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NASCAR Mailbox: Which Young Driver in Cup is Poised to Follow in Chase Elliott’s Footsteps and Capture a Title Soon?

The Championship 4 drivers always get the majority of the focus in the final race of the season for obvious reasons. They’re racing for a championship. Everyone else though, they seem to get door slammed and do not get much focus like every other race. This seems to be an ongoing issue with some fans due to sponsors and their favorite driver not being highlighted enough, even if they are having a solid race.
The question here is should broadcasts change their coverage and make it like any other race or keep things the same? Is this good for TV ratings to mainly focus on only four drivers, no matter where they are in the field? How would you react as a sponsor of a non-championship competitor?
The youth movement in NASCAR has been in full force and is coming into fruition with all three national touring champions being under the age of 25 this season. Never before has this happened in NASCAR, and it is proof that the youth is here to stay for a long time. There are so many young drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series who have the potential to win championships immediately, such as Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and others.
Who is the next young driver to break through like Chase Elliott did? Is Elliott a rare talent for his age, or are there others who can get it done like he did? Is the youth movement something we will continue to see, or will veterans take over again next year?

Q: Is it good that all the focus is given to the Championship 4 during the final race of the season, or should the broadcasts attempt to treat the race as any other race? Joe S., Concord, NC

A: Sadly, if you are not part of the Championship 4, you simply don’t get the attention you deserve, even if you are running near the front. This has been the case every year we have had this playoff format. Is it right? Not exactly, but I can understand why the broadcasts are the way they are when it comes to this.
If you are a sponsor, and your car is in the Championship 4, something that you expect out of sponsoring a top team is a lot of air time. But let’s just say that you are on the opposing end and you are just another car out there. You’re running well, but TV does not acknowledge it. As a sponsor, you would be pretty infuriated. No air time and no mention would infuriate me, and some may think there is no point to sponsoring the final race of the season. For some teams, that’s a big deal.
So how could this issue be solved?
As long as this playoff format is with us, there is no solution. Broadcasts will always put the primary focus on the four championship drivers, and the limited attention will continue toward the others. Drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer got a ton of attention this past weekend because of it being their last race as full-time drivers, so that usually is the only time anyone else really gets shown for the most part.
It is truly difficult to treat these races like any other race with a championship on the line. I get what the broadcasts do, but it would be nice to show some of the non-playoff drivers who have great runs to close out the season. Personally, I did not think NBC did a bad job of this with the Cup race, but understand if some would argue that point. Some drivers did get attention outside of the playoff drivers, and they did talk about quite a bit outside of the championship.
When the Championship 4 drivers all run inside the top five for the majority of the race though, what else is a broadcast company supposed to do? If they are close the majority of a race, of course they are going to be primary focus all race long.
Next season, the same thing will probably happen. Is it bad? No, it is not bad, it is just the way the format is. If we had the old Chase format, broadcasts would look a lot different. However, with the way things are, playoff drivers will always get more focus whether they are first or 20th. As long as there is a Championship 4, there is not much that will change.
Q: With Chase Elliott being the youngest champion since Jeff Gordon, who do you think is the next young driver who will break through and potentially win a title? Tim G., Des Moines, IA
A: With so much young talent in the Cup Series, you cannot just pick one driver. However, I can see two guys having breakout seasons next year and making a run for it: Alex Bowman and (with the right amount of luck) Ryan Blaney.
Before everyone comes at my head to tell me these two are ridiculous picks as to who can break through, there is a method to my madness. Think about who the top two to three drivers were before the pandemic hit. Bowman and Blaney were both extremely fast in February and March. The pandemic hit, and they lost their edge until the end of the season when both seemed to hit a stride and find a ton of speed again.
Bowman will be going into his fourth season with Hendrick Motorsports, and he will be piloting the iconic No. 48 following Johnson’s retirement. Bowman had some excellent runs to end the season, just overshadowed by his teammate’s success. With Hendrick adding Kyle Larson to their team and a proven crew chief in Rudy Fugle with the No. 24 team, they will be a sure-bound powerhouse team.
You might not see Bowman have Kevin Harvick– or Denny Hamlin– type statistics, but he can break through and win three to four races. The issue this season was his falloff during the summer months, and he never found the speed again until the playoffs, where he performed really well. When you have a confident driver and a good team, that will equal a dangerous threat. Expect him to break out next season and put together a good run toward a title.
Blaney is another driver I can see having a career year in 2021 for many reasons. With only four career wins (two coming at Talladega Superspeedway), it’s hard to pinpoint him as a championship threat. Before the pandemic, he was leading laps and having chances to win all four weeks, had it not been for some bad luck. That has seemed to be the story of his career to this point.
Once Blaney can shake off that bad luck, he will win many races and be a threat for a championship. He has the team around him to make it happen, and now he will be going into his second season with veteran crew chief Todd Gordon. His other two Team Penske teammates finished second and third in the championship, respectively, while Blaney finished ninth.
Next year will be his sixth full-time season in Cup. He is still very young, but it feels like 2021 will be the year for him to prove himself as a top-tier driver who can win several races per year. He has made it to the Round of 8 twice before, so he knows about deep playoff runs. But he needs that extra step to get to that championship race. Next season could be that year.
Expect both of these drivers to come out strong next year and to prove their full worth in the Cup Series. Both still have so many years left in their careers, but they can both take it to the next level if they win a lot. They will not be favorites by any means to start the year, but they could sneak into the conversation if they start clicking off those strong runs and wins throughout the season.
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