In case you were wondering, the future of NASCAR looks very bright.
That much was evident Saturday afternoon at historic Rockingham Speedway, where the young’uns put on quite a show in advance of tomorrow’s North Carolina Education 200 At The Rock Presented By Cheerwine.
In only his second Truck Series race, 17-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott was fastest in Happy Hour at The Rock, running a best lap of 142.812 miles per hour in the No. 94 Aaron’s Dream Machine/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet Silverado.
Five of the eight fastest drivers in Happy Hour were age 20 or younger. Veterans David Starr in the No. 81 Toyota Tundra and Truck Series points leader Johnny Sauter in the No. 98 Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota were second and third, respectively, behind Elliott.
Then came 19-year-old Ryan Blaney in Brad Keselowski’s Cooper Standard Performance Ford and Sauter’s teammate, Matt Crafton. Behind them came a crush of youngsters, with 19-year-old Darrell Wallace sixth, followed by Erik Jones (16), and 20-year-olds Jeb Burton and Kyle Larson.
Larson and Blaney were the two fastest drivers in the opening session, followed by 21-year-old Ty Dillon. Blaney said the performance of the youngsters was not a fluke. “I don’t think it’s surprising,” Blaney said of the results of the first round of practice. “All three of us have great teams behind us and they’ve definitely done their preparation to get to this race track.”
Crafton is slated to make his 297th consecutive Truck Series start tomorrow, but surrounded by so much youth he said the honor is a mixed bag.
“Does that mean I'm older than hell now that I'm beating the record for consecutive starts?” Crafton said Saturday. “It makes me sound old and feel old, honestly.”
SPEED’s live television coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Setup, followed by the race at 2 p.m.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.