South Dade News Leader: Matt Becherer

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Matt Becherer

Friday 06/23/2017
The Future is Now - NASCAR's Young Talent on Full Display

In this space we have had the opportunity to cover a plethora of NASCAR topics that are prevalent in the sport. Of those subjects, there is one that has been referenced several times, especially over the course of the last year, and that is the continual rise of the up-and-coming drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

   When we first introduced the thought, it was nothing more than hopeful foreshadowing. We were imagining and predicting the future of NASCAR solely on the potential of these young drivers and not on what they had proven. And after a number of NASCAR’s top drivers announced their retirement in the last few years (Jeff Gordon-2015, Tony Stewart-2016, Carl Edwards-2016, Dale Earnhardt Jr.-2017), it is certainly an idea worth contemplating, as the sport is constantly seeking new faces that will help continue to propel it forward.

   Luckily, NASCAR and its fans didn’t have to wait long because the future is now. Over the course of the 2017 season, NASCAR’s top young talents have been on full display, winning races and putting together impressive performances.

We were treated to one of those moments this past weekend during Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. During a late-race restart on Lap 186, 24-year-old Kyle Larson cleared 13-year veteran Kyle Busch to take the lead and was able to maintain his position until the checkered flag flew on Lap 200.

   A similar feat was accomplished by 23-year-old Ryan Blaney just a week earlier, as he showed the poise of a seasoned veteran in claiming his first career Monster Energy Series win, at Pocono Raceway. With 12 laps to go in the race, Blaney took the lead from 2015 Monster Energy Series champion Kyle Busch, who did everything he could to block the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Fusion. From there, Blaney played defense against 17-year Cup driver Kevin Harvick for the final eight laps before edging the 2014 Monster Energy Series champion to the finish line. 

   For Larson, the trip to Victory Lane in the Irish Hills of Michigan was the third of his career and the second this season (Auto Club Speedway 3/26).  

   With the win, Larson, driver of the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing, sits atop the Monster Energy Series points standings five points ahead of another NASCAR veteran in Martin Truex Jr. It is also the seventh top-2 showing for Larson this year and his eighth dating back to the 2016 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (second).

If the 2012 Drive for Diversity graduate continues to perform like he has thus far, he could see himself earning the

coveted 15 playoff points that are awarded to the regular-season champion. And in the process, if he hasn’t done so already, continue to gain the popularity and fan appreciation that he deserves.

Finishing just behind Larson in the race at Michigan was Chase Elliott, who is competing in his second full-time season in the Monster Energy Series. The runner-up showing was his best through 15 races this year. For being a 21-year-old, Elliott has demonstrated tremendous composure and consistency, posting a total of nine top-10s in 2017, including three consecutive top-10s where he has averaged fifth place. His steady performances have also reflected onto the Monster Energy Series points standings, where he currently sits in the fifth spot.

There was a lot on Elliott’s shoulders when he first entered the series in 2016. Not only was he a past NASCAR XFINITY Series champion (2014) and the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, but he also took over the No. 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports, which was made famous by Jeff Gordon. As Elliott inches closer and closer to a victory, he has shown the ability to fill in the big shoes left behind by the four-time Monster Energy Series champion, so much so that he has even won over some of Gordon’s fans.

The tides are certainly changing. Including Larson and Blaney’s triumphs, six of the last 11 races in the Cup series have been won by a driver who is 29 years of age or younger. Austin Dillon, 27, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 29, scored the first Monster Energy Series triumphs of their career, as Stenhouse earned a win in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in early May, and Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway later that month. Joey Logano, 27, who has already been racing in NASCAR’s top series for nine years, picked up his 18th win in the series during April’s race at Richmond International Raceway.

Undoubtedly, it’s an exciting time for NASCAR. Having young and talented drivers like Larson, Elliott, Blaney, Logano, Dillon and Stenhouse, among others, presents an optimistic future for the sport. Not to mention that there are two rookie drivers in Daniel Suarez (25) and Erik Jones (21) who are currently in the top-20 of the Monster Energy Series points standings and are looking to make a name for themselves, too.  

The spotlight is slowly shifting and is shining brighter and brighter on these fresh faces. As a fan, you can only sit back and admire their talent, as they exhibit it week-in and week-out.

NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND

Sunday, June 25

at 3:00 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/ Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, June 24

at 8:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR XFINITY Series American Ethanol E15 250 at Iowa Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Friday, June 23

at 8:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-

MIAMI SPEEDWAY

June 24-25 

Sports Car Club of America

July 1-2  Championship Cup Series Motorcycle Racing

July 4  

City of Homestead’s Race to the 4th

July 7  

Fast Lane Friday

presented by The

Ticket Clinic

July 8  Performance Driving Group

July 9  

Chin Motorsports Car Club

July 14  

High Performance Driving Group

July 15  

Miami Exotic Auto Racing

July 16  

High Performance Driving Group

2017 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 19  

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race

Nov. 18  

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 17  

Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race

Posted in Opinion, Columnists, Matt becherer, Sports on Friday, June 23, 2017 9:33 am. Comments (0)

MATT BECHERER

Matt Becherer is President of Homestead-Miami Speedway. This long-time motorsports executive is one of the good guys, and he leads a team of 40 that operate the track. If you would like to talk to Matt, he can be reached at chatwithmatt @homesteadmiamispeedway.com.