Friday 5: Team Penske turnaround could lead to two teams in title race

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Team Penske has turned around its performance on 1.5-mile tracks and it could be enough to get two of its cars in the championship race.

Joey Logano became the first driver to make it to next month’s title event at Phoenix Raceway by winning last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Could Ryan Blaney be next?

The 1.5-mile tracks have played a key role in the playoffs. Four of the 10 playoff races — including Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) — are at 1.5-mile tracks. Homestead marks the third race in the last five at 1.5-mile tracks. 

Earlier in the season, it didn’t appear as if a stretch of 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs would be good for Team Penske. The organization had no finish better than 11th at Las Vegas, Kansas and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the first half of the year (Atlanta is not included since it mirrored superspeedway racing after its changes). Team Penske drivers led 2.3% of the 954 laps run in those races.

But in the three playoff races on 1.5-mile tracks, Team Penske has a victory and four top 10s. The organization also has led 14.7% of the 868 laps run at those speedways.

“It’s kind of a building momentum thing,” Travis Geisler, competition director for Team Penske, told NBC Sports. “I thought we were pretty good at Kansas and found some things. We were able to go to Homestead and work it out a little bit. We were able to go to Texas and probably be a little better than where we’ve been.”

The Kansas playoff race in September marked the first time a Team Penske car scored a top-10 finish. Blaney was ninth there.

“It’s such small incremental changes,” Geisler said of the improvement at the 1.5-mile tracks for Team Penske. “You can’t wholesale change anything. It’s just tiny little tweaks. I think the engine shop has done a great job. They’ve been working really hard for us to get us an advantage in that area.’’

With limited practice time and single-supplier parts, it can make it challenging for teams to overcome deficits to the field. Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano, said a tire test at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway in June helped the team. Team Penske carried what it learned at that test into the second half of the year and to an organizational test at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month. 

“Having those opportunities, I’m thankful that we were able to take advantage of it, because it’s one thing to test, but you’re hoping you can learn something, as well.”

They have. Logano finished second at Texas before his Las Vegas victory. Blaney has won a stage at both races.

Wolfe also said that Blaney was good at the Homestead test.

“There’s no reason he can’t go to Homestead with the speed there and have an opportunity to win, as well,” Wolfe said.

If Blaney wins this weekend, it will mark his first points victory of the season (he won the All-Star Race at Texas in May). A Blaney victory also would mark the fifth consecutive year the championship race will have had teammates in the event. 

Last year’s title race was between two organizations. Both Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports had two cars each in the event. Team Penske last had teammates racing for the championship in the final race in 2020 with Logano and Brad Keselowski.

2. Keep an eye on … 

Denny Hamlin was the driver who stood out the most to Chase Briscoe at last month’s Homestead test.

Hamlin ranked third on the speed chart the first day and fifth the second day. 

“I felt that Denny was the best car by quite a bit,” Briscoe said. “I felt like we were kind of a 10th (of a second) or two better than almost everybody else and then Denny was like two or three tenths better than us. 

“He was pretty unbelievable. Short run. Long run. It didn’t matter. He was just lights out. They were the car to beat if we were racing on that weekend.”

Hamlin has eight wins between Homestead and Martinsville, the final two races in the Round of 8. His victory total at those two tracks is more than seven other remaining playoff drivers combined (five). Hamlin has three wins at Homestead, tied for the most all-time with Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle. Hamlin has started first in each of the last five Homestead races.

3. In search of another manufacturer

A recent report by SportsBusiness Journal stated that Dodge’s talks about returning to NASCAR had stalled. That keeps the Cup Series at three manufacturers: Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. 

Toyota was the last manufacturer to enter the sport, doing so in 2007. Dodge was still in the series then, giving the series four manufacturers. Dodge left NASCAR after winning the 2012 Cup title with Brad Keselowski and Team Penske. 

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development is surprised there there remains only three manufacturers in NASCAR’s premier series. 

“Our perspective as a car manufacturer is we want to compete,” he said. “We compete in the showrooms and the more manufacturer engagement the better. That’s why we love sports car racing because there are nine manufacturers we race against in IMSA. We love that.

