Monday, November 11, 2013

NASCAR Prepares For Changing Of The Guard

Labonte's career included Brickyard win
When the checkered flag falls on the NASCAR season this coming Sunday at Homestead, it will mark more than the end of competition for 2013 and the crowning of a new Sprint Cup champion.  It will also mark the end of the careers for several of the sport’s future Hall of Famers and the beginning of an influx of new blood into the series.

It’s about time.  NASCAR is in desperate need of new talent, new names and new faces.  One of NASCAR’s stated goals in recent years has been to attract younger fans to the sport.  They’ve tried to do it with rock bands and social media, without much success.  It’s a tough sell.  The target audience – males 15-25 – has a hard time relating to drivers often twice their age.  But that’s about to change.
The Cup career of Bobby Labonte, 49, may already be over.  Phoenix was his last race of the season and he has no ride at this point for next year.  He’s expressed interest in racing in some truck series events and there’s even talk he might run for Congress.  I’d vote for him.
Mark Martin, 54, and Jeff Burton, 46, will be running their final race for their current teams at Homestead.  Martin says this is it.  Then he says he might be willing to help out a team in need, just as he did for Stewart/Haas Racing this past year.  We may see him again in a car some day.
Burton says he’ll be racing part time next year, but can’t say where yet.  Could be at Michael Waltrip Racing, which now indicates it will run a third car in selected races, perhaps as a development team.  Burton might be a good fit for that role, provide backup for Brian Vickers, and give the team some badly needed respect.  It also would provide a nice transition for Burton into a potential role as a television commentator when the new TV contracts take effect in 2015. 
Also presumably running his final NASCAR race at Homestead will be Juan Pablo Montoya, 38, who is returning to IndyCar racing after being pushed out of his seat at Ganassi Racing.
Replacing Labonte is A. J. Allmendinger, 31.  Burton is being moved aside by Austin Dillion, 23, the grandson of Richard Childress.  And Kyle Larson, 23, will be running Montoya’s No. 42 next year.  Larson, a sprint car graduate, is a can’t miss according to Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
Most of NASCAR’s current Cup stars are best described as being in their mid-30s.   The group includes Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurry, Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose and Martin Truex, Jr.  A few are in their 40s, including Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle. 
Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are both 28.  There’s David Regan and Aric Almirola, but I’m not sure many would put them in the same class as the first two.  Trevor Bayne, 22, is still looking for a fulltime ride.  After that, not much.   The door is wide open.
We actually saw the transition begin this year.  Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 26, replaced Kenseth, 41, when he jumped to Joe Gibbs Racing.  And Joey Logano, still only 23 even though he’s been around six years, moved ahead of Sam Hornish, 34, at Penske Racing.   
Waiting in the wings is a host of drivers who have shown they deserve a crack at the next level.  They include Parker Kligerman (23), Joey Coulter (23), James Buescher (23), Jeb Burton (21), Austin’s little brother Ty Dillion (21),  Darrell “Bubba” Wallace (20), Ross Kenseth (20), Ross Chastain (20) and Alex Bowman (20).  Then there’s the Kiddie Korps – perhaps the most talented bunch of them all – teenagers Ryan Blaney (19), Chase Elliott (17) and Erik Jones (17).
Many of the youngsters have contracts as development drivers for major teams.  It remains to be seen, however, how much longer those teams will be to keep these drivers down on the farm after they’ve had a taste of Sprint Cup action.  Blaney, a Penske development driver, will move up to Nationwide next year as Roger makes the tough decision to bump Hornish yet again. Chip Ganassi had to make a similar call with Larson and Montoya. 
We’re liable to see more of those tough decisions in the next couple of years.  Elliott is tied to Hendrick Motorsports and is seen by many as Jeff Gordon’s replacement.  But what happens if Gordon isn’t ready to move on with Elliott is ready to move up?  Hendrick would no doubt stand with Gordon.  But some of the others, I’m not so sure. 


  1. Chase Elliot not in a Ford,Dearborn has dropped the ball again!

  2. I know I am done with NASCAR. I am not in their target demographic and they have let me know convincingly that they don't want me. I used to be in one of those many empty seats. I used to buy hundreds of dollars worth of licensed merchandise every year. I used to watch every race. Not any more. The product sucks. The bright young faces, are for the most part also rans at every race running behind Kyle Busch. Sad. And I won't watch it.

  3. So basically what you're saying is its a good thing to get rid of anyone over 40 and turn the sport over to the kids (most of whom don't have an attention span long enough to watch a race) and all of us old timers can go take up knitting!

    1. No, not everyone over 40. Obviously, Gordon and Kenseth are still competitive. But too many drivers -- and that includes drivers in their 30s -- seem to be just logging laps. Time for them to step aside and left the young guys see what they can do. As an old timer myself, I'm looking forward to those teenagers breaking in.

  4. nascar needs to change the management a bunch of old way thinking golden goose beating way to fat cats to understand the new dynamics of the sport. don't worry about the drivers, take a look in the mirror.

  5. What NASCAR really needs to do is take the aero dependency away from the cars and make then harder to drive. Yeah, I know that Darrell Waltrip and others say that the racing will be better when the cars are stuck to the track and easy to drive but that hasn't proven to be true. A 20th place car can get to the front using pit strategy and run off from everybody in that clean air. I'd like to see completely stock body shapes, stock ride heights and stock tire profiles. They'll be slower and they'll be a handful to drive but that's what made STOCK CAR racing so much fun. I expect that it would also lead to earlier retirement for a lot of drivers BECAUSE the cars were harder to drive and they would wear out a driver who wasn't in shape. Note that I doubt that early retiring group would include Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton, and others.

  6. This is a good news...I am the biggest fan of NASCAR....and like to enjoy the all car race ...