Column: Not so fast on NASCAR’s changing of the guard

By Brendan Marks - The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Boy, was eeeeeveryone wrong.

Before this NASCAR season kicked off in February, all the talk was about one thing: the new guys. Young drivers this, young drivers that. The way most media pundits made it seem, we were going to have a championship four all under the age of 25 this season.

Not so fast.

Martin Truex Jr. won this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., making this the second straight year he won a race during NASCAR’sWest Coast trip. Last year, Truex parlayed that early-season win into one of the more aggressive, dominant seasons in recent NASCAR memory.

Oh, and he’s 37.

Other than Truex, whose win catapulted him to the top of the Cup Series standings, there’s the usual cast of veterans atop the NASCAR leaderboard: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

Respectively, they’re 32, 27 and 34.

Then there’s the driver who has been the most dominant this season, Kevin Harvick. Harvick is only eighth in the standings thanks to some strange circumstances, but he’s already collected three wins and has proven himself the man to beat in this year’s early goings.

And, as you can expect at this point in the story, he’s 42.

Now, don’t take all that as bashing on NASCAR’s youth movement. That certainly isn’t the intention here. It’s just … it seems there were no tempered expectations. It was as if all these younger drivers were suddenly, and without warning, going to usurp all the established veterans on the circuit. That was never going to be the case, so these first few races of 2018 shouldn’t come as a surprise. But because of the accolades we forced onto this young generation … now we’re all shocked? No, that doesn’t jibe.

Really, that expectation-heaping on young drivers is just part of a greater trend across the sports world. College basketball freshman are expected to push their teams to the national championship. Rookies in both the NFL and NBA aren’t only expected to become All-Stars in their inaugural seasons, but to help their teams make a playoff push. Even in more niche sports like golf and tennis, our collective focus hinges on the up-and-comer, the shiny new name we haven’t pored over for the past decade.

NASCAR is just one sport among many experiencing the trend.

So what should we hope for out of these young drivers instead?

Improvement. Flashes of greatness. Consistent performance would be ideal, but it’s a lot to ask of a 24-year-old making his or her debut among the titans of their respective sports.

We should still cheer for Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace — they are, after all, the future of the sport. And one day, we’ll be talking about them as the regular leaders and group of contenders in the Cup Series.

Just not yet. They still have time to grow and much to learn.

And that’s perfectly all right.


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By Brendan Marks

The Charlotte Observer