“So, it’s terribly disappointing that we’re still only three manufacturers (in NASCAR). We’re in far too delicate of a position as a sport because we can’t afford to lose any one of us. NASCAR can’t afford to lose any one of us. But it’s business, you don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re in the midst of what appears to be a recession. Inflation is impacting each of us from a business perspective. You want to be a little deeper in terms of manufacturers.”

So does NASCAR still work for Toyota?

“It absolutely does,” Wilson said. “We still talk to the fans. We still get a tremendous lift. We’re not going anywhere. Our commitment and our resolve is as strong as it has ever been. I’m not worried about Toyota, but I’d like to get another make or two because the sport would be better for it.”

4. No duplication 

There have been 10 different winners in the last 10 Cup races. The last time there were 11 different winners in a row in a season was 2012. 

The winners in the past 10 races are:

Las Vegas — Joey Logano

Charlotte Roval — Christopher Bell

Talladega — Chase Elliott

Texas — Tyler Reddick

Bristol — Chris Buescher

Kansas — Bubba Wallace

Darlington — Erik Jones

Daytona — Austin Dillon

Watkins Glen —Kyle Larson

Richmond — Kevin Harvick

Also, the last seven races have been won by seven different teams:

Las Vegas — Team Penske

Charlotte Roval — Joe Gibbs Racing

Talladega — Hendrick Motorsports

Texas — Richard Childress Racing

Bristol — RFK Racing

Kansas — 23XI Racing

Darlington — Petty GMS

5. Been a long time

This weekend’s Homestead race will come 602 days since the last race there Feb. 28, 2021. William Byron won that race, which was the third event of last season.

There have been 66 races between that race and this weekend. There have been 24 different winners, including first Cup wins for Bubba Wallace, Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick.

Talladega winners and losers

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Take a look at the winners and losers following Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway:

WINNERS

Ross ChastainChastain’s journey from watermelon farmer to NASCAR racer got even sweeter Sunday afternoon. Chastain watched as the leaders ahead of him — Erik Jones and Kyle Larson — washed high through the tri-oval in a fight for the win, allowing the No. 1 Chevrolet to charge underneath with a push from Austin Dillon for his second career win. Chastain has two wins and six top-five finishes in the last eight races, the exceptions being a 19th-place finish at Richmond before an engine failure at Bristol dirt. After rallying from a speeding penalty at Lap 36 that caught him one lap down until the end of Stage 1, Chastain is now the second driver to score multiple wins this season, joining William Byron, who won at Atlanta and Martinsville.

Austin Dillon: Dillon was quiet at Talladega but was in the right place when it mattered. As the leaders veered high, Dillon stayed tucked behind Chastain and pushed the No. 1 car to the victory and scored the runner-up finish. Dillon has finished inside the top 10 in five races and has three finishes of third or better.

Kyle Larson: In 31 previous superspeedway starts, Larson had scored no top fives and led 31 total laps. Sunday, Larson finished fourth and led 32 laps. The No. 5 Chevrolet was in position to make a move for the win entering the tri-oval, running second behind Jones but moved to the right with Kurt Busch‘s Toyota still there, slowing Larson and sending Busch into the wall. Nonetheless, Larson leaves with a fourth-place finish for the second week in a row, his first string of top-five finishes since an Auto Club win and runner-up result at Las Vegas.

Erik Jones: He may not have the win or even a top five to show for it, but Erik Jones left the final corner of the race with a strong chance of standing in victory lane. The No. 43 Chevrolet blocked what became the wrong move, allowing Chastain to scoot through for the win. But Jones led 25 laps at Talladega, his most of the season and most in a race since Darlington in May 2020, when Jones paced the field for 27 laps in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Michael McDowellMcDowell has two consecutive top-10 finishes. He finished eighth Sunday, a week after placing ninth on the dirt at Bristol. This marks the first time since the opening three races of 2021 that McDowell, who won that year’s Daytona 500, has scored consecutive top 10s. The No. 34 team hasn’t gotten off to a great start this season with six finishes of 24th or worse, but three top 10s and four top 15s show the team is still capable of producing good showings.

