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Motorsports 101 Debate: What Young Driver Would You Hire If You Started a Race Team

December 19th, 2012 at 10:46 AM
By Clayton Caldwell

2012 had several young drivers make a name for themselves in NASCAR. That led us to think about which young driver without a Cup start, we would hire to start a team in either the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or NASCAR Nationwide Series. Let the debate begin. 

Young Talent Abound but Chase Elliott Stands Out – By Mark Eddinger

There is a lot of young talent knocking on the doorsteps of the NASCAR world. Some drivers like 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, 22-year old James Buescher, have already made their NASCAR impact felt. Austin Dillon won the 2011 Truck Championship and finished third in the Nationwide Series in 2012. His younger brother Ty Dillon is another driver in line to make a big splash in NASCAR and so is 18-year old Ryan Blaney, and 22-year olds Joey Coulter and Parker Kligerman. All four of them were first-time winners in the Truck Series in 2012.

Other divisions of racing have other talented young drivers that are ready and waiting for their chances to make it big as well. Dylan Kwasniewski was able to win the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Championship in 2012 at the age of 17 to become that series’ youngest champion in its 59 year history. He won three times and posted 12 top 10 finishes in the 15 races. In 2011 he became the youngest race winner and pole sitter in the series’ history at the age of 16.

Kyle Larson, who is an Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing development driver, made quite the impression in his first season in stock car racing as he almost won a couple of times at the end of the 2012 Truck Series season for Turner Motorsports in the No. 4 truck at the age of 20. He was the winner of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Championship and Rookie of the Year as he was able to win twice on that circuit. Corie LaJoie is only 21-years old but he finished second in the East Series to Larson and collected five wins.  

Darrell Wallace Jr. at 19-years old won his sixth career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Greenville in 2012 and also became the first African-American driver to win a pole in the Nationwide Series. That came at Dover for Joe Gibbs Racing. In his four Nationwide Series starts he scored three top 10 finishes.

Chase Elliott is another 17-year old that has a lot of racing upside and family pedigree. He became the youngest pole winner in NASCAR K&N Pro Series history and also scored his first career NASCAR win at Iowa in 2012.

'Chase Elliott' photo (c) 2011, Mike Kalasnik - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

All of these drivers and a lot of other very talented young drivers that I did not even list could be the next big star in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series one day. There is no reason to rush a driver into the Sprint Cup Series like Joe Gibbs Racing did with Joey Logano at the age of 19 when Tony Stewart vacated the No. 20 car. He only scored two wins and 41 top 10’s in 144 starts from 2009 through 2012 as there was a lot of growing that needed to be done. Logano could still develop into a Sprint Cup Series Champion as he is only 22-years old still but now he will have to do it at Penske Racing, his new home. With sponsorship being so important these days, just look at how The Home Depot seemed to sour on Logano, it is important that the young drivers are not road-blocked by money woes on their journey to the top.

With the Truck Series allowing 16-year olds to race at the road course and tracks 1.1 miles or less in 2013 it will give race fans even more of an opportunity to see some of the young and up and comers first hand. If I had to pick one driver to build a NASCAR team around to bring up through the ranks all the way to Cup eventually, right now it would be Chase Elliott. But that isn’t to take anything away from the other young guns that are certainly on the rise. 

Clayton Caldwell- Young drivers had a great year, but Ryan Blaney stood out above the rest. 

There were several youngsters who had a great year in 2012. James Buescher won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series running for Turner Motorsports. It was a huge championship for Buescher after struggling early on in his Camping World Truck Series career. Parker Kligerman also had a better year than he did in 2011. Kligerman learned patience and really showed some nice potential. He won at Talladega SuperSpeedway beating some of the top teams in the series. The Dillon boys had a great year as well. Austin was in his rookie year in the Nationwide Series and Ty was in his rookie year in the Truck Series. Both drivers ran well and proved they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. Both won several races and were contenders for the championship in both series. 

Joey Coulter had a nice season running for Richard Childress Racing and Kyle Larson ran good running for Turner Motorsports in his few truck races this season. However, there was one driver that really stood tall above the rest in my opinion. 

'IMG_1790' photo (c) 2012, Parker Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

That driver was 18-year old Ryan Blaney. Blaney had had some good success in the lower divisions of racing, but it was his debut in the Nationwide Series that was really impressive. Blaney finished seventh at Richmond International Raceway after running in the top five all night. He was running for Tommy Baldwin Racing, a small solo-car operation that has their work cut out for them against the powerhouses in the Nationwide Series. The 18-year old beat drivers like Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, James Buescher, Justin Allgaier, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Danica Patrick among others. All those drivers were in rides that were mutil-car operations and had teammates helping them throughout the weekend. Blaney didn't have that. 

In his 13 Nationwide Series races, Blaney had seven top ten finishes. His rate of top ten finishes were better than 70% of the Nationwide drivers this season. His early success in the Nationwide Series opened the eyes of Roger Penske and he hired the 18-year old to run some Nationwide races as well as some truck races for Brad Keselowski. Blaney continued to impress. In just his third truck race, Blaney would win at Iowa. It was an impressive short track victory and proved that no matter what racing series it was Blaney could run well in it. 

In his nine truck races, he had five top ten finishes in just nine starts. Brad Keselowski Racing is not considered an elite truck team. He replaced Parker Kligerman who had struggled in his year and a half at BKR. Yet Blaney proved that a driver can make a big difference. He finished out the Nationwide Series year driving for both Roger Penske and Tommy Baldwin. At Texas Motor Speedway, Blaney finished runner-up to Cup regular Kevin Harvick. 

Whether it was a short track at Iowa, or a mile and a half track at Texas, a short track at Richmond or a Superspeedway at Talladega, or a short track at Martinsville or the tricky configuration at Phoenix, whether it was the trucks or Nationwide, Ryan Blaney ran well at them all. And it was only his first year running those series. 

If that doesn't put him above the rest I don't know what does. 

Tags: Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Joey Coulter, Kyle Larson, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon

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