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Does NASCAR Need Young Talent?

August 8, 2013

I am hearing more and more about how NASCAR needs some new blood in the sport. The sport is making no secret that it wants to attract a younger fan base. Finding some new young faces that can win races would make that objective easier.

The average age of drivers in the top 10 in the standings is close to 37 years old. That is four years older than in 2008. Led by Greg Biffle, who will turn 44 in December, four drivers in the top 12 who would make the Chase if it started today are over 40 and 11 are 33 or older. Kyle Busch, 28, is the baby of the bunch,

Even Jeff Gordon is getting old. He turned 42 last weekend and should have actually won the race at Pocano. At least he can still contend for a win now and then.

As the sport tries to attract a younger fan base, the top talent keeps getting older with no signs of that changing.

One of my favorite drivers of all time, Bobby LaBonte, is older yet. I know I am not the only fan of his who is getting tired of seeing him finish 25th or worse on a weekly basis. How about bringing someone new in?

Not since Jimmie Johnson came onto the scene in 2002 has there been a young driver who successfully and consistently challenged the old guard for titles. And he was not all that young. Remember? Johnson was 26 and he arrived with little notoriety.

Before Johnson, it was Tony Stewart, who was also 26 at the start of the 1998 season. Not since a 21-year-old Gordon entered NASCAR’s top series in 1993 has a driver in his early 20s become dominant.

People talk of Brad Keselowski being the next young gun. True, he was the championship last year. But he was 28 years old last season and is winless this year. Keselowski may not even make the Chase this season.

It looked like Kyle Busch had the makings of being the young superstar the sport needed when he entered the top series in 2005. But he’s yet to finish better than fifth in the standings and hasn’t won one of the major races:  the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400.

Personally, I agree that the sport needs a young, hot superstar to challenge Johnson, a five-time champion and the current points leader, if it wants to grow.

More Manziel

Another day, another allegation concerning Johnny Manziel. The latest may be the most serious yet.

ESPN followed reports from Sunday and Monday about the Heisman Trophy winner with revelations from an “East Coast autograph broker” who said he had paid Manziel $7,500 in January for signing “approximately 300 mini- and full-sized helmets.”

The latest news follows ESPN’s initial report that Manziel was paid a five-figure fee to sign memorabilia for broker Drew Tieman during his trip to the BCS Championship Game. ESPN also reported Monday that Manziel associate Nathan Fitch told a second broker that, after a lengthy free signing session, Manziel would no longer autograph items for the broker free of charge.

If the reports are substantiated, Manziel NCAA eligibility will be in serious jeopardy.

Remember, I spoke just a few weeks ago that it would not surprise me if Manziel crashed and burned. The crashing option may be closing in if he loses his eligibility. Numerous NFL scouts have stated that Manziel is not ready for the NFL at this time. And that is not taking into account all the off the field baggage that comes with him.

Manziel obviously does not believe rules apply to him. It is not like he needs the money. All the reports I have seen concerning his family is that they are quite well-to-do. As I said a while back, this is another instance of Johnny being Johnny.

A-Rod Saga

How ironic is it that Alex Rodriguez made his season debut on the same day he was suspended? Everything, it seems, is a mess when A-Rod is involved. Yes, baseball’s least-liked player played Monday night, a few hours after he and 12 other players were suspended for PED usage.

Alex A-Rod

All but Rodriguez will sit out 50 games. A-Rod, a two-time loser now, is banned through the 2014 season. Rodriguez is the lone player who is appealing the decision. Like Rodriguez these days, the appeal could get messy. You have to think he does not have a chance. MLB has enough evidence to convince the other players not to appeal.

Another reason A-Rod got a 211 game suspension is that it is alleged that he covered up his crime and tried to buy evidence. Like I said, it is messy. But you have to deal with messy if you want a sport to be clean.

Another Oden Comeback

I mentioned in these pages a few months back that former number-one draft pick, Greg Oden, was working his way toward yet another comeback in the NBA.

Oden, the number one pick in the 2007 NBA draft, will sign with the Miami Heat. There were a number of teams that expressed interest in the often-injured center who has not played in the NBA since the 2009-10 season. In the end, Oden spoke of knowing expectations will be lower with the Heat. He spoke of LeBron and company winning two titles without him. Oden likely also realizes that Miami needs size.

Actually, if Oden can remain healthy while playing 15-20 minutes a game, he will help the Heat a great deal. I checked his numbers out from 2009. Prior to being injured in game 21 that season, Oden averaged 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks while playing 36 minutes a game.

Greg Oden

I am sure Miami realizes it will not be getting that Greg Oden. I think they will be lucky if Oden is half the player he was. His injury history is unprecedented for an NBA player, but there is a chance he can make a successful comeback. After all, he is only 25 years old. And word has it that Oden is in as good of shape since high school. And he plays a position that is void of talent these days. There are not too many good, big men in the NBA these days.

What I like best about Oden’s decision is that Miami is a perfect fit for him. He will be on the court with the most star-studded team in basketball. The Heat do not need big offensive numbers from him. Oden will be asked to do what he does best; block shots, rebound, and finish at the rim. He will not have to play big minutes and can even sit out a few games if his legs remind him that he had three microfracture surgeries in five years.

Another chapter of the Greg Oden story is about to unfold. It would be nice if there is some success in this chapter.

 


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