TAYLOR: NASCAR’s New Age Is Here
There is no doubt the 2014 NASCAR season has gotten off to an interesting start. Seven different winners in seven different races is a talking point as is the fact that big names like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth have yet to visit victory lane.
However, if one looks closely the biggest story lies in the tale of two up-and-coming drivers who have already proved their worth as future stars of the sport. Over the last two weekends in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott won their first races in the series. Elliott is 18. Larson is 21.
The reason to point out both Larson and Elliott is obvious. Not to ignore the likes of up and comers like the Dillon boys or Darrell Wallace Jr., but the people in the industry seem to think Larson and Elliott are the two future megastars and rightly so. Larson is a short, shy. Affectionately known as Yung Money to his fans Larson grew up in California racing midgets and sprint cars. His talent was evident. At 16, people were already mentioning the kid as an upcoming star who came up the ranks in the same way as many of NASCAR’s biggest stars, including Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.
The young gun was quickly thrown into a K&N Series car with little stock-car racing experience-all he did was go out and win the championship. From there Larson’s rise has been meteoric. A Truck Series win at Rockingham last year and a successful first full season in the Nationwide Series for Turner Scott Motorsports showed promise of great things — enough for car owner Chip Ganassi and longtime sponsor Target to believe in the 21-year-old to replace Juan Pablo Montoya.
Running in both the Nationwide and Cup Series, Larson was expected to contend — but not like he has. After outrunning Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to win the Nationwide Series event at Auto Club Speedway, Larson backed it up by chasing Busch to the line in the Cup event the next day to cap off a spectacular weekend in his home state. Wise beyond his years Larson is already competing within the top 10 to 15 on a regular basis and is quickly earning the respect of the Cup Series regulars.
As with Larson, Chase Elliott had already made a name for himself being the son of 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott and having the backing of Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott is a very well spoken and refined product at age 18.
On the track he has shown the same calm and cool demeanor. With a Nationwide opportunity open at JR Motorsports thanks to sponsor NAPA, which left Michael Waltrip Racing after last year’s Richmond race-fixing controversy, Elliott has pounced on his opportunity.
Six races into the season he sits atop the Nationwide Series standings and last Friday night at Texas smoked the competition, pulling off a daring late-race pass on the outside of Kevin Harvick. Elliott pulled into victory lane, continuing the legacy of his father.
Both drivers are in great positions to succeed. Both drive for superb car owners and racers at heart. Larson and Elliott are two names fans will get to know and get to know all over again in Elliott’s case. Larson is the natural talent. Elliott is the polished one with the name and is the likely heir to Jeff Gordon when he chooses to retire. Fans should enjoy watching both rise to the top. Both young men are genuinely nice people. Their ability to treat everyone with respect and their overall kindness is, perhaps, bigger than their on-track abilities.
NASCAR is in good hands with its future ambassadors and stars of the sport. Larson and Elliott — NASCAR’s new age is here.