Paced by Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, NASCAR Hall of Fame officials shouldn’t worry about induction ceremonies in the 2040s and beyond.
There are enough strong prospects under the age of 30 to headline a string of future events like the one staged for 2021 inductees Dale Earnhardt Jr., Red Farmer, and the late Mike Stefanik in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Jan. 21.
A starting line of early-in-their-prime drivers is forming, with rookie Austin Cindric eager to stake his claim as a future contender.
Here are three top under-30 drivers who could one day prove to be NASCAR Hall of Famers:
Kyle Larson, 29 years old
Is one dominant season enough to anoint Larson from outcast to future hall of famer? Well, did you see Larson race during his 2021 drivers’ championship campaign? He collected 10 points wins and the $1 million all-star race. He led 2,581 laps.
In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports after his “lost” 2020, the former Chip Ganassi Racing driver was fired and subsequently suspended by NASCAR for uttering a racial slur during a streamed iRacing event. The circuit’s lone Asian American driver completed his required sensitivity training and received a second chance with one of NASCAR’s top teams, revitalizing the No. 5 team.
He made the most of it.
A short-track dirt specialist, Larson remains one of the series’ busiest off-season drivers. He’s willing to put in the work to improve his craft in different environments.
In 259 premier series starts, Larson has 16 wins. How many will he accumulate by the time he turns 35 years old? 35-40 wins? How about 40 years old? 50-55 wins?
If Larson continues to build off his comeback campaign, he could go down as one of the era’s top pilots. The iRacing incident will only be a footnote to his eventual hall-of-fame induction.
Chase Elliott, 26 years old
The son of “Awesome” Bill Elliott could prove to be one of the most consistent drivers of his generation. In 221 career premier series starts, the younger Elliott has earned 117 top-10 finishes.
It’s a template for sustained success. The 2020 drivers’ champ remains the third-youngest racer to claim a title. With the robust backing of Hendrick Motorsports, Elliott compiled multiple wins for the fourth straight season and registered 21 top-10s in 36 outings.
After qualifying for his second consecutive Championship 4 race in ’21, Elliott settled for fourth in the driver standings. In six full premier series seasons, Elliott has yet to place out of the top 10, including three top-five finishes.
As NASCAR’s most popular pilot the past four seasons, Elliott also has the fans’ overwhelming support, despite entering a lame-duck contract year.
If Elliott continues to post top-10s anywhere close to his current 53-percent pace over the next decade, he likely will be voted into the hall by a landslide.
Austin Cindric, 23 years old
Cindric? A future hall of famer? Shouldn’t the rookie complete at least one season before making such a proclamation?
All fair points, but Cindric could prove to be the pace-setter of the next wave of Cup Series prospects. The 2020 Xfinity Series champion came within a blink of an eye from capturing back-to-back titles.
After joining Team Penske in 2017, Cindric has been a consistent Xfinity contender, winning 13 races and compiling 89 top-10 finishes in only 133 starts.
He also has the advantage of looking forward to the road-course weekends. A disadvantage to some, Cindric grew up racing sports cars.
Undoubtedly, he will not be able to sustain his 67 percent top-10 pace in the premier series, but even if that mark is cut in half, he could become a borderline candidate.
Too soon to judge? True, but his future driving a Ford should be interesting to analyze over the next decade or two.