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NASCAR Fans Debate: Which Driver Deserved a Better Shot at the Cup Series?

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In NASCAR, the driver is important, but so is the quality of the opportunity. Sometimes, drivers get that chance at the top level, but it does not pan out because of factors not necessarily in their control. NASCAR fans on Reddit came up with drivers they wish got a better chance in the NASCAR Cup Series, and here are a few of their responses.

Dick Trickle

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Amongst other drivers, Fluid_Program_5369 mentioned the name Dick Trickle, and he had a very interesting career. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Trickle was tearing it up on the short track scene. He had the nickname “The White Knight”.

He never jumped to NASCAR because why would he? He was running more than 100 races per year, and winning multiple short-track features. He was already making a handsome living racing on the short tracks, so, why would he make the move to racing less than 30 times per year?

Eventually, Trickle came to NASCAR full-time at the age of 48 in 1989. He won the Rookie of the Year, but a combination of bad equipment and age kept him from truly reaching NASCAR stardom. With how good he was in the short track scene, one can only wonder how good he would have been if he had come to NASCAR sooner.

Dave Blaney

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Dave Blaney is another driver that some fans suggested including sam4999. The father of current NASCAR star Ryan Blaney, Dave was a journeyman in NASCAR, but he was anything but that on dirt tracks. He won the USAC Silvercrown title in 1984, and he was a World of Outlaws Champion in 1995.

He did not join NASCAR full-time until his mid-30s. He struggled for years to find a top ride, but he had some modest success in his early NASCAR career. His best finish was third, coming at Darlington in 2003 behind the iconic finish between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch.

Finally, in 2005, at the age of 42, Blaney got his big break driving the 07 car for Richard Childress Racing. He struggled to only two top-10 finishes and a 26th-place points finish, and Clint Bowyer replaced him at season’s end. With how good he was in sprint cars, one can only wonder what Blaney could have done if he got into NASCAR sooner.

J.J. Yeley

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Magnifico-Melon was not the only person to suggest J.J. Yeley on this list, and that may come as a surprise to some people. He had not one, but two full-time seasons in Cup with one of the best race teams in the garage Joe Gibbs Racing. Not only that, but Yeley was around the age of the prime of many driver’s careers when this opportunity came about in his late 20s.

However, Yeley was not good with only six top-10s in two seasons. Since that opportunity, Yeley has continued to have a steady presence in NASCAR primarily for underfunded teams. He is the definition of a journeyman driver, and there is no shame in that type of career path.

Could he maybe have gotten a better opportunity with a big team later in his career as he matured? Maybe he could have, but, his troubled time with JGR probably scared some of those teams away. However, it would be overly harsh to call him a complete failure as a driver.

Ward Burton

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Ward Burton was a driver who was fiercely loyal to his team owner, Bill Davis. Throughout the prime of Burton’s driving career from 1995 until he left the team in late 2003, he was a stable presence. He won eight races including the 2002 Daytona 500, and he finished in the top-10 in the points standings in 1999 and 2000.

Given the fact that Bill Davis Racing was solid equipment, but not quite the level of the top teams, Burton is an interesting “What could have been?” story. His brother, Jeff won over 20 races driving for the likes of Jack Roush and Richard Childress. If Ward had taken a shot with a big team, could he hit it big?

It’s a fun thought, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. Sometimes a driver finds a team that fits them best, and that team maximizes their abilities. Sometimes drivers make that jump to the top team and find out that that smaller team is exactly where they should have stayed.

Erik Jones

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A modern driver that a couple of people suggested was Erik Jones. Jones was a promising driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, but he was eventually ousted by Christopher Bell. However, Jones was not all bad in JGR equipment by any means.

He won two races including the Southern 500 in 2019, but he missed the Playoffs in 2020. This allowed Bell to come in and take over, and Jones was moved to Richard Petty Motorsports. However, it seems Jones is having a bit of a career renaissance there.

He won the Southern 500 again in 2022 for the team, and Toyota is set to join in 2024. Maybe Jones could be the next Ward Burton, who is loyal to a team rewarded with a solid career. Maybe Jones can bring Legacy Motor Club to heights previously never before dreamed of.

There are plenty of other drivers who could have gotten better shots in the Cup Series. Which ones do you feel deserve to be mentioned?

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