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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse have bright futures in NASCAR … and will the #3 return to Cup?

As we await the exciting battle today between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards for the Cup title, which should be an awesome sight, a couple titles have already been decided.
Austin Dillon – aka the grandson of Richard Childress – has won the Truck series title. And Ricky Stenhouse, driving for Jack Roush, has claimed the Nationwide title.
There was little drama surrounding each title clinching, but I have to say that I like both of these young drivers and I believe their futures are bright.
First, let’s look at Dillon. True, he got a lot of opportunities given to him by Pop-Pop, but he also did his part to earn this title. Just because you have good equipment doesn’t mean you’ll win, you have to have talent too.
From what I’ve seen of Dillon in trucks, he shows the promise to have a Greg Biffle like career – meaning a Truck title, a Nationwide title, then a promising Cup career.
With an RCR ride awaiting him whenever he’s ready, you can expect to see Dillon doing well in NASCAR for a long, long time.
And when he comes to Cup, he might bring something special with him – the #3.
It hasn’t been seen in a cup race since that fateful day in February 2001, but it’s still available for Childress to use, should he want to keep Dillon in the same number as he moves up the NASCAR series chain.
And he has the blessing of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“Austin’s ran that number and you can’t really deny him the opportunity to continue to run it. It just wouldn’t be fair. Dad (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) did great things. He was a great ambassador for the sport and we’re still as a whole, reaping the benefits of all he accomplished and what he did that put us in front of a lot of people. But even before that, the number was Richard’s. Richard drove it. And someone else drove it before then. There’s a lot of guys in the fifties and sixties that ran that number with success. So the number is really kind of like a bank and you deposit history into and they don’t really belong to the individuals. It’s iconic when you put the colors and the style with it; it’s a little bit iconic to the sport. Austin is a good kid, He seems to have a great appreciation for what’s happening to him and what’s going on around him. And I would be happy if he wanted to keep doing that. He kind of had to know when he first started to run that number if he got this far into the deal, he would have to cross a few bridges like that and that was a tough decision I guess at first to start running the number for him; knowing what kind of pressures he might face down the road. But I think it would be fine by me for him to do that. I think that it’s got to get back on the race track one of these days. It just can’t be gone forever you know?”

I’m going to predict that it will happen, and Dillon will instantly become one of the most popular drivers in the Cup series when that day comes.

Stenhouse a great comeback story
As recently as early 2010, the joke each week was to wonder which lap Ricky Stenhouse was going to wreck on. His time with the Roush team didn’t start out well, and he was battling each week just to keep his job.
Thankfully for the team, Roush found something he liked in Stenhouse, and stuck with him, letting other drivers – such as Colin Braun – go instead.
Now, Stenhouse is a champion, benefitting from the new points rules that only allow a driver to earn points in one series.
He even got a Cup start in this year and did pretty well. It’s pretty much a sure bet that if he can get the sponsorship lined up (not an easy task these days), Stenhouse should be in a Cup car for Roush in the next couple years or so.
Both he and Dillon are part of a new crew of young talent hoping to upset the establishment once they make the leap to the top level of the sport.
The fact that they both have a title under their belt will do a lot for their confidence as they climb to that level. And they are both very deserving champions.
I look forward to watching them, and other young stars like Trevor Bayne, bring some new blood into the sport.

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