Learning From Nascar’s All-Star Race

Nascar’s All-Star Race had all the right ingredients to be a fantastic event. The racing was fantastic, the new aero package worked well, and Nascar’s young guns were at the forefront of the racing. Rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney battled hard in the Sprint Showdown, third-year driver Kyle Larson barely lost the main event to Joey Logano, and sophomore Trevor Bayne made a daring last-lap pass to advance to the main race.

However, as Nascar does year after year, it tinkered with the format of the all-star race, and it ended up hurting the sport. The last 13 lap segment was supposed to feature the first 11 cars pitting and dropping to the back of the pack, forcing them to fight their way through traffic to the front of the field. However, after Matt Kenseth failed to make a mandatory pit stop, half the field was trapped a lap down with no way to get back on the lead lap, creating a disjointed, confusing finish.

Although the racing was exciting, the confusing format was difficult for fans, drivers, and even the announcers to follow. Forcing part of the field to pit is an interesting idea, but for the future Nascar must clearly define and standardize its rules to ensure everyone is on the same page. Nascar keeps getting its decisions 90% right–it will need to clear that last 10% to truly reestablish its standing among fans.

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The Class of 2014: Nascar’s First Real Rookie of the Year Race Since 2008

Parker Kligerman and Kyle Larson battle at Dover

Over the past few years, one of the biggest criticisms has been the lack of fresh faces in Nascar. Very few exciting prospects have moved up from the lower ranks of the sport, as older, more established drivers have held tight to their Sprint Cup rides. There hasn’t been more than one contender for Rookie of the Year honors since the year 2008, when winner Regan Smith squared off against highly lauded drivers such as Patrick Carpentier and Michael McDowell. If you want a real battle for Rookie of the Year, you’re going to have to go all the way back to 2006, when Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, and Martin Truex Jr., duked it out for top honors. However, this year is shaping up to be unusually competitive, as young prospects Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon will be moving up to quality rides in the Sprint Cup series, while Parker Kilgerman, who finished 9th in the Nationwide points race will be joining fellow newcomer Cole Whitt at the small-time operation Swan Racing. Michael Annett, who placed 5th in the 2012 Nationwide points standings, will also be moving up, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing. In this article, we rank each rookie and analyze their chances of success in the 2014 season. 

Why are so many drivers moving up this year? Well, a lot of veterans are giving up their seats. Find out more here.

1. Austin Dillon

 

Austin Dillon at Road America (From Wikipedia)

One of the most highly touted prospects in the sport, Richard Childress’s grandson is a force to be reckoned with. Dillon won the Nationwide Series Championship in 2013 after finishing 2nd in 2012. He also won the Truck Series Championship in 2011. In 2014, he will drive the iconic #3 car for Richard Childress Racing. Along with fellow rookie Kyle Larson, Dillon will be a serious contender for the rookie of the year award. He performed admirably in the 2013 Sprint Cup series, placing as high as 11th while running a part-time schedule. Austin Dillon will look to replicate and improve on those results during his freshman campaign.

2. Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson may be one of Nascar’s most exciting rookies in recent memory. A Japanese American out of Sacramento, Larson lit up the world of dirt racing as a teenager and then transitioned to stock cars, where he became the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year in 2013. Although he did not win a race in a season dominated by Sprint Cup regulars, Larson recorded 17 top 10’s including 9 top five finishes and a pair of 2nd place results. In 2014, Larson will be moving up to the Sprint Cup series, replacing Juan Pablo Montoya, who will be moving to Indy Cars. Many have expressed concern over Larson’s quick rise to the Sprint Cup series, arguing that he needed more time to prepare in the sport’s lower ranks. Kyle will look to silence those doubters and prove himself and a legitimate racer during the 2014 season.

3. Parker Kligerman

Larson and Austin Dillon are the two most talented rookies in the class of 2014, but Parker Kligerman has the skill to give either one a run for their money. Kligerman drove his first full Nationwide Series campaign in 2013, recording 12 top 10 finishes. He ended up 9th in the points standings overall, only 2 points behind Kyle Larson. He lost his ride at the end of the 2013 season, when team owner Kyle Busch shut his Nationwide operation down due to a lack of funds. He made two starts for first year team Swan Racing in the Sprint Cup series, finishing a respectable 18th at Texas Motor Speedway. Kligerman will compete full-time in the 2014 Sprint Cup series, racing for Swan as they expand their organization to a two car team. This young driver has the talent to compete at Nascar’s highest level–although his equipment might hold him back, look for him to make a run at 2nd place in the rookie of the year standings.

