While there’s definitely a lot of merit to the young driver movement in NASCAR, there’s a flip side to the trend that has a big dollar sign attached.
Denny Hamlin, while acknowledging the influx of young talent into the sport, said hiring young drivers may not be what teams would prefer to do.
“It’s a shame the teams are not in a position to just put in who they want — put in the best guy available,” Hamlin said Friday during an appearance at the Indianapolis FedEx hub. “You wish the teams could operate and say, ‘You know what? We want this guy. We don’t care how old he is. We don’t care whether the sponsor likes him, because we have enough money in our company to field the car.'”
Hamlin said that because current teammate and free-agent-to-be Matt Kenseth is currently looking for a job despite still being at the top of his game.
“Without a doubt, Kenseth would be in a top-notch ride with a top-notch team if the business of NASCAR was run like that,” Hamlin said. “But it’s just not anymore. It’s tough to make money (for) these teams, and they need those sponsors to be OK with the drivers. … Kenseth, on talent, deserves to be in the sport for a fair amount of time.”
Veteran drivers, of course, demand a much higher salary than young drivers who are just happy to have the opportunity at the NASCAR Cup Series level.
Hendrick Motorsports hired unheralded Alex Bowman to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car, Erik Jones will replace Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing and Daniel Suarez replaced Carl Edwards this season.
So is Hamlin, 36, worried his driving days might end prematurely after seeing Kenseth and Greg Biffle pushed out of rides while in their mid-40s?
“Not as long as I have this company behind me — I don’t think so,” Hamlin said with a smile, motioning to a FedEx jumbo jet over his shoulder. He added: “I know my years are probably numbered and I probably know as far as I want to go.”