By Patrick Reynolds
The 2018 NASCAR Cup season will bring a crash to the changing-of-the-guard wave that has been forming.
NASCAR has lost several big names from behind the wheel in the past few years. Since the end of the 2015 season Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards no longer compete at the Cup level.
The unknown statuses of Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick, and Kurt Busch currently linger but may work themselves out to where all four are again racing on Sundays.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement will be the biggest name and mainstream effect that will be removed from the Cup lineups. His loss from starting grids will be felt. At this point it is a matter of how much.
The 2018 season will see talent cultivated. Victory Lanes for the next 20 years will be filled with Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, William Byron, and their contemporaries.
February’s Daytona 500 will launch out of the gates with established star listings decreasing and younger, potential-filled superstar rosters increasing. What could be done for a Daytona one-shot boost, to spike the meter?
I’m thinking Fernando Alonso-style from the Indy 500- some names out of the box and that would raise eyebrows.
Two open wheel drivers come to mind and not because they are random names, but because NASCAR has been mentioned in their conversations.
The first is Indycar driver Marco Andretti.
Andretti’s 2014 Indy 500 teammate Kurt Busch stated earlier this year that he would like to see Marco get a shot at Daytona.
A restrictor-plate track would give Andretti his best chance at being competitive without being a regular stock car driver. The third-generation star would also draw familiarity from his family name and grandfather Mario.
Marco posted on Twitter “Sign me up.”
The other is Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo carries number three in F1 because he was a big Dale Earnhardt fan. Ricciardo sported the number three in go-karts as a boy in his native Australia. The restrictor plate logic would make sense for him as well.
Aside from the obvious questions of sponsorship and contacts- this is largely a what- if piece- scheduling comes into play.
The Daytona 500 is approximately one month before either the Indycar or F1 series hold their first race. However February is often a hotbed for testing on each circuit. New chassis are being put through their paces. NASCAR fans appreciate January in anticipation for Speedweeks the same way open cockpit fans appreciate February and look forward to title fights starting in St. Petersburg and Australia.
Gaps can be built in schedules to allow for events to happen. It takes coordination and cooperation by multiple parties.
The World of Outlaws and Lucas Oil Late Models have no races scheduled during Eldora’s Dream and World 100 weekends. Indycar did not compete while the 24 Hours of LeMans was held. Drivers crossed over and all series and drivers benefit.
NASCAR, Indycar, and Formula 1 do not owe each other anything, nor is there any serious discussion of all these stars lining up. With Andretti’s comments, and Ricciardo’s admiration for Earnhardt Sr. these two open wheel stars seem like good choices to take a crack at the Great American Race.
The Daytona 500 will be the first race to feel the void of Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement. The Indy 500 felt a solid boost last May from Alonso’s participation.
The long-term health of NASCAR Cup will fall onto the shoulders of the rising young stars. A one-time spike to the Daytona 500 would come from Ricciardo and Andretti.
If I had the power, a phone call to the Daytona offices with advice from Eldora and Le Mans would be made.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://racersreunion.com/podcast-library . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.