Stars. Many are called, but few are worthy. Each week, NASCAR provides somewhere between 34 and 40 entries out on the track, but fewer than 25 have any legitimate shot at making a difference. We know the names of those who have succeeded, those who have made and earned, a place in the spotlight. Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt and Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and, yes, for a time this year, we welcome back Matt Kenseth. Champions all.
However, no Dale Earnhardt Jr. No Tony Stewart. No Jeff Gordon. No Carl Edwards. Instead of addressing the issues we have addressed week after week, NASCAR is trying to get us all excited about a new crop of drivers. Bless their pea picking hearts, they are promoting the hell out of the new generation. Talented, youngish, but few have earned their stripes over their young careers. Not yet.
Among the 11, four have actually begun to shine. The other seven have, between them, managed no victories, just four Top Fives, 29 Top Tens, over a combined 365 events. Each and every one of them could be stars eventually, just not today. Three are stuck in rides that will not be winning soon, or even being part of the race day conversation. Only two are locked into the All-Star race, with the other nine hoping to beat out a dozen other drivers in advancing from the Open that will begin Saturday’s action.
One has, without doubt, the personality of a star. However, Darrell Wallace Jr. is just 16 races into his Cup career. A single Top Five, a pair of Top Tens, and 11 laps led does not make a star out of him on the track. Not yet, but the lad has personality to burn. He also drives for Richard Petty. That is some serious star power right there. Maybe this weekend, or next, he will break through. Wallace is the exception. He, I will be watching.
However, if you want to watch the stars of NASCAR, those who have already made their mark on the sport, here are the names you should know for Saturday night.
1. KYLE BUSCH – 2015 CHAMPION – 46 Career Wins – 474 Starts
One of the top three gents the past four seasons, with 17 wins over that time period.
2. KEVIN HARVICK – 2014 CHAMPION – 42 Career Wins – 622 Starts
5 wins in a dozen starts in 2018. Rowdy has been his only rival as of late.
3. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 2017 CHAMPION – 16 Career Wins – 453 Starts
Took his owner to the Promised Land last season.
4. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 2006-10, 2013, 2016 CHAMPION – 83 Career Wins – 591 Starts
Tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most titles, and still in the hunt for an eighth.
5. DENNY HAMLIN – 31 Career Wins – 446 Starts
Best driver on the circuit yet to claim a championship. The Mark Martin of his day?
6. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 2012 CHAMPION – 24 Career Wins – 317 Starts
Among the Top 14 for eight straight seasons, including fourth best thus far in 2018.
7. JOEY LOGANO – 19 Career Wins – 339 Starts
The former wunderkind’s career got off to a slow start, but has blazed hot with Roger Penske.
8. KYLE LARSON – 5 Career Wins – 159 Starts
The 25-year-old has been the very best among the kids coming up.
9. MATT KENSETH – 2003 CHAMPION – 39 Career Wins – 651 Starts
Got a phone call. Got a part-time ride. Got another chance to shine amongst the other stars.
10. KURT BUSCH – 2004 CHAMPION – 29 Career Wins – 624 Starts
Not great in recent seasons, but when you are this good, good often can be good enough.
11. AUSTIN DILLON – 2 Wins – 169 Starts
The Daytona 500 can do wonders for a fellow’s career.
12. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 2 Wins – 196 Starts
Two wins last season turned his life and career pages with a flourish.
13. CLINT BOWYER – 9 Career Wins – 445 Starts
After four seasons in the wilderness, it appears the boy from Emporia has made his way back.
14. RYAN NEWMAN – 18 Career Wins – 596 Starts
Struggling to regain the magic that led to his runner-up year of 2014.
15. CHASE ELLIOTT – 89 Starts
No wins, but 25 Top Fives for the 22-year-old have to count for something.
16. RYAN BLANEY – 1 Wins – 102 Starts
The 24-year-old announced his arrival last season and is not missing a beat now with Penske.
17. KASEY KAHNE – 18 Career Wins – 516 Starts
Either nearing the end or just starting on his new beginning.
18. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 7 Career Wins – 558 Starts
If you are only going to win seven, win them at Charlotte, Daytona, Talladega, or Indianapolis.
19. ERIK JONES – 51 Starts
With 19 Top Tens, the 22-year-old is touted as being among the new constellation of stars.
20. ARIC ALMIROLA – 1 Wins – 256 Starts
Only his far superior ride gives him the nod over Chris Buescher.