Youth or experience? In NASCAR playoff, young drivers say it doesn’t matter – USA TODAY
NASCAR drivers dish on the many autographs they have signed.
USA TODAY Sports
CONCORD, N.C. — Does experience or youth matter more in NASCAR’s current playoff format?
The age range of the drivers competing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship is large.
Chase Elliott, the youngest, is 21. Matt Kenseth, the graybeard of the group, is 45.
Four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers are in their 40s; three are younger than 30.
It’s worth noting that experience often trumps youth in the race for NASCAR’s top prize. Since the championship format underwent drastic changes in 2004, only two drivers in their 20s (Kurt Busch, 26, in 2004 and Brad Keselowski, 28, in 2012) have won the crown.
Since the elimination piece was added to the playoffs in 2014, there have been two very experienced champions in Kevin Harvick (38) and Jimmie Johnson (41) and a 30-year-old in Kyle Busch with more laps on his resume than most drivers with more years in the sport.
With Race Two of the playoffs’ second round scheduled Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the three drivers in their 20s are scattered across the standings – Kyle Larson second, Chase Elliott fourth and Ryan Blaney 11th.
“If you’re racing in the Cup Series, I think you’ve been racing long enough where you either know how to get things done, you know how to do things the right way or you don’t,” said Elliott, a second-generation driver in his second playoff.
“I’m a pretty big believer in that regardless of your age. I’m not saying that because I’m early on at it. I feel that way about other sports. College football, NFL. If a guy comes in, knows how to do his job, I think he can play for whoever and do a good job at it.”
Blaney, who put the Wood Brothers team in the playoffs for the first time, said youth can be a positive despite the general consensus that older drivers have an advantage.
“I think having youth on your side, you’re always just kind of on ‘kill’ all the time, and I think that’s what these playoffs are about,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be. … They do have experience on their side, and that might benefit them, for sure, but I think expectation is just really not there for us.
“We just have curiosity and excitement to be here, and I think that’s a really big asset, too.”
Blaney also said the presence in the playoffs of drivers such as seven-time champion Johnson and other seasoned veterans who know the playoff ropes isn’t intimidating.
“These drivers are people just like us,” he said. “I’ve watched them when I was younger. I’ve been big fans of a lot of them when I was younger growing up in this sport, and I just think it’s really neat. I don’t really feel any pressure or (that) I’m intimidated by anybody.”
Playoff wins to date have been scored by veterans – Truex (37) and Kyle Busch (32) have two each.
Austin Dillon, 27, was eliminated in the playoffs’ first round. He said the age gap isn’t necessarily important because “there are young guys that drive like older guys. Then there are older guys that drive like younger guys.
“It’s hard for me to say if the experience of the older guys plays to their advantage. I think it’s who is the smartest, and then there are guys that drive a little more aggressively that put themselves in good position.”
Follow Hembree on Twitter @mikehembree
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