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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tons of first-time winners in 2011: But are they future stars or flashes in the pan?

There have been five first-time winners in 2011: Sometimes that leads to a legendary career (Petty, Pearson), and other times it's one and done (Johnny Benson, Jerry Nadeau, Greg Sacks, Lake Speed, and many others -- though to be fair, Bill Rexford only won 1 race, and he still was able to earn the Cup championship in 1950).

Many years bring little to no first-time winners, so what does this big crop in 2011 mean? Do we have a bunch of future title contenders and regular winners in the field? Let's look at it case by case.

David Ragan
Ragan's career started out terrible, as he wasn't quite ready for Cup and was a wrecking ball all over the track. But Jack Roush stuck by his young driver, despite many calls to replace him, and the results are starting to pay off. He showed potential to make the Chase a couple years back, slipped backward a year ago, but has resurged this year and finally got his breakthough win at Daytona (and probably should have won the Daytona 500 too.)

Unlike some drivers, though, he's not a one-trick restrictor-plate pony, and has threatened elsewhere.

My prediction: Ragan might never win a championship, but he'll win a good number of races in his career, probably cracking double digits in win total. He'll make some Chases, and might even contend with the best in a few years.

Marco Ambrose
There's no doubt Marcos is a tremendous racing talent. He's arguably the best road racer in a series with at least a handful of truly talented road racers. He won his first race at the Glen, and could rattle off a string of road course wins like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin have done in the past.
Ambrose's problem is ovals. Until he starts to perform better in that arena, which makes up 90 percent of the races, he will never be a serious contender overall.

My prediction: A handful of road course wins, maybe one or two oval wins. No serious title runs, though.

Regan Smith
I like Regan Smith and know he's a great racing talent, but unless he gets into better equipment, he may fall into the one-and-done category. His win at Darlington was a great feel good story and everyone was happy, but he's struggled since and isn't looking like he'll contend for the Chase. If he gets in a better car, he'll win more. If not, this might be it for him as far as wins go.

My prediction: Just the 1 win unless a bigger, better team picks him up.

Paul Menard
He's running up front a lot, something many people thought would never happen. And now he's a Brickyard 400 winner (a rare club) and a legitimate Chase contender. Does the future hold great things for Menard.
Maybe, if he applies himself and continues to improve as a driver. His team, Richard Childress Racing, has the equipment to compete, as evidenced by Kevin Harvick's runs for the title, so a great career for Menard that is full of wins is not impossible to imagine.

My prediction: 7 or 8 career wins, and at least a couple Chase berths in the near future.

Trevor Bayne
This kid is the great unknown ... His win at Daytona showed just how masterful he was at the new 2-by-2 style of racing, and he will always be a threat to win there and should reach Victory Lane in Daytona again in his career.
But outside of there, he is hit or miss. Last year he was on fire when driving for Michael Waltrip's team, so it was a steal when Jack Roush picked him up after he got out of his Waltrip contract.

This year, though, he has had health issues, and even beyond that his on-track performance has fallen back severely from last year. This kid is young, tremendously talented and has a HUGE amount of potential. He will undoubtedly get a full-time Cup ride very soon, and have a long career in the sport due to his ability and marketability (he's seriously the most polite and media-friendly kid I've ever seen in the sport).

Will he win a bunch of races though?

My prediction: Trevor Bayne will become the most successful of this year's first-time winners, topping the 20-victory mark and contending for several titles. This won't happen instantly, but give him five years or so and the wins will start to pile up rapidly. (Not everyone can be like Kyle Busch and just win-win-win straight out the gate).


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You,re Right on all but one, Trevor Bayne. He's OK, but I think Stenhouse will be far more successful on track. Bayne is a media darling, but Stenhouse is a true racer imho.

August 20, 2011 at 6:49 AM 
Blogger Matt Myftiu said...

Stenhouse is very talented ... though it's often hard to translate Nationwide winning to Cup winning. I'd like to see him do well, seems like a good kid.

August 20, 2011 at 8:58 AM 

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