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Late Bloomers: NASCAR’s Best Older Rookies

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With the Josh Berry news being announced, it seems that NASCAR is poised to have its’ next older rookie with Berry set to turn 33 this October. It got us thinking about other late bloomers in NASCAR. The sport has had its’ fair share of late-bloomers who started racing later than others normally would.

For the purposes of making this list, I will be using the age of these drivers first full-time or close to full-time Cup Series season, even if they made sporadic NASCAR starts beforehand.

Juan Pablo Montoya (31 years old)

While maybe a stranger to NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya was no stranger to high-level motorsports success when he won the Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 2007. He had success in IndyCar winning the 1999 CART Championship and the 2000 Indianapolis 500. He then moved to F1 where he won seven races with 30 podium finishes and 13 poles.

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In 2007, he took on NASCAR, and won a Cup Series race a Sonoma and an Xfinity Series race at Mexico City. Montoya would only win one other race in 2010 at Watkins Glen in the Cup Series, but he would record one top-10 points finish by finishing eighth in 2009.

Unfortunately, Montoya will best be remembered in NASCAR for hitting a jet dryer under caution during the 2012 Daytona 500. That being said, Montoya did have some good moments in the Cup Series, and he continues to compete in auto racing to this day. He won his second Indianapolis 500 in 2015 after moving on from NASCAR, and most recently competed in an IMSA race at Laguna Seca this year.

Geoff Bodine (33 years old)

Bodine is historically included amongst the 1979 Rookie Class, but he only ran three races that season. It was not until 1982 as a 33-year-old that Bodine began running consistently as he entered in 25 races in 1982. That year, he would win two poles with four top-5s and 10 top-10s to win the Rookie of the Year

From there, Bodine gradually got better and better. He would team up with Rick Hendrick in 1984, and Bodine’s win at Martinsville that year seemed to save that organization.

Bodine would run full-time consistently until 1999, winning 18 career races including the 1986 Daytona 500. His best end of year points finish was third in 1990 while driving for Junior Johnson. Bodine would even go on to be named to the NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998, which means he is included in NASCAR’s 75 greatest drivers list.

Greg Biffle (33 years old)

Greg Biffle was a late bloomer all the way up. His first full-time Truck Series season did not come until 1998 at the age of 28. After winning the Truck Series championship in 2000, he made the jump up to the Xfinity Series in 2001 at the age of 31.

After winning the Xfinity Series championship in 2002, Biffle finally made the jump to the Cup Series in 2003 at the age of 33. While he did have some bumps at the start, most notably failing to Qualify at Las Vegas, Biffle eventually found his groove. He would record his first top-5 at Bristol, and his first career win came at Daytona that July.

Biffle would continue upwards from there winning 19 career races in 515 starts. His best season came in 2005 with six wins and a career-best points finish of second. Biffle was also recently named to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list.

Harry Gant (39 years old)

Harry Gant was the elder statesman of one of NASCAR’s greatest rookie classes in 1979 which featured future Hall of Famers and champions Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte. Gant stayed pretty quiet during his rookie season, but he did record five top 10 finishes and a pole at Pocono.

Gant would get his first career win at Martinsville in 1982 and would finish a career best second in points in 1984. However, he would race full-time well into his 50s. In 1991, at the age of 51, Gant earned his nickname “Mr. September” by winning four consecutive Cup Series races and two consecutive Busch Series races. To recap, Gant entered six NASCAR races in a row and won all six.

He would become NASCAR’s oldest winner and would finish fourth in the standings in 1991 and 1992 before calling it quits after 1994. He was named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998, which put him on NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list.

Dick Trickle (48 Years Old)

For most of his career, the late Dick Trickle was content to race late models on the local short tracks of Wisconsin. Dominant he certainly was, as he was rumored to have won 1,200 short track features. That changed in 1989 when the Stavola Brothers came calling.

Bobby Allison’s career came to an end after a crash at Pocono in 1988, and Trickle was called up to take over the ride for 1989. Despite missing the Daytona 500, the 48-year-old Trickle would finish a solid 15th in the standings becoming NASCAR’s oldest Rookie of the Year.

While he would not win a race at NASCAR’s top level, he did win two Xfinity Series races at Hickory and Darlington. Despite his lackluster NASCAR stats, his short track accomplishments must not be overlooked. Rusty Wallace called Trickle, “The greatest stock car driver in the history of America”.

Josh Berry has a great chance to add to this list next season if this Stewart-Haas deal goes through. It’s not common that a driver over 30 gets his first full-time season in top equipment.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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