The Rise of Ryan Blaney

Dave Blaney was always a NASCAR fan favorite. Though winless in his 473 race career, the dirt track star gained respect from fans and his fellow competitors by charging hard and making the most out of second-rate equipment. His son Ryan, however, appears poised to reach far greater heights than his father ever did. After placing 6th and 2nd respectively, in two full-time seasons in the Camping World Truck Series, Ryan Blaney made the jump to the Sprint Cup Series for the 2016 season, piloting the #21 car for the Wood Brothers as they attempt their first full-time schedule in many years.

The Wood Brothers, although very capable, are not anywhere near the caliber of teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, or Team Penske. Even with the Wood Brothers’ new technical alliance with Penske, the car is still underfunded and understaffed. Despite this, Ryan Blaney has shone in the season’s first 15 races. He’s posted 6 top 10 finishes and currently sits 16th in the points standings. If the Chase for the Sprint Cup started now, Blaney and the Wood Brothers would qualify for the first time ever.

The Wood Brothers have run a part time schedule since the days of David Pearson. Now, with NASCAR’s new charter system, they’ll have to run full-time to receive a charter and a locked-in spot for the races. As the Wood Brothers move into the new NASCAR, Ryan Blaney appears to be the perfect driver to take them there.

 

Advertisements

Nascar’s Kickoff

Despite the Daytona 500’s exciting finish, the rest of the race, and Speedweeks as a whole, felt lackluster. With the absence of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, the  truck series caution clock, and the excessive commercials during the 500, the whole week was lethargic. Here, we take a quick look at what did click during the first race of the 2016 Nascar season.

While Fox’s broadcast went a little heavy on the ads, the addition of Jeff Gordon to the booth was a win-win for fans and the network alike. Viewers saw Jeff once more, and the network kept Gordon’s fans interested in watching the race. Although Larry McReynolds scaled back his role to make room for Gordon, the 4-time champion showed a lot of potential in the press box. Jeff’s commentary was insightful and provided an insider’s perspective on the garage. Although Gordon still needs time to develop chemistry with his co-announcers, it was great to see the Nascar legend maintain a presence in the sport after 22 years on track.

The rookie battle was exciting at Daytona as Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott posted strong performances. Elliott, the race’s polesitter, ran up front early, leading the first 3 laps before an unlucky wreck sent him to the garage on lap 18. Ryan Blaney had some better luck, placing 19th in the Wood Brothers Ford and showing serious speed at times during the race. Both drivers turned in excellent performances (3rd for Blaney and 5th for Elliott) at the first Can-Am Duel; their battle for Rookie of the Year looks to heat up even more as the season progresses.

 

 

Ranking the 2016 Rookie Class

We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the 2016 Nascar season, and one of the most exciting storylines is this year’s rookie class. While the 2015 rookies were lackluster (Rookie of the Year Brett Moffitt can’t even find a ride) the 2016 group has a number of promising prospects. Here we take a look at this year’s rookies and rank them by how likely they are to succeed in Nascar’s big leagues.

Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney, son of former Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney, will be running a full-time schedule in 2016 with the historic Wood Brothers racing team. Blaney finished 2nd in the truck series in 2014, before being forced to a limited schedule last year. Blaney won two Xfinity races and a truck series race driving for Penske, but what was perhaps most impressive were his performances in the Sprint Cup series. Driving for the Wood Brothers, Blaney notched 6 top 20’s in the 11 races he competed in without engine problems. With the Wood Brothers’ new technical alliance with Penske, expect Blaney to be very competitive in 2016 and to have a long and successful career once he eventually moves to Penske’s full team.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott, the son of legendary Nascar racer Bill Elliott, will be taking over Jeff Gordon’s 24 car in 2016. Chase and Ryan Blaney are equals in almost every way–they are both excellent racers who look to be in the Sprint Cup series for a long time. Elliott has experienced far greater success at Nascar’s lower levels. He burst onto the racing scene in 2013, winning the Silverado 250 at Mosport with a daring last-lap pass. Elliott won the Xfinity series championship in 2014 and placed 2nd in 2015, racking up 4 wins and 27 top 5’s in his two year stint. Chase Elliott has big shoes to fill. If he can translate his lower series success to the Sprint Cup, he’ll be able to write his own legacy.

