Kevin Rutherford · Friday August 30, 2013
Though no formal announcement has been made yet, the general consensus is that Austin Dillon is moving to the Sprint Cup Series as a full-time rookie contender in 2014.
That’s the same vertical move that’s rumored to be taking place today (Aug. 30), when Earnhardt Ganassi Racing announces its driver for the 2014 season in the No. 42. Reports have Kyle Larson, currently in his rookie season in the Nationwide Series for Turner Scott Motorsports, in the car going forward.
Larson’s move (and to a lesser extent, Dillon’s) has been the subject of heated debate among different factions in the NASCAR world. Is a driver who’s just now completing his first full year in NASCAR ready for a ride in its premier division? Should he have more seasoning in the little leagues? What counts as ‘enough time’?
It’s an intriguing concept that has been fairly dormant over the past few years. Those who raced full time in the Sprint Cup Series and those who did so in the Nationwide Series seldom changed, as young guns looking for the potential to break into the top tier instead found themselves toiling in the Nationwide or even Camping World Truck series.
That’s all changed more recently, beginning with the ascent of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick to Cup in 2013 to run the full season schedule as rookie contenders. While the pair’s upward movement hasn’t opened the floodgates for younger prospects per se, Dillon and Larson’s jump from Nationwide next season is encouraging.
The thing about moving up, however, is that many don’t necessarily equate it merely with having enough time in the lower leagues; if they did, Steve Wallace would have been a shoo-in for a full-time Cup ride by now. There’s also the matter of success. Who’s been successful enough to move on to the next level? Again, what’s the threshold? How much success is enough success?
A similar question has been posed concerning Justin Allgaier over the past few years. Earlier this week in the reveal of the not-well-kept secret that was Harry Scott’s purchase of Phoenix Racing, it was announced that Allgaier would be making his Cup debut at Chicagoland in the No. 51, plus two additional races in 2013. Let’s be fair here — Allgaier’s debut in Cup is overdue. Extremely overdue. There were rumors of even just a one-off Cup appearance for the guy back in 2010 and he’s just now finally making that a reality.
Has Allgaier been ready for his big break for a while now? Has he performed to the level expected to snag a full-time ride? Those are the same questions asked of Dillon, Larson and anyone else who happens to throw their hat into the potential rookie battle of 2014.
If there’s anyone that definitely deserves the trip upward from a traditional standpoint, it’s Dillon. Richard Childress’ grandson has moved slowly through the ranks, starting as a full-timer in the Truck Series in 2010 and spending two years both there and in the Nationwide Series. Along the way, he’s won a Truck championship and is a leading candidate for this season’s Nationwide crown. He has seven wins between the two series.
Dillon’s success in the lower leagues, coupled with experience in Cup since his 2011 debut in the series, certainly points toward a well-earned promotion.
But what about Larson? That’s where it gets a little more complicated, at least in the eyes of many.
He’s not exactly a baby at 21 years old, but Larson’s still new on a lot of NASCAR fans’ radars. He didn’t make his debut in one of the top three series until last year, and his rookie campaign in the Nationwide Series is his first full-time venture, save for his 2012 K&N Pro Series East title run.
His Nationwide Series season has been fairly successful, though he sits eighth in points without any wins. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and a penchant for bringing his car home in one piece. One streak saw him finish in the top 10 eight straight races.
Still, a jump to Cup would find Larson with much less stock car experience than many of his peers had prior to their rookie seasons in the series. There’s the worry that Larson could end up like another Casey Atwood, a driver rushed to Cup too fast by Ray Evernham and tossed off to the side after failing to perform at first. His career, of course, was never the same.
The Atwood problem is definitely a risk that Larson runs encountering, but there’s also the other side of the coin: ending up incredibly successful, perhaps even more so than he was in Nationwide.
But on the other hand, should Larson be forced to toil away in a lower series when his talent is, frankly, substantial enough that moving up wouldn’t pose a struggle?
A driver like Justin Allgaier may have lost that chance. Instead of getting the chance to prove himself in the big leagues, he’s been a Nationwide competitor when Cup drivers winning most of the races has been a rampant issue, which has in turn decreased his stock.
Would doing the same affect Larson? Sitting in the Nationwide Series for too long while the opportunities dry up?
While Larson has a lot to lose by being moved up quickly, he also stands to gain quite a bit.
Recall, for instance, Jimmie Johnson.
When the California native joined the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports, he had driven a total of two full-time seasons for Herzog Motorsports. His win total? One. A best points finish of eighth.
He’s not the only one; Carl Edwards didn’t even run Nationwide before jumping to Cup and has obviously performed. If Larson got a win before the end of the season, his season stats would be fairly similar to Kasey Kahne’s only full-time Nationwide season before his jump. The list goes on.
Point is, there’s a precedent, to a degree. Larson making the leap isn’t wholly crazy, though gripes about whether or not he’s ready are certainly not unfounded.
That’s something to remember as both Dillon and Larson — plus Allgaier or anyone else who decides to run — make their moves to the Cup Series in 2014. All in all, it’s fairly unpredictable. While some have fizzled, many more have lost opportunities simply sitting around in lower series for too long. A future Jimmie Johnson could have been lost to the wind because he or she didn’t get the same opportunity.
To have been given the chance at all is better than wondering what could have been, after all.
Connect with Kevin!
Contact Kevin Rutherford
©2000 - 2008 Kevin Rutherford and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!