It’s difficult to predict which NASCAR prospects will bust and which ones will have long and successful careers. Even when everything goes right for a driver, sometimes they just can’t make it work at the highest level. When a driver makes a mistake, by joining the wrong team or moving up too early, the path to success becomes even harder.
After winning the 2015 XFINITY Series championship with Roush, Chris Buescher decided against staying in the second-tier series. He instead moved up to the Sprint Cup Series for 2016. However, he did not step into a Roush ride. Buescher instead signed with Front Row Motorsports, a perennial backmarker with just one win to its name. Front Row Motorsports formed a technical alliance with Roush Fenway this year, but given Roush’s recent struggles, the partnership hasn’t helped much. Buescher is currently languishing in 32nd in the Sprint Cup standings. He’s posted just two top 20 finishes on the year and sits 55 points behind 27th place teammate Landon Cassill.
Almost overnight, Buescher went from an XFINITY series star to just another Sprint Cup backmarker. Buescher has undeniable talent, but he’s still raw. He needed more time and experience in NASCAR’s lower series before moving up to the Sprint Cup. The lone bright spot in his future is that a seat at Roush may be opening up soon. Greg Biffle is NASCAR’s oldest regular driver, and is also Roush’s worst performing racer this year. If Biffle retires soon, Buescher may get a shot to prove himself in competitive equipment. However, the ride he’s in right now isn’t helping his chances.
With Jeff Gordon making his final start yesterday, Nascar closed the books on an era. Gordon was Nascar’s first superstar–he helped the sport grow from a regional event to a household name. Gordon is the last driver from the early 1990’s who competed full time, and with his retirement, others may start to follow suit. Tony Stewart, who began racing in 1999. Stewart will follow Gordon out of the sport after the 2016 season. Here’s some drivers who could be headed with them in the next few years.
The oldest driver in the Nascar garage isn’t Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart–it’s Greg Biffle, who clocks in at 45 years old. Most people would expect Biffle to be much younger, but that’s because he only started racing in the Sprint Cup Series in 2002. Biffle’s late start and his historically good Roush cars have masked the fact that he’s getting up there in age. With Roush-Fenway Racing on the decline and a lack of new rides opening up in the Sprint Cup, don’t be surprised to see Biffle be the next driver to make an exit after Stewart.
Kenseth, the 2003 champion and Biffle’s former teammate at Roush, is also getting up there in age. He’s 43 years old and has been racing in the Sprint Cup for 15 years, and is only signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through the end of 2016. Although Kenseth continues to run strong, a two race suspension for taking out Joey Logano dropped him to 15th in the points standings this year. With developmental drivers Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones waiting in the wings, don’t be surprised to see Kenseth bow out in the near future.
At first glance, Brian Vickers doesn’t look like a racer ready to hang up his helmet. He’s just 32 years old and recently signed a multi-year contract with Michael Waltrip Racing. However, as MWR closes its doors in the offseason, Vickers will be left without a ride, and more importantly, may be unable to get back on the track. Vickers has battled blood clots since 2010, when clots in his lungs forced him out of the driver’s seat at Red Bull Racing. He battled his medical issues for a long time, and only recently secured a full-time ride with now defunct MWR. However, before the 2015 season began, Vickers announced that he would miss time due to issues fixing a hole in his heart. He ended up driving just 2 races; instead, he spent time working as an analyst for NBC while he recovered. With no ride lined up and no timetable to return to the track, we might have already seen Brian Vickers’ last race.