If there was ever any question about a youth movement in NASCAR, Chase Elliott definitively answered it last year, becoming the third-youngest driver ever to win the Cup Series championship just days shy of his 25th birthday. The start of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season has been much of the same, with two of the three races won by drivers both in their mid-20s in Christopher Bell and William Byron.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired from full-time competition in 2018. Before he left, he could see a growing wave of youth coming up through the ranks. During an episode of the Dale Jr. Download podcast, Earnhardt offered his thoughts and how he sees the youth movement dramatically affecting the sport from top to bottom. 2017 Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., a NASCAR old-timer at just 40, was asked about the younger competition this week in an interview and provided some interesting thoughts of his own.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. part of youth movement, grooming young drivers in Xfinity Series
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who retired from Cup Series competition in 2018 at age 43, has played a significant role in grooming the younger NASCAR competition as co-owner of JR Motorsports, which has fielded cars for the Xfinity Series since 2006.
The most notable recent youthful successes for Earnhardt’s team are current Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, who first drove for him in 2014, as well as William Byron and Tyler Reddick, who has yet to win but has 11 top-10 finishes in his first two seasons, including a second at Homestead last weekend.
JR Motorsports isn’t the only shop churning out top young talent. Christopher Bell, who races for Joe Gibbs Racing, is joined by Chase Briscoe, who raced for the Stewart-Haas Racing Xfinity team full-time in 2019 and 2020. Briscoe posted eye-popping results last season with nine victories on the Xfinity Series. This year he was promoted to a full-time seat, replacing Clint Bowyer, who moved up to the Fox broadcast booth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. excited about future of NASCAR with younger drivers
Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. has played a role in the current youth movement, he is understandably excited about the future of the drivers and, more importantly, the future of the sport. He said it’s a shift from even just a few short years ago.
“And we’re seeing some of the younger guys starting to have that success. I remember when I started in broadcasting, we had this young guys vs. the old guys thing. It got kind of testy,” Earnhardt said on his Dale Jr. Download podcast. “If you remember, Harvick and a bunch of the older guys were like they’re not winning any races. All the old guys are still winning these races, and the young guys had yet to really stake their claim going to victory lane, winning races to warrant that kind of attention.
“Now they are. You’ve got Chase Elliott winning the championship. William Byron winning this past weekend. Some of the younger guys are starting to win races. We may be seeing a bit of a shift in the sport, in who do you expect to be successful. It might not be the same names that we’ve been accustomed to over the last several years. There’s tons of parity. I’m blown away. And I’m all for it. I hope it continues.”
Martin Truex Jr. watched NASCAR Cup Series change in recent years
Martin Truex Jr. began his NASCAR Cup Series racing career back in 2006. Since his arrival, he’s won 27 times, including the 2017 Cup Series title. Truex was in Austin, Texas for a tire test at COTA recently and was asked his thoughts on the number of young drivers now competing in NASCAR. He said compared to when he debuted, the Cup Series driver demographic has dramatically shifted.
“Our sport has really changed over the last handful of years, since I started Cup racing in ’06. And then it was all the veteran guys. We had a crop of young guys. I was part of that, but we weren’t as young as these kids are today,” Truex said. “I think I was 26 when I went Cup racing, and I was considered fairly young at that point to go Cup racing. And now we’re racing with 18-year-old, 19-year-old, 20-year-old kids, and they’re really good. It’s been interesting how it’s changed. Really the last couple of years, we’ve got a lot of new young guys in there, making a name for themselves, and doing a good job. It’s been fun to race with them and carry the veteran cap around, I suppose.”
Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both love NASCAR and understand that the quality of the competition is more important than age of the competitors. They also both know that the future success of the sport is dependent on grooming the young up-and-coming talent with the hopes it will carry the sport forward for years to come. Based on what they’ve seen so far, the future looks bright.