4. Cole Whitt

To fill their second car, Swan Racing, which is fielding Parker Kligerman, will also be bringing up Cole Whitt to the Sprint Cup series. Whitt has proved himself as a capable driver in the Nationwide Series–he finished 7th in the  2012 standings while driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Nationwide team, and posted 4 top tens in the 2013 campaign while driving for underfunded TriStar Motorsports. While not as heralded as some of the other rookies, Cole Whitt does have talent. Although he will probably never reach the top echelons of the sport, Whitt will look to establish himself as a solid driver during the 2014 season.

5. Michael Annett

Last and in all probability least, we have Michael Annett. An Iowa native who was once a strong ice hockey prospect, Annett has been racing in Nascar’s Nationwide Series since 2008. He’s ranked last on this list mainly because of the awful equipment he’s been saddled with. In 2014, Annett will be piloting the #7 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing, a team which could be counted on to be near the end of the grid in every single race of the 2013 season. Still, the team is improving, and Annett is bringing along something every small organization needs–sponsorship. Michael Annett has the potential to surprise–he finished 5th in the 2012 Nationwide campaign while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. Even though he’s saddled with some pretty poor equipment, don’t count him out just yet.

BOOM OR DUST? Nascar returns to dirt at Eldora

On a hot, steamy Wednesday night, Nascar made history. For the first time since 1970, a Nascar National Series raced on dirt. The Camping World Truck Series traveled to the small town of Rossburg, Ohio to race on the historic Eldora Speedway, home of some of the biggest dirt races in the country. The track drew a sell-out crowd, and millions more tuned into the Speed Channel for a chance to watch history. Nationwide regular Austin Dillon won the race, holding off Nationwide rookie Kyle Larson as well as Cup driver Ryan Newman. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the CarCash Mudsummer Classic.

1. Kenny Schrader makes history

Schrader is all smiles after winning the Keystone Light Pole. Image credit goes to Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

Nascar veteran Kenny Schrader made history by becoming the oldest pole winner in the history of the sport. 58 years young, Schrader snagged the top spot in qualifying and immediately backed it up with a win in the first heat race of the night. The semiretired Cup Series veteran eventually finished 14th in the main event, but throughout the night you could tell that he was having the time of his life.

2. Norm Benning is the Man of the Hour

That’s probably the first and last time you’ll ever hear that being said. 61-year old Norm Benning is a Camping World Series staple, competing week in and week out in his unsponsored truck. He’s respected in the garage for doing the best he can in his sub-par equipment, but he has never come close to winning a race. But in a wild Last-Chance Race to make the filed at Eldora, Benning was the star, holding off part-timer Clay Greenfield for the final transfer spot in the race.When he got out of the car, Benning was mobbed by crew members and fans alike, congratulating him on his accomplishment. It was a feel-good story on one very special night.

 

The legendary Scott Bloomquist couldn’t conquer Eldora speedway in a truck.
Credit: Getty Images

3. Dirt ringers have an off night

It speaks volumes about the level of competition in the Truck Series that none of the dirt track regulars entered in the race were able to contend for the win. One of the most disappointing finishers was Scott Bloomquist. Bloomquist, who has won over 500 dirt track events, went down a lap early and never recovered, ending up 25th. Bloomquist was trying a radical suspension that involved removing the front sway bar. Obviously, it didn’t work. Other dirt ringers also disappointed. Late model racers Jeff Babcock and J.R. Heffner fell out early with mechanical issues, while veteran dirt racer Joe Cobb finished well out of the running in his 2009 Dodge Ram. One pleasant surprise was Jared Landers, who ran well inside the top 10 until an incident with Ty Dillon ended his chances at a good finish.

4. Sauter tumbles in the points

Johnny Sauter, driver of the #98 Toyota Tundra, got caught up in the incident with Landers and Dillon and eventually took his truck to the garage. Unfortunately for him, this cost him big-time in the standings. Sauter was right behind Ty Dillon in the points standings entering the race. But now, Johnny is tied for 5th in the standings with Timothy Peters, and is just one point ahead of Ryan Blaney and Brendan Gaughan, who are tied for 7th. The championship battle just got a whole lot more interesting.

Sauter and Ty Dillon fought hard during the feature as well as in the 8 lap heat race preceding it. Image Credit goes to Getty Images