Ready or Not Here They Come: Drivers Eager for Cup Rides Without Much Experience

[media-credit name=”Mike Finnegan” align=”alignright” width=”200″][/media-credit]When the clock was set to strike midnight on January 1, 2000 it was supposed to be the end of technology as things were to go crazy. According to Hollywood the end of the world is approaching in 2012, next year. The way young racecars drivers have been approaching their careers it appears they may have bought into those theories.

Drivers are impatient by nature and now it’s not just on the track. Impatient in making it to the top of their profession the quickest they can. With sports that’s not always a good thing, as any athlete needs time to grow and gain experience. Yet, as long as the Sprint Cup Series is on top that’s where everyone wants to be.

Kimi Raikkonen hasn’t even made his debut in the Camping World Truck Series and he has already asking about running in Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. He’s coming from the world of Formula 1 and Rally Car, has never competed in a NASCAR race before but already wants to go play with the big boys.
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He’s not the only one. Joey Logano wanted to make it into NASCAR but had to wait until his 18th birthday. And while Logano also wanted to race in the NSCS he didn’t want to as quickly as he did.

The much publicized, even criticized and then closely analyzed debut of Logano at Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the better examples of what happens when drivers move or are moved too quick. Unfortunately for Logano and JGR they were put in a box when senior driver Tony Stewart announced his departure. Logano was quickly moved into the seat without a full-year of Nationwide under his belt.

It was rough sailing early for Logano but in his third year in the No. 20 the road’s becoming smoother.

Drivers like Brad Keselowski however, might have put themselves in the box. After Keselowski won the NSCS race at Talladega in the spring of 2009 he stated he wanted a Cup ride for the 2010 season. Keselowski was only in his second full season with JR Motorsports in the NNS but Roger Penske snatched Keselowski up and put him in the No. 12 and much like Logano had a rough go of it.

Whether or not they are ready, Logano and Keselowski are not the only drivers who feel they need to be in the Cup Series as fast as they can. The reason the NNS is there is for driver development, yet it can’t work if drivers don’t want to develop but in essence throw themselves to the wolves.

What’s the rush? The Cup Series will still be there next year and even the year after that.

Racing among the best in the business is no doubt intriguing and where all the fame and fortune is, except everyone will have their time. That includes Austin Dillon a full-time driver in the CWTS.

Dillon is in his second full year of truck action and has only run seven career NNS races. He though will be making his Cup debut later this year. Instant reaction of course was wondering if it was the right time. In the case of Dillon he’s only 20-years-old and as the saying goes, has all the time in the world to make it to the top. He’s young and talented and will not have to worry about team owners passing over him or sponsors not wanting to take a chance on him.

With the announcement of his debut though came the news that Dillon will most likely be running full-time in the NNS next season.

That’s more like it. Working up the ladder in what was once the ABC program (ARCA, Busch and Cup) was how drivers paid their dues and prepared themselves for the big leagues. There appears to be no such thing anymore and the only series that matters and is worth the time is Cup.

One argument could be made that the competition and racing as a whole are better when there’s a level playing field. Meaning drivers who are competing at a level they’re talent matches won’t end up being in the way. The less ‘slower traffic’ there is on the track the better.

Yet, with drivers trying to rush themselves to the top and if they wind up being not ready for it, does anyone benefit? If the sponsors and team owners are willing to take the risk however, a driver will end where they want to be maybe before their time.

If that’s what they want to do then have at it but be prepared for the risk, a risk that didn’t pan out for drivers like Sam Hornish Jr. and Patrick Carpentier to name a few. When they two came to NASCAR they went straight to Cup Series with limited Nationwide or other experience in between. Both no longer have rides and are trying to work their way back to the top.

Even drivers that didn’t come from open wheel ranks haven’t been lucky. Casey Atwood was supposed to be the next Jeff Gordon when he moved to Cup. He’s long gone. Reed Sorenson had a stint in Cup after he was moved up by Chip Ganassi and is now back in the Nationwide Series but with a different team.

It’s all about timing and the experience a driver is willing to take the time and earn. Besides, why rush to the Sprint Cup Series when the Nationwide Series have become Cup-lite?

Every weekend Cup drivers invade the lower series and steal the show, the wins and the championships. The NNS is an excellent place to start for a young driver who wants to see if they can hang with Cup stars instead of going straight to the top and biting off more then they can chew.

Because as fast as a driver moves up they can move right on out and permanently lose their chance at the big time.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


  1. All these guys need to look at one driver; AJ Allmendinger.

    Poster boy for being put in a cup car well before he had any business being even in a Nationwide car. Luckily for AJ, he’s proved he’s a pretty good driver as he’s learned the tough way.

    But all drivers should look at him before thinking they can step into a cup ride straight out of something like Formula 1.

  2. Great article. I can understand the eagerness of the drivers, yet question the lack of common sense of the car owners. It’s not like there isn’t a track record showing it probably isn’t going to end well.

    That said I would say that Kimi may be the exception. I remember when he entered F1 with very little experience and just stormed ahead. His first year in WRC he won. The man just happens to be an exceptional talent. When in a few days he is matching Kyle’s lap speeds, that’s a lot better than most truck regulars.


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