If you’ve been around the sport of NASCAR as long as I have, you’ve seen a lot of changes. You’ve seen the sport evolve and grow. The growth, along with the television coverage, took what was once a regional sport and turned it into a national sport. Even today we see growth and change with the social media component.
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Sometimes expansion, growth and a lot of changes have some fans wishing things would slow down. They would prefer things to stay the way they were for a little while longer. Whether it’s another sport or just any mainstream business, NASCAR can’t do that. The sport has to be moving forward.
Obviously, NASCAR is all about forward motion. It’s all about being first and being better than the other guy. That’s how the folks in our sport are wired. It’s all about the competition, and with that, you have to be flexible. You might institute a rule today that you hope will still apply six months to a year from now, but you also have to be flexible to recognize change might need to happen sooner.
You’ve heard me say this a thousand times, but there are usually unintended consequences that come to the surface when a new rule or procedure is put into place. The teams all react the same when a new rule is put into place. They put their best and brightest folks on it to find ways around the rule. They look for the gray area and even to what the rule doesn’t say.
The key is finding a way, if possible, to use that rule to their advantage. That’s the nature of competition. I want my guys to find something your guys didn’t to give me an advantage over you on the track. That’s the evolution of NASCAR. That’s why sometimes you see race fans complain NASCAR makes knee-jerk reactions too quickly. It’s because of the unintended consequences.
A perfect example is the in-race cross-communication between drivers that came about this past season. It’s been a few years now that drivers within the same organization could talk to each other during a race. However, this tandem-racing that came about at Daytona in February created drivers loading up their radios with multiple channels and actually talking to drivers from other organizations at Talladega a few months later.
Up to that point, we had never seen that before, but there it was happening at the spring Talladega event. All the driver had to do was turn a knob, which changed the channel on his radio, and he could talk to his competition. That’s how quickly these teams reacted to the circumstances that came out of Daytona back in February.
These teams are always reacting to what is handed to them by NASCAR. On the flip-side, NASCAR always tries to be proactive and look down the road. However, there are just too many smart and creative people in this sport that can come up with a better mouse trap when the need arises. That’s never going to change.
Another thing that will never change is Father Time. Trust me; he catches up with all the drivers. You might be able to react to what NASCAR hands down in the way for rules or procedural changes, but the one thing a driver can’t ever change is getting older. That’s not a negative; it is just a fact.
When I came into NASCAR in the early ‘70’s, there was an established group of drivers. To a man, I was 10 years younger than every one of them. I had to pay my dues and bide my time because I knew they would get older at the same time I would get better. Time was on my side because they were going to slow down and I was going to speed up.
Just because you get older doesn’t mean you lose the desire. It’s your skills and your reaction time that diminish. With a young guy or gal on their way up the ladder, their skills are being honed through experience and repetition so they are improving.
So it is another one of those constants that you can pretty much always count on in our sport. About every 10 years you will start to see the established stars start to slow down. At the same time there is a new young crop of drivers trying to climb the ladder to fame.
Mark Martin is cutting back to another partial schedule. He turns 53 in January. Jeff Burton is 44. David Reutimann will be 42 in March. Greg Biffle is 42. You have Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, who are 40. Heck, I still think of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a kid, but the man is 37 years old.
My old boss, the legend Junior Johnson always had a favorite saying when it came to hiring drivers. As he put it, he wanted someone in “their late 29’s or early 30.” What he was saying was he wanted his driver when he was 30 years old. At that point you would be at your best. Your learning curve and tearing up equipment was on someone else’s nickel. Now you have the experience and you are your most productive.
The statistics bear that out. Most drivers win most of their races and their championships in their late 20s into the mid-to-late 30s. There are guys in that window like Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Sam Hornish Jr., Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin just to name a few. When you throw in guys approaching that 30-year-old mark like Kyle Busch and David Ragan, this is the time we should be seeing their best career results.
Then you have younger guys like Brad Keselowski, Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Joey Logano, who are making their mark now in our sport. There is another set of guys in the wings who are currently developing their skills and one day will get their opportunity. That group includes Chase Elliott – Bill’s son – Cole Whitt and what I see as the future of Richard Childress Racing, Richard’s grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier and the list goes on and on.
It’s just so exciting that we have such a long list of potential future NASCAR superstars. So you just watch. Every 10 years as the older drivers don’t win as much or even race as much, when the talk turns to who is going to fill their shoes, the list will be long with potential up-and-comers.
There are even some names I haven’t thought of or we haven’t heard of that will rise to the occasion. All they need is a chance to prove themselves. Mark my words, every 10 years there is a shift in the alignment of current superstars and those that will be very soon.
Oh by the way
If the rumors are true, then it looks like Aric Almirola will be announced as the new driver of the No. 43 car. Folks may ask why him? Well he already has history with that organization, having finished out the season two years ago for Kahne driving the No. 9 car. Almirola is part of NASCAR’s diversity program, so there might be some potential sponsorship opportunities there that the No. 43 also desperately needs.
I guess the question Aric must be asking himself is whether he wants to leave JR Motorsports and go drive the No. 43 car that has somewhat of an uncertain future with its sponsorship issues. Aric’s a good guy with experience. So I guess we’ll all have to wait until next week to learn the rest of the story when Richard Petty Motorsports holds its news conference.
Oh by the way, too …
You just have to tip your hat to Jack Roush for his ability to find new talent, not only for himself but for Ford teams as a whole. I think he and Ford learned their lesson when they developed Kahne but let him get away. Stop for a minute and just think about all the talent Roush has discovered and developed. There were the Busch brothers. There was Carl Edwards, Biffle and a host of others like Bayne, who won the Daytona 500, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who won this year’s Nationwide Series championship.
That’s a real credit to Jack and his talent, for not only finding them but developing them. Actually the biggest problem Jack has now is keeping them. With the economy the way it is, there just aren’t as many cars available or open programs to put a new driver into and keep them in the Ford camp.