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Improved Competition Will Re-energize Cup Series

Improved Competition Will Re-energize Cup Series

by January 21, 2015 2 comments

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Call me a dreamer – an eternal optimist even. But as attendance declines, race tracks remove bleachers and sponsors exit the sport, I envision a full-fledged revival ahead for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It comes in the form of fresh faces.

Over the past few racing seasons NASCAR’s leaders have attempted to stymie the sport’s inevitable market correction with a handful of rule changes and marketing gimmicks with mixed results.

Growth is organic; it will only come as action on the race track intensifies. I believe the next generation of racers are poised to make that happen.

The influx of talent bursting on the scene in the next few seasons will inject life into a sport desperate for relevancy among millennials. The dominating days of  past champions Jimmie Johnson (39), Kevin Harvick (39), Jeff Gordon (43), Tony Stewart (43), and Matt Kenseth (42) are drawing to a close. The elder statesmen will soon be replaced by a new, more aggressive crop of drivers. The new breed of driver, led last season by Brad Keselowski (29), Joey Logano (24) and Kyle Larson (22), isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers to succeed. And let’s not forget about veteran hard charger Kyle Busch, who has 10 full seasons in the Cup series, but remains in his 20’s until later this season.

For every Stewart or Kenseth slowing in their on-track performance, there is another young Cup driver ready to move in. Austin Dillon may have struggled last season in the famed No. 3 car, but he’s only 24 years old. Trevor Bayne has a Daytona 500 win to his name and is only 23. Landon Cassill has had some astonishing runs with sub-par race teams and is only 25. Ricky Stenhouse may be most famous for being Danica’s boyfriend, but he’s won two Xfinity Series championships and is only 27.

Then, there is the long list of drivers just waiting for a break in the Cup Series. Chase Elliott dominated the Xfinity Series last year and still can’t legally celebrate with victory champagne. Camping World Truck winners Darrell Wallace Jr. and Eric Jones are 21 and 18 respectively. Cole Custer is only 16.

Today’s talent pool is deeper than any in NASCAR history. In the mid 2000’s, David Gilliland won a single Xfinity race at Kentucky and launched a fruitless decade-long Cup career. Today, there are no guarantees. James Buescher, Jeb Burton, Timothy Peters, Joey Coulter and Cale Gale have all won races on Fridays and Saturdays, but all have challenges attracting rides or sponsors even in the lesser series.

The road to the top is more ruthless than ever, with winning at all costs being the norm. That explains the new breed of driver’s hyper aggression – most are only a sponsor’s phone call away from losing their seat.

NASCAR has been in this spot before. In the late ’70s the sport was faced with a bad economy and top drivers like Richard Petty, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough advancing in age. The sport was saved by the rise of young drivers Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte and Rusty Wallace – all future champions who were part of the sport’s huge 1980s boom.

Mark my words: The under 30 crowd will win more races this season than the old guys. And I’m totally OK with that.

Jason Beck
With a passion for both racing and writing, I've found my niche here at The Fourth Turn. In addition to covering local short track and Cup series racing, I'm a racer in the Charger class at Dillon Motor Speedway in Dillon, S.C.

2 Comments so far

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  1. russ
    #1 russ 22 January, 2015, 14:00

    Perhaps you are right, it remains to be seen. The past several years have seen a major debate over the root causes for the decline in motorsports in general, and Nascar in particular. Aging superstars has seldom been listed as one of the causes however.
    It seems that, at least to the more thoughtful, a general shifting away from the automobile may have as much or more impact than anything else. While true that we baby boomers have not adopted that view, I dont think the same can be said about the millennials. And given our declining numbers I think a continued decline in Nascar is virtually assured.
    However you may indeed be right, it remains to be seen.

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  2. Christopher Neal
    #2 Christopher Neal 22 January, 2015, 16:26

    With Jeff Gordon announcing today that 2015 will be his last full season looks like the changing of the guard is beginning.

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