Commentary

Pros and cons of raising minimum driver age in Cup roll through garage

Drivers have divergent views on the need for raising the minimum age for Sprint Cup drivers to 21.

Updated: January 20, 2008, 8:43 PM ET
By Mark Ashenfelter | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brad Coleman hopes to make his Sprint Cup debut later this season with Hall of Fame Racing, then run the full Cup schedule in 2009 as a teammate of J.J. Yeley's. Normally, sponsorship is the biggest hurdle a driver must face when an organization is looking to expand.

Kevin Harvick

I think the Cup series comes with so many different pressures than [Nationwide] and truck, and when you get that 18 to 21 gap there, I guess you can take in a lot of the surroundings [by staying in truck or Nationwide] that you wouldn't necessarily get to take in if there wasn't that age requirement.

-- Kevin Harvick

Such hurdles can be overcome. Coleman, however, might find an insurmountable hurdle in his path if NASCAR enacts a rule this season requiring that a driver must be 21 to run in the Cup series. The change NASCAR has begun discussing with teams -- a common practice as the sanctioning body looks to gather various perspectives before altering a rule -- would not affect the Craftsman Truck or Nationwide series.

Drivers currently must be 18 to run in any of NASCAR's three national series.

Coleman, who will run the full Nationwide schedule with Baker Curb Racing, turns 20 on Feb. 26, meaning such a rule would keep him out of a Cup car this season and also would force him to miss next year's Daytona 500, which will be held earlier in the month.

"I was a bit surprised because NASCAR already has their qualification system for being able to qualify [to race on] intermediate tracks or short tracks or big superspeedways like this one," Coleman said Friday during Nationwide testing at Daytona International Speedway. "If they [enact the rule], I don't know when they'd [do] it, but I'm sure it would be before the year's over or before the year starts and I wouldn't be able to do the seven races. And next year I'd have to miss the Daytona 500 … so it would be really tough.

"I think if a driver is qualified … if NASCAR qualifies him to do it, he should be allowed to do it. … I wouldn't get to do those seven [Cup] races, and I think they are crucial just to get used to the Sprint Cup Series and what it would be like [in 2009]."

At 22, Cale Gale doesn't have to worry if NASCAR enacts a new age requirement, but he, too, isn't sure one is necessary. Gale will be running a part-time schedule with Kevin Harvick Inc. in the Nationwide Series and points out that age hasn't kept some drivers from running well at the Cup level.

"I feel like there's been guys who have come in here -- Kyle Busch is one of them -- who have run pretty good in the Cup series right off. I feel like if you show what you can do in the Truck series and the Nationwide Series [and] if you've got good car control and you can run good, I feel like you should get the opportunity at 18 to do it," Gale said. "… [And] it's not common to see a guy ready to go Cup racing before he's 21. We'll see whatever they come up with, [but] I'm sure it'll be the best decision that they can make."

Kevin Harvick disagrees with the driver he employs and thinks the rule could prove beneficial. Harvick was 25 when Dale Earnhardt's death in the 2001 Daytona 500 led to Harvick's elevation to Cup a week later at Rockingham.

Granted the unique circumstances of that transition increased the focus on Harvick, but the sport also has grown over the past seven years. That's the main reason Harvick would support such a rule.

"I think the Cup series comes with so many different pressures than [Nationwide] and truck, and when you get that 18 to 21 gap there, I guess you can take in a lot of the surroundings [by staying in truck or Nationwide] that you wouldn't necessarily get to take in if there wasn't that age requirement.

"So I think that would be a good thing as far as the maturity factor of just being able to take on Cup racing because with the sponsor commitments and just the amount of everything that comes with it, it's just a whole different level and you get some of that [as preparation] in the Nationwide Series."

Joking that he'd like to see the requirement raised to 35 years old to help drivers such as himself find a Cup ride, Mike Wallace agrees with Harvick that there could be something to gain by raising the age limit to 21.

"There's some arrogance in 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids out there," Wallace said. "Yeah, they're fast. [But] this is a professional series, the Sprint Cup Series is the elite of the elite and you should represent yourself that way. … What's the difference? You're 21 years old and you get a chance to go run a Sprint Cup car, what could be better than that?"

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.

• Ashenfelter is an Event News Editor at ESPN.
• Worked at NASCAR Scene for eight years.
• Has covered NASCAR since 1999.

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