Last year, Chip Ganassi and Theresa Earnhardt reached the conclusion that Juan Montoya wasn’t getting the job done in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing and so they fired him. He started 253 races and won two and you wondered what took them so long.
I wrote a column and said there were another dozen (or so) drivers in NASCAR’s top series who had been wasting everybody’s time for years, cruising around on Sunday afternoons, not doing much of anything, and that they should be pink-slipped too.
There is good news today, and bad. The good news is that NASCAR’s top series is welcoming eight rookie drivers to the Sprint Cup Series this season . The bad news is that most of the slugs who were still taking up valuable seat space in competitive race cars last season are back for yet another kick at the can.
Now, with NASCAR’s new approach to the sport — win, or go home; the only way to make the Chase is to get there via Victory Lane; and so-on — you would think that most owners in the series, not to forget the sponsors who are forking over millions of dollars for people to participate, would be looking for drivers who could either get to the finish line first or bust their butts trying.
Apparently not, because we will still have to put up with the likes of Casey Mears (380 starts, one win), David Gilliland (258 starts-0 wins), Dave Blaney (466-0), Marcos Ambrose (191-2), Michael McDowell (147-0) and David Ragan (254-2).
(This critique only includes drivers with more than 100 starts, by the way.)
Gone, thank goodness, are Travis Kvapil (great name; too bad the talent didn’t match), David Reutimann, David Stremme and Scott Speed — although one or all could make a guest appearance or two over the course of the season.
With those last four sidelined for the moment, however, here’s hoping the preceding six names will soon get their walking papers because there are all sorts of ambitious, talented and flat-out hungry young drivers in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series who — you can bet — are just chomping at the bit to get their shot at a Cup ride.
Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon — hey, even Canadian Cameron Haley (who’s profiled on Page W22 in Saturday's Toronto Star Wheels section) — are all willing and able and deserve a shot before any one of those above-mentioned losers turns another lap.
The rookies this year are a healthy crop. Austin Dillon (yes, he’s Richard Childress’s grandson but he still had to drive and race the cars he was handed) has worked his way up the ladder and will start from pole in Sunday's Daytona 500. He’s carrying No. 3 on his car, the first time that number has been seen in Sprint Cup competition since the man who made it famous, the late Dale Earnhardt, was killed in the Great American Race in 2001.
Can he carry on in that number’s tradition? We’ll see — but probably.
Others who are sure to make their marks this season include Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman (pictured, he takes over from Kvapil as driver with best name), Cole Whitt, Justin Allgaier (a close second in the name category) and Michael Annett.
Good luck and Godspeed to them all. It’s about time there was a changing of the guard. Let’s hope this Class of 2014 quickly makes us forget all of those posers who, yes, could legitimately say they were NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers but sure couldn’t ever say they were winners.