LOSERS

Denny HamlinEven when Hamlin’s luck seems to be taking a turn for the good, it seems it will still go wrong. Hamlin was running inside the top 10 as the final laps drew near. But the No. 11 team shorted Hamlin by one second’s worth of fuel, forcing Hamlin to pit from sixth with two laps to go. Hamlin still has just one top-10 finish through 10 races — his Richmond win on April 3. He finished 18th Sunday.

Brad Keselowski: Talladega appeared to be a key race for Keselowski to score significant points and a potential win as he battles back from a 100-point penalty. Instead, the active wins leader at Talladega finished 23rd, trapped one lap down after his second speeding penalty of the day. The No. 6 Ford remains 29th in driver points. He is 111 points outside the playoffs.

Tyler ReddickTyler Reddick was 0.33 seconds away at Bristol dirt from entering Talladega with a win. The highly-discussed contact from Chase Briscoe negated that, and it only got worse at Talladega. Reddick finished last — 39th — Sunday after motor issues sent the No. 8 car to the garage on Lap 31. Sixteen races remain in the regular season and Reddick sits one point out of the playoff picture.

Joey Logano: Logano is always a contender for the win at a superspeedway, but the No. 22 Ford took a hard right into the wall after a restart stack-up at Lap 90 resulted in contact from Bubba Wallace. Logano bounced off the wall and into traffic in the middle of Turn 1, getting hammered by Ty Dillon and others en route to his first DNF of 2022, a 32nd-place finish. The 2018 series champion had finished second (Martinsville) and third (Bristol dirt) in the two races leading into Talladega, but the No. 22 couldn’t avoid calamity Sunday.

Chase Briscoe: One week after knocking Reddick out of the win and finishing 22nd at Bristol, Briscoe took a vicious hit at Talladega when Daniel Hemric lost a motor, got turned entering Turn 3 and came back across traffic into the nose of Briscoe’s car. A split second later, Briscoe was slammed in the right front by Chris Buescher, who had nowhere to go. Briscoe, who won at Phoenix in March, left with a 37th-place finish, capping a week to forget.

Justin Haley will not be allowed to qualify after inspection failures

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RICHMOND, Va. – Justin Haley will start at the back of the 37-car field in Sunday’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway because his car failed inspection three times Friday.

He will not be allowed to qualify to qualify and must serve a pass-through penalty after the start of the race. Haley’s team also had a crew member ejected and lost its pit stall selection.

Greg Biffle also will not be allowed to qualify after failing inspection three times. Biffle’s team completed inspection Saturday morning. Biffle also will have to serve a pass-through penalty at the start of the race, has a crew member ejected and lost pit stall section.

The cars of Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace and AJ Allmendinger each failed twice. Each team had a crew member ejected and lost its pit stall selection.

Ejected were:

  • Ryan Chism, car chief for Dillon’s team
  • Andy Suess, car chief for Allmendinger’s team
  • Josh Sisco, car chief for Buescher’s team
  • Zach Marquardtm car chief for Wallace’s team
  • Joe Gwilt, car chief for Stenhouse’s team
  • Jaron Antley, car chief for Haley’s team
  • Nick Ollila, engineer for Biffle’s team

Cup qualifying is from 11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The Cup race is at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

NASCAR viewer’s guide: Richmond Raceway

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After the twists and turns of COTA, NASCAR heads to Richmond Raceway for its first points race at a short track this season.

The Cup Series hits the track for 400 laps Sunday (3:30 pm ET, Fox) at the ¾-mile D-shaped oval as the Next Gen car makes its maiden voyage to Virginia for competition.

This week marks the first of three short tracks in a row, with Martinsville and Bristol ahead in the subsequent weeks, although Bristol will be covered in dirt for the second consecutive year. But for now, take a look at the storylines entering Richmond.

Notes to lean on?

While this week marks the first points race on a short track this season, it isn’t the first time the Next Gen has raced within tight confines.

The season began with the exhibition Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a ¼-mile track built within the stadium that has hosted NFL, MLB, NCAA and Olympic events.

