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NASCAR embarrassment of ‘riches’ dangerous for the sport

NASCAR Cup Series Test
NASCAR Cup Series Test
Ted Fleming
EXPERT
Modified 09 Jan 2021, 23:58 IST
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When Front Row Motorsports announced their NASCAR driver lineup for the upcoming season, one name jumped off the page – Anthony Alfredo. At 21 years of age, he joins the next generation of young drivers that will lead the sport into the future.

There are the prodigies. From the time they first climbed into something with an engine powering it, their future was in the hands of the gods.

The next group was those who smelled like burnt rubber with greasy hands but with a passion for motorsports. They would dream of one day being the next Dale Earnhardt or Jeff Gordon; they only had to prove themselves at every level and hope that someone would notice them.

In either case, these men and women still had to go to school in the lower tiers of racing so they could graduate into the big time.

In a results-driven business, how long you stay around and at what level depends on the ability to find owners who are willing to put you in their cars or how much money you bring to that team. The latter brings us to Anthony Alfredo.

The NASCAR Newby

A month from now, the Connecticut native gets to pull his big boy pants on in the Daytona 500.

It is a mystery why he starts with his resume. As a ‘veteran’ of 63 races, that may sound like Alfredo is ready to try his hand in The Great America Race. The problem is how he built up those numbers.

Before Alfredo moved into one of NASCAR’s three touring series, 31 of those 63 starts came in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour (14), K&N Pro Series East (14) and ARCA Menards (3).

David Gilliland gave him a shot in the newly reminted Camping World Truck Series, where he had just two top-ten finishes in 13 races. Apparently, that was good enough for Richard Childress to put Alfredo in one of his Xfinity Series cars last season.

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Childress is a smart man, and he doesn’t put just about anyone in his stock cars. That is unless that driver brings something to the table. In Alfredo’s case, that was sponsorship. There was always someone’s company on the hood of the No. 21 Chevrolet.

Alfredo started 19 of the 33 races on the Xfinity calendar with varying degrees of success. He finished 2020 with a pair of top fives and nine top tens and was competitive in many of them.

By the end of the season, most pundits agreed that Alfredo would land a full-time ride with Childress or another Xfinity team this year. He got it but just not where anyone thought.

NASCAR veteran Brad Keselowski is outspoken

Future Hall of Fame candidate Brad Keselowski has been consistent in calling for NASCAR to institute a system where a driver makes it to the Premier Series based on merit. They could also be demoted if there are repeated issues.

The irony here is that the NASCAR Xfinity Series is supposed to be the feeder system for Cup. NASCAR uses the tag line, “Names are made here.”

Alfredo did nothing to distinguish himself from most of his NASCAR peers in the so-called second-tier of stock car racing but still got a seat at its top level.

“This is really an unbelievable moment,” said Alfredo in a team release. “When you start out racing karts as a kid, you dream of making it to the sport’s top level. I want to thank Bob Jenkins and everyone at Front Row Motorsports for making this dream a reality. I know the challenges ahead, but I’m here to work hard and prove myself.”
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NASCAR Xfinity Series Bariatric Solutions 300
NASCAR Xfinity Series Bariatric Solutions 300

As it turns out, FRM needed a driver for its No. 38 after John Hunter Nemechek walked away to race in the Camping World Truck Series. Bob Jenkins reached out to Alfredo with most of the top NASCAR free agents already signed with new teams or re-upped with others.

Under normal circumstances, sponsorship can be a significant issue for someone with no track record at any level. But Jenkins knew that Alfredo brought more to the table than just his helmet.

Keselowski’s concern about unqualified drivers stemmed from an accident last July when Quin Houff changed a race's complexion by cutting across two lanes of traffic to pit.

It caused three cars to wreck while he drove away unscathed. Many of the contending drivers were none too happy, including Matt DiBenedetto, who used Twitter to vent.

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It was not the first time Houff was the reason for something similar, and it began with the first race of the season. Failing to hold his line as the leaders lapped him in the NASCAR Daytona 500, Houff sparked a multi-car pileup.

The NASCAR 2021 Daytona 500 will have several rookies in the field, but no one has fewer qualifications than Alfredo. How far he will progress in the season is anyone’s guess, but you can bet the other 39 drivers in the field do not want to see history repeat itself.  

Published 09 Jan 2021, 23:58 IST
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