Nov 16, 2012; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Austin Dillon during practice for the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Young Nascar Drivers On The Verge: Are They Ready For Sprint Cup ?

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Ford EcoBoost 400-Qualifying

Nov 16, 2012; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano during qualifying for the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Most young stock car drivers enter the sport with a healthy desire to someday get a top ride in Nascar’s premier division. They all want the same thing, to become the next Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, or Dale Earnhardt Jr. The problem they run into, is the there are not enough good seats available at the Sprint Cup level, and those seats are already taken by the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. There just aren’t enough positions open, and the aforementioned drivers are not ready to vacate their rides anytime soon.

There are a lot of young talented drivers in both the Camping World Truck Series, and the Nationwide, but only a few who are ready for the big show. As in Major League Baseball, most drivers need the experience of each stop along the way to gain confidence, and success before moving on.

Joey Logano is an example of a young driver who was signed, and went directly to the top before he was ready. Joey showed us this year that he really needed the seasoning that the minor divisions offer. Joey finished the 2012 campaign in 17th position in the points standings, with the one trip to victory lane which came at the Pocono 400 in June.

Where Joey’s star was the brightest was in the Nationwide Series. He had nine wins in 22 races. That would have been good enough for a serious run at a Nationwide Championship, where he would have been a contender had he been eligible for points in that division.

On the other hand, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has two Nationwide Championships on his resume, and is ready to move into a full time ride at Rousch Racing, where he will replace the departing Matt Kenseth.

Austin Dillon has won a championship in the Truck series, becoming the youngest champion in the NCWTS back in 2011 at age 22. I would hope Austin stays in the Nationwide for at least one more season. Austin finished third in points this year, behind Stenhouse, and veteran Elliott Sadler, and should fare pretty well in 2013 contending for a series championship.

Austin had one Sprint Cup start in 2012 at the the Michigan 400 in June, where he finished 24th. I don’t think he is ready to step up and take the wheel on a full time basis in 2013. He just isn’t ready to to race against the best at this time. He needs to compete for a Nationwide title, and get 8-10 starts at the top level to round out his experience.

Ty Dillon, on the other hand, probably needs another year in the trucks. Ty finished in fourth place just 24 points behind series champion James Buescher, with the the one win which came at the Jeff Foxworthy Grit Chips 200 in August. Ty ran up front for most of the year, getting 7 top 5’s, and 17 top 10’s. He is ready to win a championship in the trucks, and get a few starts in the Nationwide series. He finished in the top ten in all three of his 2012 starts, with a third place at Indiana in July.

James Buescher is ready for a full time Nationwide commitment in 2013. After winning the Truck Championship this year, there isn’t anything left to prove at that level. James won his Nationwide debut at Daytona in February, and rounded his season with 20 starts where he picked up 8 top 10 finishes. He’s ready to get serious, and compete for a Nationwide title, and test the Sprint Cup waters with a couple of starts.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Ford EcoBoost 200

Nov 16, 2012; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver James Buescher (31) celebrates winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck series championship following the Ford 200 at Homestead Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Buescher’s Turner Motorsports teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr, is also ready to contend at the Nationwide level on a full time basis. The former Formula One driver from Brazil had a breakout year in 2012, and is ready to move up. Piquet finished the year in 7th place, just 62 points behind the leader, and with two wins, he also picked up 9 top 5’s and 15 top 10’s.

Last, but not least, Danica Patrick. I know you think I’m a Danica hater, but I think Danica was doing well at the end of the season. She put together eight really nice finishes after her 29th place finish at Richmond. She finished in the top ten in two of those races, at Kansas and Phoenix, and she finished well at Miami. She looks to be getting the knack of running with fenders, and learning how to use them along with her bumper, to gain track position.

Danica needs another solid year in Nationwide where she can compete for a championship, but when she assumes full time Sprint Cup status, she will not be allowed to gain Nationwide points. I feel like her coming to the big league in 2013 is a mistake that will destroy her confidence level. We’ve seen what happens to young drivers who advance too fast, ala Joey Logano  and his struggle with the worlds best drivers.


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Tags: Camping World Truck Series Dale Earnhardt Jr Danica Patrick Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson NASCAR Nationwide Series Sprint Cup Series

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