Consider that Richmond is three times bigger than the Coliseum’s track and modeled completely differently than the paperclip-shaped LA track, which compares more to Martinsville. But teams are still learning how to navigate setups on each different track type. With a stretch of short tracks ahead, teams may look at how their cars reacted at the Clash in preparation for this weekend’s event.

And while the car is different from years past, tire conservation may still play a prevalent role come Sunday.

“I would say Richmond is one of the most challenging racetracks we go to for managing your tires throughout the run,” Aric Almirola said in a press release. “The first 10, 15 or 20 laps of the run can make you feel like Superman roaring through the field, but you will pay a major penalty for that by lap 40. It makes it fun because, when we show up at Richmond, it really is about managing tire fall-off and making sure your car stays consistent throughout the run as the tires fall off.”

Welcome to the House

Trackhouse Racing made its biggest splash at Circuit of the Americas with Ross Chastain claiming his first career win.

The eighth-generation Floridian watermelon farmer has led the second-most laps in the series and has four consecutive top-three finishes. As a whole, Trackhouse has run extremely well all season, with Suarez controlling the first stage at COTA by leading all 15 laps in addition to his top fives at Auto Club and Atlanta.

Whether the team will maintain its competitiveness remains to be seen. In its inaugural season, Suarez finished 16th and 17th in the two Richmond events in 2021, while Chastain turned in finishes of 15th and seventh for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Winning makes everything better though. And if things were already good at Trackhouse before Chastain’s breakthrough victory, it’s fair to believe more of those may be on the way.

Can Toyota get back on track?

By now, Toyota’s struggles have been well-documented. The manufacturer is still winless since Talladega in October 2021, when Bubba Wallace broke through for his first career win.

Richmond has been Joe Gibbs Racing’s best track. The organization has collected 17 wins there — more wins than it has scored at any other Cup track — including Martin Truex Jr.‘s victory in September.

As noted by Racing Insights, JGR has finished 1-2-3 in two of the last five Richmond races, and Denny Hamlin finished runner-up in both events in 2021 after leading the most laps in each. Kyle Busch still leads the series with 16 short track victories but has none since the Bristol spring race in 2019. Truex has six short track wins since then.

Busch was in contention for a top-five finish at COTA before two spins on an overtime restart relegated him to 28th place. He and Truex lead the team with three top 10s apiece, while Christopher Bell notched a third-place finish at COTA. Hamlin finished 18th Sunday and is still searching for his first top 10 in the Next Gen.

Perhaps Richmond can be the start of Toyota’s turnaround.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven cars make up this week’s Cup Series entry list. The lone open team appearing this weekend is the No. 44 Chevrolet of Greg Biffle, fielded by NY Racing Team. AJ Allmendinger returns to the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing and Landon Cassill, his Xfinity Series teammate, gets back into the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.

In the Xfinity Series, 42 cars will fight to qualify for 38 starting spots in Saturday afternoon’s race. Ryan Preece will make his season debut in the series, piloting the No. 5 Ford for BJ McLeod Motorsports. John Hunter Nemechek will pilot the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Making his series debut in the No. 44 Chevrolet will be Rajah Caruth with Alpha Prime Racing. Additional debut drivers include Derek Griffith in the No. 26 Toyota and Howie DiSavino III in the No. 45 Chevrolet.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List — Richmond Raceway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Richmond Raceway

Qualifying order

Cup Series teams will be split into Groups A and B for practice and qualifying on Saturday, based on a calculated metric that factors results and fastest laps from last week’s race at COTA in addition to points position. Each group will get 15 minutes of practice ahead of single-car qualifying. At Richmond, teams will get two timed laps in their qualifying sessions. The five fastest drivers in each group will then advance to the second round of qualifying, where those 10 drivers will fight for the pole position.

In the Xfinity Series, the field will get one 20-minute practice session ahead of single-car, two-lap qualifying.

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Order — Richmond Raceway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying Order — Richmond Raceway

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, April 2

ForecastPartly cloudy, high of 62 degrees, low of 45 degrees

  • 8:30 – 9 a.m.  — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 9 – 10 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 10:30 – 11:15 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)
  • 11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (250 laps, 187.5 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, April 3

ForecastPartly cloudy, high of 65 degrees, low of 40 degrees

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (400 laps, 300 miles; FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

Dr. Diandra: Are young drivers taking over NASCAR Cup Series?

