The NASCAR Guard is About to Change

Erik Jones is one of a healthy crop of young NASCAR stars who are waiting in the wings for their shot at Cup racing.

Erik Jones is one of a healthy crop of young NASCAR stars who are waiting in the wings for their shot at Cup racing.

The names we’re most familiar with in NASCAR aren’t going anywhere just yet. However they’re about to be joined by familiar last names and unfamiliar first names. The new crop of drivers for NASCAR are just around the corner and many of them are sons of the current Cup crop.

Matt Kenseth’s son, Ross Kenseth, just made his Xfinity debut in Chicagoland and was more than impressive with a front row start and 6th place finish. Erik Jones, by now no stranger to those in the paddock, won the race.

Ryan Blaney was right there to take second, Austin Dillon 3rd while Brendan Gaughan interrupted the kids parade finishing 4th and Chris Buescher finishing 5th. Daniel Suarez, Brian Scott, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace, Jr. rounded out the top ten.

Who won? Erik Jones. A real live star in the making, as is at least 8 of the aforementioned drivers. It’s an inevitability that the guard is changing and with it the competition in the Cup series will grow even more hard to call. These boys can drive and everyone has noticed.

The health of any racing series is based on who the up and coming talent is and with NASCAR there’s no shortage of capable hard racing youth. They are the stars of tomorrow who will have the chance, en masse, to compete with their Father’s, their heroes and tighten down on the top twenty at any given race.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. may set NASCAR on the map as a success in it's Drive for Diversity program.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. may set NASCAR on the map as a success in it’s Drive for Diversity program.

Many of the current Cup drivers will still be at full bore competition when these youngsters arrive such as the Busch brothers, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and the list goes on. The Xfinity Series is proving it’s worth as the proving ground for hard upper level racing, a skill these young drivers will need.

Once they were big fish in a little pond and now, even in the junior Xfinity Series, they are big fish in a bigger pond. The lake of predators in the Cup Series awaits.

Most of these drivers grew up knowing little else other than racing cars or karts. Their Father’s and heroes may very well have been line mechanics at their Dad’s car dealerships or sweeping garages in pursuit of a seemingly unobtainable dream.

But dreams are what auto racing is made of, only bigger than most. ‘Go heavy or go home’ is a weight lifting expression but it might as well have been plastered on these kids cribs. They know only one thing, that is to win no matter how hard they have to suffer personally or on-track.

Auto racing is the ultimate in performance based careers. You either run at the front and win or you go home. Going home isn’t on these guys list of things to do. They would rather run barefoot over a bed of hot coals than admit defeat, but when they do lose they learn.

Losing is a horrible feeling, but it’s one that every driver needs to know.

You’ll never know what it’s like to win if you don’t know what it’s like to lose.

 

David Ragan: Corporate Crisis Management 101

David Ragan, JGR's interim replacement driver for Kyle Busch.

David Ragan, JGR’s interim replacement driver for Kyle Busch.

What do you do when your driver, Kyle Busch, who is arguably one of the top three drivers in Sprint Cup, is going to be sidelined for as long as 8 months? That’s a real problem. It isn’t a simple matter of calling up a reserve driver with the skillset to run with Kenseth and Edwards. They don’t exist.

The solution really isn’t a solution. It’s high dollar corporate crisis management. There are a number of drivers, who are journeyman drivers that for whatever reason will never be in the winners circle with any regularity. You have to choose one of them, but which one fits?

Fits what? First the driver has to fit the entity who pays the big dollars and that means M&M Mars. There are a number of drivers who could take that level of equipment and keep it at the lower end of the top twenty, but they need more than that.

M&M cannot afford to be embarrassed by a personality, off the cuff remarks, a possibility of trashing the car every time it goes out or not giving top notch representation to the company.

Hence the selection of David Ragan. Ragan fits all of the criteria that the sponsor needs. He won’t win, though he has every chance now. He can put it into the top twenty and may even do better. Most importantly, he’s calm, speaks very well and can mitigate the damage to the sponsor by doing a good solid journeyman job.

Young Erik Jones, JGR's future star.

Young Erik Jones, JGR’s future star.

If you look at his record with Roush he never came close to Edwards, Kenseth or Biffle, but he represented the sponsor well and didn’t destroy equipment like a Russian dashcam junkie.

M&M Mars has directed the next 6-8 months to be an interim crisis management period where the effort is somewhat like a physician’s first rule: Do No Harm.

Make no mistake, this was not Joe Gibbs decision. If it were, they would have given that ride to Erik Jones. The 18 year old kid is fast, he wins and is part of the future of JGR. It would have been the perfect time to give him the Cup experience needed to go into 2016 as the next Kyle Larson, if not better. But he’s unknown to M&M’s as a corporate representative.

Could he have handled the Sprint Cup pace under the new rules? Most likely yes, even though the cars should prove to be harder to drive. Often you find the new guy hasn’t embedded old habits into his driving style and could have adapted quickly. But this isn’t about an interim driver winning races, it’s about doing the sponsor’s bidding.

Once they ascertain whether or not the young baby faced Erik Jones can actually represent a company as large as M&M’s and Ragan doesn’t perform to an acceptable level, things could change.

For now it’s one of those unforeseen second chances that drivers at this level just don’t get. David Ragan has the opportunity to move from a forever mid-pack runner to a front runner.

He has to take every opportunity that he can to prove his worth as a driver or he will forever be regulated to contracts that are race to race with teams that are admirably capable, but not JGR or Penske level.

Mr. Ragan had better pull up every ounce of competitive ability and talent that he may never have accessed in order to become a driver that other top teams might look at as a high level performer.

And he has to do it with grace and aplomb. He wont get another chance.

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