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Brendan Marks: A win by the young guns is nice, but the next winner likely will be a veteran

The Charlotte Observer — By Brendan Marks The Charlotte Observer

July 11-- Before this season kicked off, it was clearly apparent what NASCAR's marketing executives had honed in on as their new, flashy, shiny storyline for 2018.

Young guns, as they've been dubbed.

Really, it was an entire crop of young, up-and-coming, promising drivers, some with strong family names and, in most cases, stronger personalities: Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and William Byron, to name a few.

Only, one problem: they haven't won.

Now, that may seem like a slight against this generation of drivers, but it isn't-only seven Cup Series drivers have won at all this season. It isn't like there's a dozen drivers all trading wins and leaving out the new guys.

But that doesn't change the fact that these young drivers haven't gotten to Victory Lane this year. And, well, not winning sort of puts a damper on that whole marketing campaign, you know?

Or at least, it did until this past weekend.

But finally, we had a breakthrough! Erik Jones won a thrilling Daytona race, narrowly edging reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. on a last-second pass on the final lap. The marketing gurus had cause for rejoice-at long last, the 22-year-old Jones had fulfilled their prophecy. Right? Right??

Not quite. Not hardly, really.

If anything, the post-race scene after Daytona provides incredible insight to the situation. Truex and A.J. Allmendinger, who finished third, were holding a joint press conference, and one reporter asked Truex if Jones' win gave young drivers any momentum (again, NASCAR reeeeally pushed that narrative preseason).

Allmendinger chimed in as Truex began to answer: "One of those three (Truex, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick) are going to win next week, so I don't know."

And there were laughs, even from Truex, and everyone moved on.

But that is the reality of the situation. Jones' win was cool from the standpoint that someone got their first Cup victory-sometimes that comes at 22, sometimes at 32. Either way, it was a nice moment, something he'll absolutely remember for the rest of his life.

As for the rest of us, though, and the impact his win has on this season? Not much.

That's because Allmendinger hit it spot on. Jones may have barely beaten Truex, but it took half the field being eliminated in wrecks, multiple late cautions and restarts, double overtime, a last-second push from behind and a near-brush against the wall to do so. Also known as, even with every single odd going Jones' way, he was only able to just get by Truex. And Daytona is one of Truex's worst tracks, too.

All of which is a longer, drawn-out version of saying: Jones' win was the exception, not the rule.

Now, it's always possible I'm wrong. It's possible the aforementioned Big 3 of Harvick, Busch and Truex suddenly stops winning, or at the very least, Jones continues to do so. But after those three have claimed 13 of the first 18 races, I'll let someone else make that bold prediction-I'll stick with tried and true, not untested.

And that's why Jones' win, albeit a touching moment, ultimately won't make much difference this Cup season. A few other young drivers, people such as Blaney and Elliott, might get their first win this year; they also may not. But much like Jones, one of their victories wouldn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

It just isn't time for the young guns to take over NASCAR ... yet.

This week's NASCAR race: Kentucky: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart.

Distance: 267 laps, or 400.5 miles.

Where: Kentucky Speedway, a 1.5-mile asphalt tri-oval in Sparta, Kentucky.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

TV: NBCSN.

Radio: PRN.

Last year's winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Also this week: Alsco 300, Xfinity Series, Kentucky Speedway, 8 p.m., Friday, NBCSN.

Worth mentioning: Because the race has only existed since 2011, it only has four winners ever: Truex, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch (twice) and Brad Keselowski (three times).

Who's Hot/Who's Not

HOT

Erik Jones: His first career Cup Series win earned him a spot in the playoffs, but now it's a matter of whether he can do anything once he's there.

Martin Truex Jr.: Another second-place finish isn't what he wanted at Daytona, but he firmly established himself as a championship contender (again).

NOT

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Not only did Stenhouse fail to finish the race at Daytona, but his aggressive driving and mistakes took out half the field-and earned him plenty of enemies.

William Byron: He led temporarily at Daytona and had good speed, but then was taken out in a wreck-and with that, his chances of making the playoffs as a rookie essentially ended.

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(c)2018 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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