Chris Buescher

The man Chase Elliott lost this year’s Xfinity series championship to is Chris Buescher, the 23-year old from Prosper, Texas. While Elliott’s racing style was often boom-or-bust, Buescher took a more conservative, methodical route, racking up 2 wins and 20 top 10’s en route to a championship victory. Although he drove for Roush in the lower series, Buescher will be racing for perennial backmarker Front Row Motorsports in the Cup series. Why? Although Buescher is a top prospect, funding is very tight for Roush these days. Rather than add a 4th car to their stable, Roush formed a technical alliance with Front Row, bringing Buescher in this season. Expect to see Buescher in a Roush car sin the near future, possibly as soon as next year–Roush driver Greg Biffle is the oldest Sprint Cup regular and is entering the final year of his contract. If Biffle bows out, Buescher could fill his seat.

Brian Scott

Lastly, we have Brian Scott. Scott has shown himself to be a capable racer in the Xfinity Series–although he has never won a race, he’s recorded 73 top 10’s in the past 5 years. While many other drivers would have lost their ride to younger prospects, Scott has held steady, supported by his family’s Shore Lodge sponsorship. Scott brings this money to Richard Petty Motorsports this year, taking over Sam Hornish’s ride. Scott projects to be at best, a racer like Paul Menard–a consistent, if mediocre driver who can occasionally put together a strong performance. However, don’t count him out just yet–many great drivers, such as Jimmie Johnson, were lowly-regarded in lower series before making the jump to the Sprint Cup. Scott showed decent speed in a limited schedule for Richard Childress Racing last year–maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs.

Looking back on Tony Stewart’s Career

Tony Stewart, one of Nascar’s most popular and accomplished drivers, will be retiring after the 2016 season. Here, we take a look back on his career.

Because of Stewart’s incredible accomplishments in Nascar, his work in other series is sometimes lost to history. Stewart, who began his racing career driving go-karts and midget cars in the USAC, boasts an IndyCar championship in addition to his 3 Nascar trophies. Stewart accomplished all if this before ever entering the top level of Nascar, driving double duty in IndyCars and the Busch Series. Stewart is an avid racer, driving Sprint Cars on dirt as well as his Sprint Cup ride.

Tony’s drive to race has led to insane accomplishments within the sport. He made a splash as soon as he entered Nascar, winning 3 races his rookie year en route to a 4th place finish overall. He is tied for 5th all-time with 3 Nascar championships, and is tied for 13th all-time with 48 wins.  Smoke is the only driver to take home the title under the old Winston Cup format and the new Sprint Cup format, a testament to his incredible versatility as a driver. Stewart’s 2011 Chase run is considered one of the greatest ever–after a slow start to the season, the veteran won 5 times during the last 10 races, overcoming Carl Edwards’ consistency to take home the championship.

Stewart has proved his status time and time again as one of the sports greatest drivers. His 2011 championship marked the first by an owner-driver since Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 ring. In 2009, Stewart, unhappy with his role at Joe Gibbs Racing and the team;s switch to Toyota, joined forces with Gene Haas at Haas CNC Racing and began driving his #14 Chevy alongside Ryan Newman. Now, Stewart-Haas, which receives technical support from Hendrick Motorsports, boasts 2 championships and 30 race wins to its name and will be around long after Stewart retires.

Stewart’s retirement won’t stop him from being involved in the sport. Smoke loves racing, and continues to compete hard day in and day out despite his struggles the past few years. Expect to see him take an active role in the garage when working with his team. Stewart also owns Eldora Speedway, which hosts an annual dirt race for the Craftsman Truck Series. Stewart’s retirement could open up the possibility of racing Sprint Cup cars at Eldora, a move fans and drivers would love to see. Whatever Tony Stewart does after he hangs up his helmet, he’ll approach it with the same passion and intensity that has defined his racing career.

 

Jeff Gordon’s Legacy: Part 1

As Jeff Gordon’s final season in Nascar begins to wind down, it’s time to reflect on Gordon’s 25 year career. Racing since 1990, Gordon has been one of the most accomplished drivers ever. His resume includes 4 championships, 92 wins, 466 top 10’s, 6 Southern 500 victories, 5 wins at the Brickyard, and 3 Daytona 500 wins. Gordon has the most road course wins ever, has won at every single track on the circuit with the exception of Kentucky, and by the September 27th race at New Hampshire, he will take sole possession of Nascar’s Ironman streak, having completed 789 consecutive races. Jeff Gordon has come a long way since 1990–when he finally hangs up the helmet, the sport will be saying goodbye to one of the most respected drivers in Nascar history.

