How young is too young to be a NASCAR driver?

By Joseph Wolkin
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say that young NASCAR drivers have plenty of talent. Look at Joey Logano, he came up to the Nationwide Series the week he turned 18 and now he’s the youngest driver to win a race in both the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series, which is quite an accomplishment.

Usually a rookie in NASCAR is at least 18 years old, but in 2011, the sanctioning body enabled 15-year-old drivers to race in the lower series such as the K&N Pro Series East and West as well as the Whelen Modified Series. However, this off-season, NASCAR announced a new rule. This rule will enabled 16-year old drivers to race in the Camping World Truck Series, but this comes with several restrictions. The move is highly questionable especially with the tracks that these young drivers are expected to race within.

The sport has seen some interesting changes over the past few seasons in an attempt to increase the already high fan base. This move could work out in either two ways: It can make NASCAR’s third tier series an instant sensation for a demographic which they’ve been trying to reach several years, that being teenagers. Or, it can be rather brutal considering the limited experience these “kids” have which brings up the ever so important question: how young is too young to be a NASCAR driver?

Lets break down the new rule first. The 16- and 17-year-old drivers can only run a maximum of 10 races per season until they are 18-years old. The 18-year old drivers are still enabled to race at any track on the series as long as they have the proper license for it. However, the younger drivers are prohibited to race at any track with a length greater than 1.1 miles long or road courses. This basically means, they can only run at tracks that are similar to the ones that the lower class series run at.

Next, lets see the possibilities of what can happen at these races. There are a few scenarios that can happen, but will vary upon the track and the experience of the drivers. The young drivers have never been in such a competitive field before, let alone such powerful vehicles that weigh 3,400 lbs and being on a short track can just add to the drama. The series had several rookies enter races last year for the first time and had some big time issues as they caused problems and mixed up strategies for championship contenders. Just imagine having a Nur Ali in the Camping World Truck Series going 15 mph below race pace, but in this case it would be someone that may not even be able to see over the steering wheel. That would kill ratings besides the fact that fans will judge NASCAR’s integrity once again. In all honesty, the Camping World Truck Series is for grown men and the racing at short tracks is rough and tough, can 16-year-old teenagers make it in such an environment?

There could be a bright side to the changes though. The younger drivers have more potential then they can ask for. There have already been several drivers to announce that they will be making their debuts with top teams which can definitely help get them sponsorship if and when they run a full schedule in NASCAR. Heck who knows, maybe even one of them can run in the top-10 or even in the top-five in a few races, how cool would that be to watch?

Brandon Jones who is 15-years old and will shortly turn 16-years old, as well as two other rookie contenders which are 18-years old will be making their debuts during the 2013 season. There will likely be several other drivers to announce that they will be racing in the Camping World Truck Series including top K&N Pro Series drivers such as Chase Elliott and Corey LaJoie among many others.

Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.

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