The 2014 edition of dirt track racing’s biggest event is over and a new winner has been crowned. Bryan Clauson took home the coveted Golden Driller trophy, a piece of hardware that has been in the hands of a Swindell for the last five years. As Clauson crossed the line and captured the checkered flag, a thought crossed my mind. Why isn’t he still racing in NASCAR?
In 2007, he was kind of thrown to the wolves with his first NASCAR start being at the Nationwide level. He drove for Chip Ganassi Racing, which has never seen much success in NASCAR’s secondary series, so already, there’s two things going against him. Oh, and he was only 18. Despite all this, he still had some flashes of greatness with a pole at Daytona and a top five at Kentucky.
Clauson also collected an ARCA victory in just his fifth career start, but lost his ride with Ganassi after the 2008 season when Fastenal left the team. The young Clauson was then approached with an offer from a Sprint Cup team. The money was okay and would help fund his Sprint Car efforts, but it would be a start and park deal. Because no better offers materialized, he went back home.
Since then, he’s done pretty well for himself. Along with two Turkey Night Grand Prix trophies, he won the USAC National Midget championship twice (2010 & 2011). In the USAC National Sprint Car category, he’s the two-time and defending champion.
Clauson also ran a handful of races in Indy Lights before making his Indycar debut in one of the most prestigious races on the planet, the Indianapolis 500 in 2012. Early issues hindered his efforts though and he only managed a 30th place result. Now, he’s is a champion of the Chili Bowl. Guys like Clauson have what it takes to win at the Sprint Cup level but most of the time, they never get that chance.
Kyle Larson gives hope to dirt track racers everywhere who still dream of racing at NASCAR’s highest level. Larson didn’t have money, he didn’t have big-time sponsors, he just had talent. He said himself that there are probably 10 to 15 drivers out there who are just as good, or maybe even better than him, but didn’t get as lucky. Clauson is one of those names, but he got much closer to the top than most have. His triumph at the Chili Bowl shows that for those who fail to reach the pinnacle of stock car or open-wheel competition, racing glory is still very attainable.
The sad and unfortunate truth though, is that the next Dale Earnhardt or Jimmie Johnson is probably already out there, but due to the money-driven world we live in, most fans will never know that racer’s name.
Nick DeGroot is a Contributing Writer for Rant Sports NASCAR. Connect With Him on Twitter @ndegroot89