I really, really, really hope you’ve been paying attention this season to what is happening in the lower series and with a few upcoming young drivers. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Ryan Blaney may be three of the best young drivers we’ve had come up in a long time. There are a few others who will make their marks before the year is over, but these three in particular are the future of the sport.
The influx of “funded” drivers into the sport is something we’ve discussed on this site ad nauseam in the past (some of you might say ancient past). It’s easier for team owners to bring in a kid with his own money, than it is to take a chance on a young driver with no big time backer behind him. Because of this, some really good drivers never got legitimate shots to prosper. These three are an exception.
Blaney and Elliott definitely had a leg up because of their name recognition, but both are in the seats they’re in because they are very talented. Race wins in the Nationwide Series and Truck Series for both prove that.
Larson is a different story. He came up how guys used to come up, and how we wish they would all come up. No famous family members, and no rich benefactor writing checks to get him in seats. He earned every ride by winning, and winning a lot. Larson is a throwback to a different time, when all drivers wanted to do was drive. If Chip Ganassi would let him, Larson would still be running mid-week sprint car shows all over the country.
Blaney is running a limited Nationwide and Cup schedule this season, but don’t expect him to be without a full time ride in an upper series for long. If Penske can’t hang on to him, somebody else will give him that chance in the next year or two.
At this point, the future for Elliott would seem to be behind the wheel of a Hendrick Motorsports Cup car. It might be a few years away, and will probably depend on how much longer Jeff Gordon wants to drive, but make no mistake, Mr. H. won’t let young Chase get away.
As for Larson, he’s obviously found a home in the Cup Series with Chip Ganassi and the Target ride. Going forward, Ganassi will have his work cut out to keep Larson in the fold. There have already been rumors of other teams making offers to Ganassi for “Young Money,” and his growing popularity and early success will make him a target for bigger teams (no pun intended).
Keep an eye out as the season progresses, because there are probably two or three other drivers in the Nationwide and Truck Series who could become household names very quickly. They have the talent and the backing to succeed, they just need that one break through performance.