NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown Provides A Spotlight On Young Talent
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2011) -- Major League Baseball has the Futures Games. Pro football has a slew of college senior all-star games. For NASCAR, the Toyota All-Star Showdown has become showcase for the sport's next generation of stars.
From NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano to this year's debut of action sports star Travis Pastrana, the 'Daytona 500 of short-track racing' is a launching pad for drivers looking to make the jump to one of NASCAR's three national series.
Saturday's race will feature series champions, international drivers and a bumper crop of young drivers looking to use the series' biggest stage to make a name for themselves.
Here's a quick look at 10 drivers that are part of the under-25 set to keep an eye on:
* Chad Boat, 18, from Phoenix, Ariz. The son of open-wheel racer Billy Boat made a pair of series starts in 2009, and is the youngest event winner of a dirt sprint car feature in USAC history.
* Max Gresham, 17, from Griffin, Ga. He finished eighth in points and had a pair of wins in the K&N Pro Series East last year, including the combination race at Iowa Speedway.
* Paulie Harraka, 21, from Wayne, N.J. The Duke University student captured the Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the K&N Pro Series West in 2009, and finished third in the series last year.
* Luis Martinez, 20, from Long Beach, Calif. The 2010 K&N Pro Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, he captured a pole award at Colorado and recorded three top five finishes en route to finishing seventh in points.
* Travis Motley, 20, from Tucson, Ariz. Will be his K&N Pro Series debut at his "home track," after competing the last three years in the Late Model Division at Toyota Speedway.
* Brennan Newberry, 20, from Bakersfield, Calif. After making his debut in last year's Showdown with a 21st-place finish, he ran three races in the West with a sixth-place finish in the finale at Phoenix International Raceway.
* Sergio Peсa, 17, from Winchester, Va. He burst onto the scene at last year's Showdown. He captured the pole award and battled Logano all race before finishing second. Peсa finished 10th in K&N Pro Series East points last year.
* Andrew Ranger, 24, from Roxton Pond, Que. The two-time NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion won twice in the K&N Pro Series - both on road courses - and will be making his third Showdown.
* Michael Self, 20, from Park City, Utah. Finished eighth in points and narrowly lost out to Martinez for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
* Darrell Wallace Jr., 17, from Mobile, Ala. After becoming the youngest winner in the K&N Pro Series with his win in the East opener at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway, he captured the Sunoco Rookie of the Year and finished third in series points.
That doesn't include a couple of other young notables: NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Steve Wallace, 23, and Pastrana, 27. Wallace will follow up his run in the Showdown with a start in the Daytona 500, while Pastrana has announced he will make his Nationwide debut in July at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
Since NASCAR lowered the age-limit from 18 to 16 for its developmental series in 2007, the influx of talent has increased considerably. The trend was spotlighted that year when then 17-year-old Joey Logano held off a late charge from Peyton Sellers, who was celebrating his 24th birthday, to win the Showdown.
That race also saw Brian Ickler finish sixth and Justin Lofton 29th. Ickler was part of the Kyle Busch Motorsports team that won owner points championship in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last year, while Lofton is teammates with championship driver Todd Bodine at Germain Racing.
The race moved to January for the following edition and in the first month of 2009, Logano and Sellers again battled for the win. Logano was penalized after a last-lap pass attempt of Sellers resulted in a multi-car accident. Slipping through the wreck to finish second was Trevor Bayne, who will run a partial NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule with the Wood Brothers this year. Also in the event was motocross star Ricky Carmichael, who would graduate from the K&N Pro Series to the Camping World Truck Series that year.
In addition to Logano and Peсa, last year's Showdown included a fourth-place finish by Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Matt DiBenedetto and a ninth-place run by Harraka. Ryan Truex, who captured his second straight NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title and is moving up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Michael Waltrip Racing, got caught up in an accident and finished 26th in the Showdown.
This year's event will air live on SPEED and Sirius NASCAR Radio, which provides yet another opportunity for the sport's next wave of drivers to make an impact in front of a national audience.
And it's a chance for fans a unique glimpse at the sport's impressive future.