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No driver over age 30 has won a Cup points race this year.

I constantly warn against drawing conclusions based on only five races, but under-30 drivers also won the last six races in 2021. Kyle Larson accounted for four of those wins, while Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman each won one. Since the trend spans two seasons, we know that this isn’t due to the Next Gen car’s introduction.

Discussions about a youth movement started well before this year. From 2015-18, the average age of Hendrick Cup drivers dropped more than a decade: from 38.4 years 27.4 years.

On the other hand, the average age of the final four drivers in 2019 was the oldest ever at 38.5 years.

Average Ages of Drivers

Let’s examine, then, the average age of full-time drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series. To include as much data as possible, I allow a driver to miss up to two races in a season to be considered a ‘full-time’ driver. That accounts for the occasional injury or suspension. I calculate each driver’s age as of that year’s Daytona 500.

A A vertical bar chart showing the average age of full-time drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series from 1980-2022

Not surprisingly, the average age of the NASCAR driver field has gone down over the years. But there have been some variations along that overall decline.
  • The maximum average age of the field was 38.9 years in 1998.
  • The youngest field was last year at 30.7 years.
  • The average for 2022 is up just a little: 31.3 years.
  • The big decrease in average age in 2007 is not due to an influx of younger drivers.
    • Ken Schrader, Sterling Marlin, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Kyle Petty, Jeff Green and Joe Nemechek drove full time in 2006 but not 2007. Those drivers total 370 years.
    • The oldest driver went from being Ken Schrader (50.8 years) to Tony Raines (42.9 years).
  • The decrease in 2014 was due to both incoming and outgoing drivers.
    • Dave Blaney (50.4 years) and Jeff Burton (45.7 years) retired.
    • Alex Bowman (20.9 years), Kyle Larson (21.6 years) and Cole Whitt (22.7 years) joined.

Average Ages of Winners vs. Drivers

Now let’s add the average age of winners using red dots.

A vertical bar graph showing the average age of full-time drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series from 1980-2022, with the average ages of winning drivers shown as red dots
The green bars represent the average ages of drivers. The red dots show the average ages of race winners.

If you see a correlation in this graph, let me know. I can’t find one. During the last few years — the height of our ‘youth movement’ — the average winner’s age was higher than the average age of the field. The exception is this year. Again, we’re only five races in and that’s not enough to do statistics on.

Averages are easy to calculate, but they don’t tell you very much. That’s a good thing to keep in mind if you’re putting together a fantasy team. For example:

  • The average of 20, 40 and 60 is 40.
  • The average of 40,40 and 40 is also 40
  • So is the average of 0,0 and 120

The Age Distribution of Winners

Let’s start by looking from 2020-22, because that’s about as much data as I can put on a graph and not have it look like someone spilled a Funfetti cake mix. Below, I show the winner’s age at the time of the race won for the last 77 races.

A scatter graph showing the ages of race winners from 2020-2022 by driver
Only 21 drivers have won the last 77 races.

Each dot color represents one driver. The dots for each driver fall on a straight line because, well, we age linearly. You can pick out Kevin Harvick‘s nine wins in 2020 — and his lack of wins since. Kyle Larson’s 10 wins from last year are in the lower right.

There are a lot more dots below age 30 than above in 2021. In 2020, there are more dots above than below. To be precise:

  • 30.5% of all races in 2020 were won by drivers 30 or younger at the time of their win.
  • Drivers 30 years or younger won 61.1% of the races in 2021.
  • This year, they’ve won 100%, including two winners under age 25. But again, we’re only five races into the season.

Is the Field Younger?

To get around the limitations of averages, I looked at the percentage of full-time drivers age 30 or under in the field from 1980 – 2022.

A vertical bar graph showing the percentage of full-time drivers under age 30 from 1980-2022

This graph not only confirms our intuition about the youth movement, it shows that this isn’t the first such a movement. Since 1980, we’ve seen three waves of younger drivers: one peaking in 1985, one peaking in 2007 and the last peaking in 2020.

