Racing’s young guns

Kay Bell | April 01, 2012

VIEWS FROM THE GRANDSTANDS

 

Newbies have invaded NASCAR, boding well for the sport’s future

The talk of the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series will be Danica Patrick. But she is not the sport’s future. Not to be rude, since I’m a woman of a certain age myself, but at age 30, Patrick is too old.

Austin Dillon

The real health of NASCAR, both at its Nationwide development level and the top-tier Sprint Cup, lies with the sport’s young guns.

Here are a few to keep an eye on.

Timmy Hill — yes, he refers to himself as Timmy; maybe the name change to Tim will come when he’s no longer a teen – was the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie of the year. At 18, the Rick Ware Racing driver was the youngest competitor ever to win the rookie title.

While waiting for the 2012 NASCAR season to start, Hill took a turn at the wheel of Ware’s GT Class entry in the 50th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. He also finished first, third and eighth in three Legends Pro races in January.

Now that Hill has climbed back into the No.15 Ford Mustang for the 2012 Nationwide season, look for this young gun to take his car to the front.

Cole Whitt sounds like a screenwriter’s moniker for a race car driver. That’s fitting since this year the 20-year-old is getting a chance that seems like a too-good-to-be-true Hollywood tale.

Last year, Whitt finished ninth in the Camping World Truck Series with an underfunded team and also qualified for two Sprint Cup races. This year, Whitt is piloting Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Nationwide car.

It’s a big jump to the high-profile JR Motorsports stable, where Whitt is a teammate of Patrick. But Whitt is excited about taking the seat that Aric Almirola drove to fourth place in last year’s Nationwide standings.

Whitt’s spotlight-grabbing teammate might even help. As a rookie herself, Patrick won’t be able to offer many on-track tips. But with her garnering most of the attention, Whitt should be able to focus on driving without the distraction of being an employee of NASCAR’s most popular driver.

Johanna Long is driving the No. 70 car in Nationwide competition this season. That’s right, there is another woman in NASCAR. (And, yes, I know that Jennifer Jo Cobb also races in the series, but at age 38 she misses our young gun cut-off.)

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