the record books too. Interestingly, the success of Lee and Richard actually carried over into the third generation of Pettys.

While Richard’s son Kyle never found the success that his father and grandfather had, he was regularly a front-runner in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He only won eight races, but likely could have won so many more. He won the 1987 Coca-Cola 600 for his troubles and was top-10 in the season point standings five times.

Around the time Kyle entered the sport, two more soon-to-be greats were also beginning their journeys. One of them, Dale Earnhardt, proved himself immediately, winning the Rookie of the Year title in 1979, then backing that up with the Winston Cup championship the following year in 1980.

That championship would be his first of seven, tying Richard Petty. Unlike The King, Earnhardt’s seven championships came with only 76 wins, which is still nothing to scoff at.

As the last few years of Earnhardt’s career were occurring, his son Dale Jr. quickly lit up the Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series), winning back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999 before joining his father’s Cup team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., in 2000. Although he only won two Cup points races before his father’s untimely passing, he went on to have a successful career in the Cup Series.

“Junebug” never won any Cup championships, but among his 26 race wins sits two Daytona 500s. He has also gone on to be a successful team owner in the Xfinity Series.

The other driver to begin his NASCAR career around the time Kyle Petty and Earnhardt Sr. did was Bill Elliott. Elliott became the flagship driver for the Ford camp when it came to superspeedways. A 1988 championship and two Daytona 500s sit atop his impressive resume, along with his NASCAR-record 212.809 mph lap at Talladega Superspeedway and being the first-ever winner of the Winston Million. Not to mention, he was voted Most Popular Driver a record 16 times.

From there, “Million Dollar Bill” was a staple in the series throughout the 1990s, though he could never get that second championship. He officially retired from NASCAR competition in 2012 (save for a one-off start for GMS Racing in 2018, running the Xfinity Series race at Road America in replacement of the suspended Spencer Gallagher).

Right as Bill retired, his son Chase entered the regional racing scene in the K&N Pro Series (now ARCA Menards Series East and West). After a part-time stint in the Camping World (now Craftsman) Truck Series, scoring a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Elliott made the jump to race for Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide (now Xfinity) team full time in 2014 and 2015.

Elliott won the championship in 2014 and finished second in 2015, then moved up to the Cup Series in 2016. It took him three years, but he finally notched career win No. 1 at Watkins Glen International, and as fate would have it, his father served as one of his spotters.

Two years later, Chase hoisted his own crown, winning the 2020 title. In fact, one of the first people to congratulate him and Bill in victory lane was Ryan Blaney. In 2023, Chase was quick to go congratulate his friend on his newest accomplishment.

Then there are the brothers Dillon, Austin and Ty, who have won in both the Truck and Xfinity Series. Additionally, Austin has won four times in the Cup Series, including the 2018 Daytona 500 and two championships (one Truck, one Xfinity). Their father Mike was a driver himself and is now general manager of Richard Childress Racing. Team owner Richard Childress is the Dillons’ grandfather and used to drive in the Cup Series.

John Hunter Nemechek is returning to the Cup Series next season, driving the No. 42 that his father Joe ran for years in the 1990s. Despite no championships, John Hunter has seen tons of success in the Truck and Xfinity series and has established himself as a dominant driver the last two seasons.

Coy Gibbs wasn’t largely successful in his days as a driver, but his son Ty has taken the NASCAR world by storm after winning in his first Xfinity race in 2021 before dominating the 2022 season and taking home the 2022 title. Gibbs was also the 2023 Cup Series Rookie of the Year.

See also
Former Cup Owner Leo Jackson Dead at 90

In today’s day and age, since racing became a legitimate form of income in the ’80s and ’90s, more and more drivers have kids who are working just like them to become a racecar driver. Blaney and Elliott were no different, and there are still those around them who are working to be successful.

Jeff Burton‘s son Harrison and David Gilliland‘s son Todd highlight those making a name for themselves in the Cup Series, while Ward Burton‘s son Jeb and Phil Parsons‘ son Stefan make up a few of the lower series drivers trying to prove themselves.

Now, drivers who have since retired are having kids who we might even see in the Cup Series in due time, further proving that the second generation of NASCAR kids are taking over the future of NASCAR, relying on, to paraphrase Allen Bestwick, “using lessons learned from their fathers” to make themselves the best they can be. And these second generation racers are more successful than ever.

Keelan Harvick, Brexton Busch, Cash Bowyer, Owen Larson and many more could build an even greater legacy than what their fathers have already done.

The future in NASCAR seems to be bright.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He is an editor and co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer and dabbles in SRX coverage too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing a master's degree. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training in his free time. He's a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Happy to see Ryan Blaney win the championship. I remember Dave racing back in the day but always seemed to be in non competitive cars. I don’t remember what year it was but he was leading at Atlanta near the end of race and I thought he might have a chance to pull off a win but a caution came out and it didn’t happen. Darn. Then once I saw his kid Ryan racing in Busch Series I thought I would become a fan when Gordon retired. I also remember when Montoya crashed into the jet dryer during a caution during the 2012 Daytona 500. The racing was red flagged and the drivers were out of their cars on the back stretch waiting to restart. There were a few of the younger drivers (Keselowski etc.) tapping on there cell phones and there was Dave Blaney arms crossed watching with a smile on his face looking like a fish out of water with those youngsters. No phone in his hand.Funny. On a side note about the uproar over the Chastain blocking and Blaney complaining. I wondered if Blaney was faster than Chastain why didn’t Chastain let him by to see if that was the case. If Chastain could beat Blaney without blocking then he could past him back and won without blocking. I get it that Blaney was upset because Larson was closing in.


I think most of the descendants of historic names in NASCAR have represented their family and sport well. I’ve always been impressed with how well Dale Jr. has handled what must have been immense pressure from being in the shadow of Dale Sr’s success (and rabid fan base). Internally maybe it was different for him, but from the outside looking in I think he did about as well as anyone could reasonably expect in carving out his own path/identity/brand.

On the Chastain/Blaney thing… Clean air is generally King in most NA$CAR races. My guess is they were pretty equal car-wise and that clean air on the nose made all the difference. Or at least it did for Chastain’s car and he knew it. Thus, if Blaney gets by it could have been game over for Ross.


Yep now that I’ve given it more thought you’re probably right. There’s that dirty word…”clean air”. IMO it ruins racing.


Then how did Blaney pass Larsen and Byron?

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