Friday, April 27, 2012

Ryan Blaney and Co. show NASCAR might soon have new young guns

Travis Pastrana caught a lot of the spotlight leading into his Nationwide Series debut Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, but the debut of another driver could be the true future of NASCAR.
Ryan Blaney, the 19-year-old son of Sprint Cup Series veteran Dave Blaney, also made his debut at Richmond and finished a very impressive seventh.
Blaney’s entrance into the Nationwide Series marks a trend that NASCAR has not seen in several years now. Other than Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, the Cup series has not had a young rookie driver splash onto the scene.
Yet new hotshots were a common sight during the first half of the 2000s with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and the Busch brothers bursting into NASCAR’s top level.
But, since Kyle Busch entered the Cup series full time in 2005, the pipeline of new NASCAR drivers shut off to the point where the Rookie of the Year award became a joke as the driver who made the most races ended up winning the award.
Although there might not have been an abundance of talent in NASCAR’s lower divisions at the time, Cup series owners made matters worse by bringing in several open-wheel or road course racers and giving them some of the best rides in the series.
Most of those drivers failed in their attempts at NASCAR racing and few remain, including Sam Hornish Jr., Danica Patrick, A.J. Allmendinger and now Pastrana, who finished 22nd in his debut.
However, the pipeline of young NASCAR talent might open back up in the next few years. Along with Blaney, Richard Childress’ grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon are making their way through the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. Cole Whitt is also doing a solid job in JR Motorsports’ #88 Nationwide car.
Other NASCAR veterans also have sons in NASCAR’s minor leagues, including Ward Burton’s son Jeb, Bill Elliott’s son, Chase, and Matt Kenseth’s son, Ross.
When these drivers, along with current Nationwide drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne are ready for the big show, Gillette might have to bring back it’s “Young Guns” campaign.
A new influx of talent into NASCAR’s top series is vital. Obviously this sort of thing is cyclical, but the current generation of drivers who make up the 43-car field on Sundays has raced together for several years in a row without much turnover.
That might also be part of the reason the Cup series has had fewer and fewer cautions in the past few couple of years.
The current stars of NASCAR who came through in the past decade eventually replaced the Dale Earnhardt generation that included drivers such as Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin and Ricky Rudd.
Right now Johnson, Kahne, Kevin Harvick and several others are similar to the previous group, and eventually be replaced by the young drivers who are just getting started.
It might still be a few years before these new drivers show up in Sunday races, but at least there is a new group of potential stars getting ready to take the stage.

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