Gordon’s racing experience broke the mold for many Nascar drivers. Unlike Nascar stars of the past, who grew up driving stock cars around dirt tracks in the Deep South, Gordon hailed from Bakersfield, California. Gordon never raced in stock cars until his Busch Series debut–instead, he drove sprint cars and quarter midgets, small machines with no fenders. Whereas racers in these series typically moved on to race in IndyCar and Formula 1, Gordon’s success propelled him to a ride in Nascar. Jeff experienced great success driving these cars, winning 2 USAC championships. Although he initially wanted to race in IndyCars, after meeting with sponsors and future crew chief Ray Evernham, Gordon decided to move to Nascar. His first start in the Busch Series was inauspicious–although Gordon qualified 2nd, he crashed out early.

Gordon’s fortunes improved after his first Nascar race–he drove full time in the Busch Series beginning in 1991, posting 4 top fives and finishing 11th en route to the 1991 Rookie of the Year Award. It was an impressive showing for Jeff, considering he had never driven stock cars until this year. Gordon made major strides in his second year in the Busch Series, winning 3 times en route to a 4th place finish in the standings. Jeff Gordon’s Busch Series team looked very different than his Hendrick operation today. Although Gordon’s crew chief was Ray Evernham, Jeff began his Nascar career racing Fords for Bill Davis Racing, an underfunded team most remembered for Ward Burton’s improbable win in the 2002 Daytona 500. The original plan for Gordon was to move to the Cup Series with Bill Davis in 1993. So how did Jeff end up driving for Rick Hendrick? Stay tuned for more. 

The Prospects: A look at the future of Nascar

The 43 drivers who race week in and week out won’t be around forever. Many drivers are starting to call it quits–Jeff Gordon is retiring this year. Fellow drivers such as 44 year old Tony Stewart, 45 year old Greg Biffle, and even 39 year old Jimmie Johnson won’t be around forever. But who will replace them when they finally decide to hang up their helmets?  Here, we take a look at the six most promising prospects in Nascar.

Jeff Gordon, the first of Nascar’s big guns to leave, will have Nascar’s most promising prospect replacing him–Chase Elliott. The son of the legendary driver Bill Elliott, Chase has been making a name for himself in Nascar’s lower series. At the age of 17, he became both the youngest pole sitter and the youngest winner in the Camping World Truck Series, beating Ty Dillon at the Canadian Motorsports Tire Park. Elliott entered the Xfinity series his rookie year and performed spectacularly, winning 3 races and the championship. He currently sits 2nd in the standings this year and is poised to move into the Sprint Cup Series in 2016.

Another son of a former racer, Ryan Blaney, looks to be an extremely promising driver as well. The son of Sprint Cup veteran Dave Blaney, Ryan climbed through the ranks of Nascar’s K&N series before securing a full-time truck ride with Brad Keselowski in 2014. Blaney excelled in his rookie year, posting 12 top 5’s and a win en route to a second place finish in the standings. After BKR scaled back its operations, Blaney was left without a full-time ride for the year. However, has excelled in his limited seat time, posting 3 top 5’s in 5 Nationwide races and landing a part-time Sprint Cup ride with the Wood Brothers. Look for Blaney to move up to the Sprint Cup in the near future, possibly landing a full-time ride with the Wood Brothers as soon as next year.

Erik Jones’ rise was faster than anyone could have predicted. Soon after Chase Elliott became the youngest truck winner in August 2013, the younger Jones broke the record himself, collecting a victory in November at just 17.5 years old. He won 3 Camping World Truck Series races and one Nationwide race while driving part time in 2014, and currently sits third in the Truck Series standings. At 19 years old, the Joe Gibbs developmental driver has a lot of time and a lot of room to grow. With a full contingent of competitive drivers in JGR’s cup stable, it could be a year or two before Jones gets his shot at a competitive Sprint Cup ride.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. made history in 2013 by becoming the first black driver to win a national series race in 50 years. Bubba, as the popular driver is nicknamed, placed 8th in the Truck Series points standings in 2013 but showed a marked improvement next year, finishing 3rd overall. After Joe Gibbs Racing was unable to fund a full time ride for Wallace in 2015, Bubba accepted an offer to drive for Roush Fenway Racing’s Xfinity team. The 21 year old currently sits 6th in the Xfinity standings.

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.