Is the new generation of race format — known as stage racing — a younger man’s game?
So far in the first season where races have been run in stages, younger drivers are showing up in victory lane with regular, perhaps surprising, frequency.
Martin Truex Jr., who is 36, may have the most playoff bonus points from winning race stages with 10. But drivers in their 20s have won the same number of overall victories this year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as the veterans in their 30s.
Entering Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway, drivers in their 20s had won five of the first 14 races, drivers in their 30s had won six and drivers in their 40s had won three. Although Truex Jr. may have had the fastest car, Kyle Larson brought the 20-somethings a sixth victory by taking command during the final 49 jaundiced laps, when the yellow flag waved three times.
Not only did Larson, 24, win his second race of the season, he was followed home by two of his peers — Chase Elliott and Joey Logano. In addition to veteran Logano, who took an encumbered victory in Richmond, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and last week’s winner, Ryan Blaney, all have broken through with their first career victories to help give NASCAR’s youth movement a head of steam.
When asked about the emergence of so many young drivers, Larson sees an upside to the coming retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. — instead of a sense of impending doom given Earnhardt Jr.’s longtime official status as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.
“I keep saying that NASCAR is in a great, great spot,” said Larson. “Even with Dale Jr. retiring this year, I think it’s a huge opportunity for our sport. Dale Jr. has probably three-quarters of our fan base. You might lose a few thousand of his fans that might disappear. The rest of them are going to pick new drivers. I think new rivalries are going to be built. It’s going to bring some…