This offseason has been the offseason of drivers skipping steps in the NASCAR development ladder. Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith went straight from Trucks to Cup. Jesse Love went straight from ARCA to Xfinity. Even in previous offseasons, Ty Gibbs jumped from ARCA to Xfinity and Sammy Smith did the same. Why is this starting to become more commonplace among NASCAR prospects?
The Cars are not Similar Enough
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series are behind in their development from the Cup Series. The Xfinity Series car was last overhauled in 2010, which means it still shares many of the same aspects of the old Car of Tomorrow. The Craftsman Truck Series has not seen much change since the series was introduced.
These cars are so different from the modern Cup Series Next-Gen car. The Next-Gen car has more in common with a V8 Supercar or an IMSA Sports Car than its’ Xfinity and Truck Series cousins. As a result, if a driver is good enough to be in the Cup Series, it seems best to get them up there as quickly as possible.
What really are they learning running in the Truck or Xfinity Series? They aren’t learning about the Next-Gen car, but they are learning things such as race craft and proving themselves against drivers of similar talent levels. If their talent and race craft are already proven, then what more can they learn? Even then, some may argue that just getting seat time in the Next-Gen car is the most important thing, and the drivers can learn race craft themselves.
The Lack of Lower Series Teams for Big Car Owners
NASCAR’s feeder system is unlike most other “Minor Leagues” in sports. Instead of teams that are affiliated with “Major League” teams with prospects moving up to play for their affiliated teams, NASCAR is not that simple. Not every Cup Series car owner has lower series teams.
Race teams like Trackhouse, Hendrick Motorsports, and Team Penske have little to no presence in the lower series. Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, and Kaulig Racing have Xfinity Series teams, but not Truck Series teams. As a result, if Kaulig Racing wants a prospect, they either have the option to rent them out to a Truck Series or ARCA Series team, or they just move them up to Xfinity.
Renting a driver out to a team may not sit well with some race teams. On top of that, it’s just easier to have their guy in-house from the get-go. If it takes a bit longer to develop at that level, then so be it.
However, the caveat to all of these reasons is the talent of the driver alongside what funding they bring. Some drivers are talented enough to where they can skip levels on the ladder. It’s not unprecedented in other sports either.
Funding also plays a factor as well. The reality is that drivers who bring a lot of funding will get priority over drivers of a similar talent level with less funding. If a race team needs a driver with funding to race for them, they will bring that driver from a lower series in if they are talented enough.
NASCAR’s talent development landscape is beginning to change. Will we see more drivers skipping steps in the development ladder as time goes on?