  • Twenty-two years separate the first and the second waves. The peaks are roughly equal at 45% of the field younger than 30.
  • There are 14 years between the second and third waves, but the third wave is stronger than anything we’ve seen since 1980. Youngsters made up 62% of the field.
  • Since 2019, drivers under 30 have comprised more than half of all full-time drivers.

These waves result from a some general trends.

  • Drivers enter Cup much earlier today than they used to.
    • No drivers younger than 20 drove before 2005.
    • In 1992, no drivers younger than 28 ran full time.
  • Drivers retire earlier today.
    • Between 1988-98, we had as many as four full-time drivers in their 50s in a season.
    • Today, Greg Biffle is the only driver over 50. The next oldest driver is 46-year-old Kevin Harvick.

Do the Ages of Winning Drivers Follow a Similar Trend?

Chase Briscoe was asked if there was a reason all the young guys seem to be winning races.

“In the past, it was always a lot more older guys and there wasn’t very many younger guys, and if there were younger guys, there weren’t very many that were in good cars,” he said. “Now, we just have a higher percentage every week of winning just from a numbers standpoint. I don’t think there’s really much to read into it as far as younger guys being better in this car. I think it’s just a case of the numbers and the probability of it all. We just have a better chance, typically, because there’s more of us.”

Briscoe is dead-on in his estimation of the proportions of younger vs. older drivers. If it’s just a probability effect, the proportion of younger drivers winning races would reflect their representation in the driver pool. If 40% of the drivers are under 30, 40% of the winners should be drivers under 30. Maybe the winners’ curve would lag the drivers’ curve because most new drivers don’t win in their first season.

The graph below is the same as the one above, but with the percentage of winners under 30 represented by gold bars.

The yellow bars show the percentage of drivers under age 30. The gold bars are the percentage of races won by drivers under age 30.
The yellow bars show the percentage of drivers under age 30. The gold bars are the percentage of races won by drivers under age 30.

It seems as though there’s a correlation in the 1980s, where the gold bars follow the same general trend as the yellow ones. But there’s no correlation with the rest of the graph. We have to dig deeper into the stats to understand this.

We had few young drivers in the 1990s. Those drivers notched zero wins the first three years, then they started outperforming. Or, rather, Jeff Gordon outperformed. He earned all the wins between 1995-98 except for one win by Jeff Burton and one by Jeremy Mayfield.

And that’s far from an isolated instance. The large number of wins in 2003 were due to Jimmie Johnson. 2015 belonged to Joey Logano. Which means we can’t treat the under-30 drivers as a monolithic group.

Driver by Driver

Diving down to the driver level, let’s compare the number of young drivers winning each year vs. young drivers who don’t win. In the graph below, I plotted winning drivers under 30 in gold and non-winning drivers under 30 in yellow. Those faint lines in the background are the same stats for drivers over 30, just to give you an idea of the proportion of drivers over/under age 40.

A stacked vertical bar graph showing the numbers of drivers and winners under age 30 in the NASCAR Cup Series
Gold bars represent drivers who won at least one race. Yellow bars represent drivers who did not win a race. The faint bars in the back are the data for the older drivers, included to provide context about the relative numbers of older and younger drivers.

The ratio of the gold bar’s height to that of the yellow bar represents the fraction of young drivers who won at least one race.

  • That fraction was highest in 2002, when seven out of nine drivers under 30 (77.8%) won at least one race. Only two of those drivers (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch) are still active in 2022
  • In 2014, 11 drivers under age 30 raced, but only two won, for a percentage of 18.1%.
  • In the last few years, we’ve had more drivers under age 30, but a small percentage of those drivers win.

So while we’ve had an influx of young drivers in the past few years, a smaller percentage of those drivers are winning races. 

Conclusion

The NASCAR Cup Series has more young drivers than ever before, with drivers under 30 representing more than half the field since 2019. However, about the same number of young drivers are winning today as have won in the past. Under-30 drivers have won the last 11 Cup points races. Kyle Larson won five of those 11 races. Without him, those numbers are much less impressive.

Is 2022 the year our younger driver contingent breaks through? We can’t answer that question with any certainty until we have more data.