DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Buckle up, NASCAR fans, because the youth movement has officially taken the sport by storm: whether you were prepared for it or not.
What we saw over the weekend at Daytona Int’l Speedway was nothing short of incredible, for a lot of reasons. I’ll take a moment to describe my thoughts on the matter in a few assorted words.
Carnage. Chaos. Thrilling. Unexpected.
But above all, Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race were a look into what the sport’s premier level is going to look like by the time the next decade arrives in a few short years, and that’s a fantastic thing for everyone involved.
Kaz Grala starting from the pole and making a last-lap pass as cars crashed and flipped around him to become both the youngest pole winner and the youngest race winner in NASCAR’s 59-year history at Daytona was a historic moment, and it also offered up one of the most classic victory lane interviews of the modern era.
Click below to watch it again if you don’t believe me.
Ryan Reed’s cause and his spirited drive on Saturday to get back to Daytona’s victory lane — holding off three stars of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski to do so — was equally as memorable.
The Type 1 diabetic has struggled to find his footing as one of the young guns to watch at the XFINITY level, thanks in large part to the dominance of Cup drivers that step down and take a large portion of the wins away from the series regulars, but has now found Daytona magic in two of the last three years and has a virtual lock on his second-straight postseason berth.
Reed’s mission to help other diabetics, as well as the heart he has exhibited to continue racing since his diagnosis in 2011, shone through after Saturday evening’s marathon ending in his exuberant victory lane celebration and his proclamation of what’s to come: “Let’s go win a championship!”
In both cases, fans saw two drivers blissfully stunned at what they had just accomplished, as well as exuberantly appreciative of the chance to showcase their skills on the highest stages in American motorsports.
They were unfiltered and unscripted, as well. (I mean, c’mon, how can you not love Kaz’s moment of complete distraction when he utters, ‘Oh my gosh, somebody flipped!’ on national television?)
If fans longing for the stars of yesteryear are looking for new names and new drivers that they can get behind, drivers who aren’t afraid to show emotion and have pure passion for the sport that we all love, these two winners from Daytona’s hallowed ground are two faces I would point them to in a heartbeat.
(Trust me when I say that there are numerous others at the Truck and XFINITY levels that I could add to that category and have in the past, but the list is too numerous to detail here and I focus on these two due to their wins.)
Both Kaz and Ryan are proof that while the names have changed, the love of racing that characterized the battles of Earnhardt, Elliott, Allison and Petty in the 70s and 80s has remained the same even now.
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