by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.September 17, 2008 9:02 pm UTC 2 Comments
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover, Delaware, for the second race of ten in the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The series comes off of a weekend at New Hampshire that saw Kyle Busch falter, Greg Biffle assert himself as a championship contender, and Joey Logano make his Sprint Cup debut, finishing 32nd in a Hall of Fame Racing Toyota.
Logano, at 18 years, 3 months, and 20 days old, was the youngest driver to make his Sprint Cup debut since 1982, when a 17-year-old by the name of Bobby Hillin Jr. drove a No. 8 Buick to a 21st place finish at the old North Wilkesboro Speedway. In other words, Hillin was a “young gun” before it became cool to develop teenage drivers.
Unlike some of the other “young guns” that NASCAR has seen recently (try Casey Atwood, Shane Hmiel, Joel Kauffman, Jason Schuler, and Chase Montgomery on for size), Hillin was arguably a decent driver, with the potential to compete for wins and decent points finishes. When he had a consistent ride, especially in the late 1980s, he was capable of finishing in the top 20 in points; in 1986, he cracked the top 10 in points for the only time of his career, finishing 9th after winning a race at Talladega and scoring 14 top 10 finishes in 29 races for the Stavola Brothers.
Hillin was, at times, a poor qualifier, missing more and more races per season as he moved to what is now the Nationwide Series in 1998. He never won a pole, had a pedestrian average start of 24.2 in the Cup series, and averaged 5.6 DNQs per season from 1996 to 2000, when his career ultimately ended. That didn’t take away from the fact, however, that at his best, Hillin could keep the car on the track for the duration of the race; he finished 27 out of 29 races in 1988, tied for second best in the series, and completed the third-most laps of any driver that year.
Compare this to many current “young guns,” drivers who are often fast in qualifying but cannot keep the car on the track. Consider the aforementioned Hmiel, who won four poles in his abbreviated Nationwide Series career, but failed to finish in 30 out of 119 career starts in NASCAR’s top three series. Hillin, in the prime years of his career (1985-1990, discounting a bad 1987 in which car parts failed ten times), started 143 races, and only failed to finish 27 of them. Compare rebuilding a car once every 5.3 races to once every four. Even the late Dale Earnhardt broke something on a car, on average, once every six races.
Yet, while “young guns” nowadays receive all kinds of aid from all around the garage area, Hillin was often looked down upon by his contemporaries in the garage area. “Nobody wanted to help me,” Hillin said in a 2007 interview with NASCAR.com. “I still needed a whole lot of help (even after winning at Talladega).” Such help likely would not have been wasted on the young driver, as it has been on plenty of recent young guns.
Truth be told, Logano is nothing like most recent development drivers; he’s already got a Nationwide Series win in only a handful of career starts, and he’s going to inherit Tony Stewart’s car next season, one of the top cars in the garage year in and year out. Logano’s got all kinds of help around him, and for that reason, his situation and Hillin’s are nothing alike. At the same time, had drivers like Hillin not blazed a trail in the 1980s, the youth movement currently present in NASCAR might never have happened, and one of the best raw talents in NASCAR would still be waiting for a shot in the big league.
Before the Chase resumes at the Monster Mile, here are this week’s five Quick Hits:
5. A.J. Allmendinger will know his future at Team Red Bull very soon, as the organization decides whether to promote Scott Speed full-time next season in the No. 84 or add a third car, the No. 82. Recently re-signed general manager Jay Frye (who turned down the same position at Stewart-Haas Racing) should have the final decision from the energy drink’s headquarters in Austria by the end of this week.
4. Bobby Hamilton Jr. has stated that he’s about “40 percent” talking to a Sprint Cup team about next season. Currently a Ford driver, there is the possibility that either the Wood Brothers or Yates Racing are the team in question.
3. Italian road course specialist Max Papis will run 18 races next season in a Germain Racing Toyota sponsored by Geico. Papis has run assorted road course races this season and attempted to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500.
2. Gillett Evernham Motorsports‘ right of first refusal on Patrick Carpentier expired Tuesday, when the team was unable to find sponsorship to run the Canadian in a fourth car for 2009. Teams that have publicly shown interest in Carpentier include the Wood Brothers.
1. Steve Hallam, McLaren F1‘s head of race operations, will bring his wealth of technical knowledge to the Sprint Cup Series next season. Hallam has previously worked with such world-famous race drivers as Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen, and the late Ayrton Senna.
Finally, congratulations to last week’s winners at New Hampshire: Ron Hornaday in the Truck series, and Biffle in Sprint Cup.