This season, young drivers under twenty years old can be summed up by one word, disrespectful. The truck series and ARCA races have been fun to watch, but only if you have a personal joy for chaos. It’s been tough to watch if you are someone who enjoys pure competition.
This issue came to a climax during the truck dirt race at Knoxville and this past week in ARCA. The truck race was a crazy kind of rare where I think there is evidence of the track and format being more to blame than the drivers themselves. But, the lack of experience played a large part in several crashes and issues for the competitors.
ARCA on the other hand has a handful of aggressive drivers who all pretty much fight each race for the same five positions. Their immaturity has been on display as drivers being spun out has become a normal thing. On Saturday we had Taylor Gray take out Daniel Dye on the straightaway for seemingly nothing, as nothing happened earlier in the race warranting it. Dye has not been racing a full season for there to be a consistent issue, so the wreck comes from seemingly nowhere.
Ty Gibbs and Corey Heim are the primary culprits when it comes to consistent on-track issues. Neither is really at more fault than the other as both have taken the other out for a win, but Gibbs is the only one starting to develop somewhat of a brand out of it. While the issue at large can be summed up by a few drivers and bad races, fans and analysts are blaming the young crop as a whole.
NASCAR Youtuber Eric Estep made a great comment in his recent video talking about too many young drivers trying to emulate Dale Earnhardt and not enough trying to be Mark Martin. While I understand the appeal of wanting to be the next Dale Earnhardt, I think that this issue as a whole might be overblown.
As I said, this can be narrowed down to a few different incidents. The issue at large is that now without Cup drivers able to race in the lower series as often, these young drivers are overflooding the series’ and are not racing against enough veterans to have to earn respect. When you step onto the grid with other drivers on the same developmental level as you, there is no respect needed to earn.
What is going to hit drivers like Ty Gibbs and other lower-tier guys hard is when they move up to Xfinity and one day Cup, and they realize the big boys hit you back. That’s the reason why this is pretty much a non-issue because these sorts of things police themselves.
Even in Xfinity, aggressive drivers like Noah Gragson find themselves being someone ganged up in the garage. Becoming somewhat of an outcast for the way he handles situations on the track. You may not have Cup drivers there to help keep guys in check, but you do have guys like A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, and Jeremy Clements that can help show younger guys how to race with respect.
This doesn’t help the racing in the lower series’, but the only way to help that Is to allow Cup drivers to step back down into the lower divisions more frequently once again. I know that a lot of people don’t prefer to see Cup guys in anything other than Cup because it stinks up the show, but it has positives to it as well.
Giving Cup drivers the option to race almost weekly in trucks would allow young drivers to race alongside veterans that know how to show respect to fellow competitors and have a person to try and earn respect from. Putting talented Cup drivers in the races also helps showcase drivers who possess true talent. It’s hard to gauge drivers who are racing against those who are on the same developmental level or significantly less talented.
While Cup drivers do stink up the show, it makes those moments when a younger driver wins much more meaningful. You can also allow Cup drivers to race in the lower series as much as they’d like but not compete for the championship. This way, fans would at least be able to follow the championship battles throughout the field. Keep the rule that forces drivers to pick which series they want to accumulate points in, but take off the race cap for Cup drivers.
Either way, these young drivers will figure out pretty quickly what will and what will not fly as they move up. Allowing for more Cup drivers to step down might make it less jarring and help them in the long run developmental-wise.