I’ve been asked several times in the past year, “What are you going to do when Jeff Gordon retires?”
I always smile and answer, “What do you mean?”
I know what the querying party intends. Now that my driver is departing the series, what point is there in watching NASCAR, anymore?
Well, you see, there is this whole sport called NASCAR. There are 43 drivers on the track every week in the Cup series, another 20 some-odd names appear on the Xfinity roster, and yet 30 more guys join up in the Camping World Truck series. Then there are the feeder series like the K&N Pro-series, ARCA, and Whelan Modifieds. Am I so wholly focused on one individual I can’t see the rest of the forest? The answer is no, I’m not, and thank goodness for that, for what would I do if I was?
As Gordon has been stating on his AARP ads for the past few months, I can’t wait to see what the next era in my favorite past time will bring. We don’t have to look very far to find that list of up and comers that are just dying to replace some of the aging veterans in the big boys’ garage.
Who am I watching this year?
First, Austin Theriault. This young man appeared on my radar about four years ago in the ACT series. Brad Keselowski has been working him through various series nationwide, finally putting him into the trucks this year. While Austin suffered a compression fracture in his back at Las Vegas this past weekend while driving the No. 29, don’t expect him to hang up the steering wheel anytime soon. He’s a consistent wheelman, who demonstrates a cool head on track. And hey! He’s from Maine! I gotta cheer for those New Englanders attempting to make it big.
Next, we’ve got Gray Gaulding. What a great name! He’s got a great dedicated sponsor, too. Krispy Kreme has been emblazoned on his doors since he’s been driving. When you can win in the K&N Pro-series at the age of 16, and follow that up with solid Top 5 and Top 10 finishes, you’ve earned some sharp eyes looking your way when you hit that big one-eight. Incidentally, his birthday isn’t for another four months. We should see some fireworks at Daytona!
Talking about names, there’s a new guy on the block who just blasted his way through the K&N Pro-series East this year: William Byron. That’s right, we’re gonna have a Lord Byron running the NASCAR circuit sometime soon. At just 17, he earned the crown for the K&N Pro series in 2015 and is currently in talks to land a truck ride for next year. This guy is sizzling! He is exciting to watch on track. Lots of car control. It’s astounding what kind of talent we are seeing at such young ages these days, but he is a fine example of what the developmental series are producing.
Finally, we’ll give some love to one of the upcoming superstars in the Xfinity series, who gets overshadowed by the ever present Cup drivers. It’s difficult to garner all the attention you deserve, when a certain driver with the initials K.B. stinks up the show every week.
Daniel Suarez is a Drive for Diversity success story. Currently piloting the No. 18 Xfinity machine for Joe Gibbs Racing, the Monterey, Mexico native can be found most Saturdays lurking in the Top 10 on the track. He does seem to have one of those bad luck leprechauns, though. He drives far better than he finishes—but he does finish. It’s rare that a wreck takes him out of the race, altogether. It’s much like watching for that rainbow you know is just behind the clouds—one day he’s going to blast to Victory Lane. I won’t be surprised one little bit.
So, there’s your answer. While the driver who solidified my passion for stock car racing is retiring, I’ve got plenty of young ‘uns to pin my future hopes on.
1992 Jeff Gordon Beats Earnhardt Sr. at Charlotte
A real throwback video for you. Jeff Gordon driving his No. 1 Baby Ruth Busch Series car. Nice footage of the birth of one of the greatest on-track rivalries in our sport’s history. Enjoy!
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