There is quite a list of proven – and promising – young drivers roaming NASCAR garage areas these days.
Most are in their early 20s. Several have already won races – and championships.
The only real roadblock to their success – at least for some – is that there’s nowhere for them to go.
The Sprint Cup garage is not bursting at the seams with available quality rides, and it seems unlikely there will be significant movement in that direction soon.
Hendrick Motorsports? Its lineup of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne seems solid for years to come.
Roush Fenway Racing has committed drivers in Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle – all championship contenders. A potential spot for newcomers was dashed last year when Roush trimmed his Cup roster from four teams to three, and, given economic difficulties, it seems unlikely he would return to four teams soon.
Stewart-Haas Racing doesn’t seem inclined to go to three full-time teams, and neither does Penske Racing, which will have its hands full this year in the transition from Dodge to Ford.
Joe Gibbs Racing is struggling to keep its three drivers in the top 15.
Example No. 1 of the drivers all this is impacting is Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 Daytona 500 to open the doors on a flood of publicity and good will. Yet he remains a part-time driver in Sprint Cup (with the Wood Brothers team) and doesn’t even have a guaranteed full-season ride in Nationwide, where he drives for Roush Fenway.
With obvious driving skills and a winning personality, Bayne, 21, would seem to be a sponsor’s dream, but companies have not been lining up to finance his advance.
Bayne’s teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., also is bumping up against the roof. He won the Nationwide Series title last year and is second in points this season. At 24, he seems a likely candidate for a full-time Cup ride, but there is no room at the inn at Roush Fenway.
The Dillon brothers – Austin (21) and Ty (20) – are likely to create some pleasant problems soon for their team owner (and their grandfather) Richard Childress.
Austin won the Truck championship last season and is third in Nationwide points this year. Ty has an ARCA title and is racing for the Truck title his brother won. Both figure to be Cup material in the next few years.
There are others – names like Cole Whitt, James Buescher, Parker Kligerman, James Buescher. And, of course, the “oldest” of the young guns at 30, Danica Patrick. Where does she race when the call to Cup full-time comes?
The landscape over the next few years will be interesting, indeed.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.