If you want to drive in NASCAR‘s top series, you gotta start young these days.
Back in the early 2000’s when I first started watching NASCAR, a “young” driver entering the Cup Series was usually in his mid-twenties. Kevin Harvick was a “young gun” when he got his first Cup start at age 24 after Dale Earnhardt’s sudden death in the 2001 Daytona 500. And even Dale Jr., son of the NASCAR legend, was 24 when he made his first Cup series appearance – and he didn’t have a full-time ride until the next year.
These days we see guys working their way up through the ranks much faster, jumping into Cup cars as soon as they turn 18.
They start out in kart or midget car racing, then move on to racing late models at their local dirt track or in one of the national series, and work their way up through the ARCA Series (which is also owned by NASCAR) and into the Truck or Xfinity Series before their 18th birthday. So by the time they’re old enough to move to the Cup Series, these drivers already have a ton of racing experience.
It’s how Joey Logano became the youngest Cup Series winner ever at just 19 years old, and Chase Elliott won his first Cup title at age 24 (tying him with Jeff Gordon for the youngest champion ever).
It’s crazy to think about how young some of these guys are when they get started in racing – but it’s even crazier to see some of NASCAR’s top drivers now giving interviews as kids back when they were working their way up to the Cup Series.
Man, some of those guys haven’t changed a bit. Joey Logano still looks exactly the same, and I don’t think Matt DiBenedetto’s voice has changed either.
As someone who grew up watching guys like Dave Blaney and Bill Elliott race in NASCAR (I even got my first NASCAR driver’s autograph from Chase’s dad at Darlington in 2003), it makes me feel a little old now that their sons are both stars of the sport.
But it just goes to show how much hard work these guys put into honing their craft – well before they’re even able to get their drivers’ license.