Alex Bowman was chasing down Ryan Blaney for the lead late at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
But a spin by Ross Chastain negated what could have been a fascinating fight for the win between two of the freshest faces in the NASCAR Cup Series.
While 44-year-old veteran Kevin Harvick led much of Sunday’s race, it was the young stars that started to emerge in the Nevada desert.
Blaney and Bowman, both of whom are 26 years old, are already winners at the Cup level. But neither has won regularly enough to be thought of as threats to win every week.
In the closing laps Blaney surged past Team Penske teammate Joey Logano, 29, for the lead and Bowman was flying through the field in an attempt to catch up. Bowman’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, 24, unquestionably had the best car on long runs and led 70 laps, second most to Harvick’s 92.
NASCAR has been eager to see its young guns take the wheel from the wily veterans for the past three seasons as megastars Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and others have hung up their Cup Series firesuits.
The problem – for the sanctioning body, anyway – is guys like Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. (39), Denny Hamlin (39) and Kyle Busch (34) have continued to dominate the sport. Those four alone accounted for 22 victories in 36 races in 2019.
Blaney, Bowman, Erik Jones (23) and Kyle Larson (27) each netted one win last year, while Logano won twice and Elliott claimed three checkered flags.
Of the young crop, Logano, who won at Las Vegas, tends to be the forgotten member because he was such a young rookie (19) in 2009. He is the only driver in the past decade to win a Cup title under the age of 30 and the youngest to reach 400 starts, an accomplishment he hit at last week’s Daytona 500.
Perhaps the most glaring thing that separates Logano – aside from his obvious success – is, of course, his longevity because he got a five-year jump on most other drivers in his age range.
Larson completed his rookie year in 2014, and everyone else has followed in latter seasons.
The faucet has only allowed scattered drops of victories for NASCAR’s youth movement so far.
Two races into the 2020 season, and only one on a 1½-mile track, it appears the young guns may have their shot to compete for victories more regularly this year.
It’s far too early to buy into everything we’ve seen thus far. But good runs for Bowman, Elliott and William Byron have to be encouraging for NASCAR (as well as Chevrolet and those drivers’ team owner Rick Hendrick).
More will be learned following next weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where the track’s wide and rough racing surface may allow for more passing.
The young guys might be able to find a lane that works for that. More likely, though, the wiser veterans will use their tricks to keep them at bay for another week.