[media-credit name=”Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images” align=”alignright” width=”227″][/media-credit]Through the past five years, there were many concerned NASCAR fans with regards to how they saw the second-tier divisions going. Concerned fans were questioning both series as they saw a lack of young drivers competing in the divisions.
So far this year, the Nationwide Series looks to have defied the concept as seven drivers in the top 10 in points are considered ‘young guns’.
For drivers coming into the divisions like Ty Dillon, it gives them hope for the future.
“They kind of got away from having individual names that led that series,” Dillon says. “Now we’ve got young guys in each series that are developing their way from the trucks to the Nationwide and now to Sprint Cup. It’s really cool to see that and gives you hope as a driver making your way up the rankings. I’m glad to see more individuality in each series, so it’s really nice.”
Currently, veteran Elliott Sadler leads the standing with a win that came at Phoenix International Raceway. However beyond his position, a group of hungry young drivers follow.
21-year-old Austin Dillon currently sits second in points, 15 points behind Sadler. So far in the first three races of the season, he has finished fifth, fourth and seventh. This marks Dillon’s first season in the Nationwide Series after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship in 2011. Dillon got his start in racing at the age of 15 racing Banderos after seeing them run at Charlotte Motor Speedway with his brother.
24-year-old Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently sits third in points, 17 points behind Sadler. In the first two races of the season, he finished 19th and third while winning last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This marks Stenhouse’s third full-time season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series after winning the championship last year. He chose to stay in the Nationwide Series an extra year to therefore learn more.
“Knowing what I want in a race car on the stock car side of it and knowing what these races take to be better throughout the whole race, and the right adjustments and just learning more about the race cars in itself,” Stenhouse says. “I can tell you everything about a sprint car, but there are so many parts on these stock cars that I’m still not 100 percent familiar with so I think to learn last year and so far in my stock car career I’ve been learning what I need for the race car to go fast. Now I want to learn the set-ups and things like being able to come into the pits and say, ‘Hey I need this’ and help the crew chief out instead of just telling him, ‘Hey I need to be tighter, fix it.’ So there are a lot of things I just want to get better at.”
21-year-old Trevor Bayne currently sits fourth in points, 19 points behind Sadler. In the first three races of the season, he has finished 11th, seventh and fourth. This marks Bayne’s third season in the Nationwide Series after winning the Daytona 500 last season. Bayne is looking to run the full schedule to continue to gain experience, however it will depend if Roush-Fenway Racing can secure sponsorship.
20-year-old Cole Whitt currently sits fifth in points, 22 points behind Sadler. In the first three races of the season, he has finished fourth, 13th and sixth. This mark’s Whitt’s first season in the Nationwide Series after turning heads last year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Whitt moved into the truck series last season after shocking fans by becoming the youngest USAC National Midget Champion in 2008.
The average age of these four drivers is 21.5, so it is definitely showing proof that ‘young gun’ phase is back.
One reason that you’re seeing the young gun phase come back is big teams are going back to taking a chance on younger drivers, rather than trying to reel in the money from big companies. Dillon drives for Richard Childress Racing, Whitt drives for JR Motorsports while both Stenhouse Jr. and Bayne drive for Roush Racing.
Going after inexperienced, unknown drivers can present problems in finding sponsorship. Dillon was able to find sponsorship, as he has made a name for himself by being the grandson of Richard Childress. Whitt has been able to find sponsorship via having NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. as his car owner. Stenhouse has just found sponsorship for the year, while Bayne is not as lucky. Sponsors aren’t as willing to chance on a young driver as they do not have a proven background. With drivers running for big teams, it can sometimes be enough to per sway a sponsor.
As the season goes forward, it will be interesting to watch how the young drivers do in comparison to the veterans and Sprint Cup Series drivers who dip in the series. So far the Nationwide Series-only have the upper hand as they have won the first three races of the season.