At some point this season, Chase Elliott will finally win a NASCAR race.
Ryan Blaney should, too. Heck, Bubba Wallace, William Byron and Erik Jones have a good shot at doing the same.
But until that moment – or moments – arrive, let’s step back for a second. Let’s look at the state of NASCAR’s young stars.
Let’s consider that these drivers are fun, they are talented ... but also, they’re just not quite there yet.
NASCAR, perhaps more clearly visible than in other popular sports, is at a crux. A generational shift is underway. The Cup Series stars of old – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart – are gone. They are not coming back.
There is a new generation poised to assume their mantle atop the sport. Names like Elliott, Blaney, Wallace – these are the next wave of NASCAR stars.
But they’re not ready yet.
That isn’t to say they never will be ready, or even that they won’t be ready soon. Elliott could very well win three or four races this season. Same for Blaney. But even that would not mean they have truly arrived.
Becoming a NASCAR star isn’t about winning a handful of races over your career. It’s about sustained, expected excellence. Clint Bowyer, with his eight wins in 435 Cup Series races, is still a good driver – he’s just not a star. That’s what NASCAR needs these kids to become.
The sport has always leaned on its big names and big personalities. Right now, Elliott and Blaney and Wallace have all the buzz. Fans and media are watching them – especially Wallace, whose success as a black driver would catapult him to a new level of stardom whether or not he wants that. These three have the opportunity, too, given the mass exodus of known drivers, to cement themselves as the next crop of stars.
Now they just have to back that up on the track.
Elliott’s best career finish is second, which he’s done seven times without winning. Wallace came in second at the Daytona 500, his first race as a full-time Cup driver, but came back to earth with a 32nd-place finish this week at Atlanta. Blaney, the only one of the three with a Cup Series win, is a regular in the Top 10, but hasn’t been able to translate that to more wins yet.
And that, too, is fine. Blaney and Wallace are 24. Elliott’s only 22. They’ve got time. Just ... not too much of it, you know?
Eventually Elliott will win. Blaney too. Wallace should. They’ve all shown their talents, and their natural knack for driving.
But they’ve also showed they have room to grow. That’s OK – let’s just not anoint them as NASCAR’s saviors yet, all right?