The First Annual NASCAR Driver Draft
As a part of my research for another column, I came across a sentence that made me stop dead in my tracks. “But unlike most sports that have an annual draft to guarantee an influx of youth, NASCAR is at the mercy of sponsors and team owners,” wrote ESPN's David Newton. While that isn't likely to change any time soon, it made me wonder. What if NASCAR were to have a draft? Throw every active driver into the pot; who would be selected and in what order?
Original Article That Sparked This Draft
Get Jimmie Johnson's Autograph!
So herein is the first annual (completely fictional) NASCAR driver draft. Rules for the draft are fairly simple. Each team will be able to select a driver that they feel gives them the best chance for success. Draft order will be determined by lack of success in the prior year with start and park teams eliminated from eligibility. This is only for full-time, full-race operations looking to compete right now. Yes, there is a formula involved but I'll spare the readers the details; feel free to email if you're interested.
Fantasy Draft Order by Team
1. Tommy Baldwin Racing
2. Germain Racing
3. BK Racing
4. Front Row Motorsports
5. JTG-Daugherty Racing
6. Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
7. Furniture Row Racing
8. Phoenix Racing / Turner-Scott(?)
9. Richard Petty Motorsports
10. Richard Childress Racing
11. Penske Racing
12. Stewart-Haas Racing
13. Joe Gibbs Racing
14. Roush Fenway Racing
15. Michael Waltrip Racing
16. Hendrick Motorsports
The Obvious Choice
Pick One: Tommy Baldwin Racing selects Jimmie Johnson.
Five time is the easy first choice of this draft. He is the epitome of a professional driver yet has a very entertaining Twitter personae. He also comes with a built-in sponsorship as there's no way Lowe's lets someone else make Johnson their pitchman at this point. Johnson gives TBR the credibility its lacked and the ability to improve on the car throughout the day.
Pick Two: Germain Racing selects Brad Keselowski
The defending series champion is the second driver off the board. Keselowski is a young star in a sport filled with aging drivers. He's a marketable personality who could connect with any number of sponsor or fan demographics. He also is a vocal presence in the garage and isn't afraid to express his opinions. His postrace interview at Homestead on Sportscenter last year is enough all by itself to boost his spot on this list.
Brad Keselowski On SportsCenter... Priceless
Pick Three: BK Racing selects Kyle Busch
The first non-champion to be selected, Busch has proven his ability to both win races and garner headlines. A team with little success on the track won't be competing for a championship right away and BK needs someone capable of taking a lesser car and driving it to the front. Busch can do that. Plus, the commercials involving Busch and his wife Samantha virtually write themselves for the. “Home of the Whopper.”
Pick Four: Front Row Motorsports selects Clint Bowyer
Bowyer is another younger driver who has already proven his ability to run up front and make consistent finishes. He's qualified for the Chase both at MWR and with RCR so he's manufacturer-flexible. His interviews are entertaining and he has an old-school feel to how he views life that's refreshing to NASCAR fans tired of corporate personalities. His run after Jeff Gordon at last year's Phoenix race only cemented that reputation.
Pick Five: JTG-Daugherty Racing trades down with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. EGR selects Jeff Gordon.
The four-time series champion provides EGR with the stable veteran presence they've needed for years. It's also worth noting that the rivalry between Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. was one that launched NASCAR into the American sports stratosphere; it's a perfect fit for him to finish his career racing for an organization that bears Dale's name. EGR gave up the #6 slot plus an additional consideration to move up one pick.
Pick Six: JTG-Daughter Racing (via EGR) selects Dale Earnhardt Jr
JTG has to be thrilled to find themselves able to select NASCAR's most popular driver with the number six choice. The special consideration they receive from EGR? The rights to run the #8 car and Earnhardt returns to the number where he found his greatest success. It's also worth noting that Junior had far more success as the leader of a small team than he's had as a member of a super team. He may not be what he was a decade ago but Earnhardt still moves the needle.
Pick Seven: Furniture Row Racing selects Kurt Busch
In a bid to lock up the driver that's given them the greatest success they've ever known as a team, FR selects their former driver. Busch may have hoped to drop a little further to land with a more powerful team but he'll do just fine where he's at.
Pick Eight: Phoenix Racing/Turner Scott Motorsports selects Carl Edwards
Edwards is a master pitchman and he's won numerous races at the Sprint Cup level. He's also consistently been the best Roush Fenway finisher despite Ford as a manufacturer struggling on the track. No matter who the owner is they will likely be driving Hendrick equipment and Edwards will only benefit from the change.
Pick Nine: Richard Petty Motorsports selects Denny Hamlin
Hamlin may have had an awful 2013 but he's still among the best drivers in the garage. With an off season to heal up (not to mention therapy to forget the year he's had), Hamlin should once again be a contender to win several races and compete for a championship. He also brings a different perspective to a team that's struggled to find speed over its last two incarnations.
Pick Ten: Richard Childress Racing selects Matt Kenseth
Kenseth, the 2003 series champion and four time winner (so far) in 2013, slips this far mainly on the difficult he's had in finding sponsorship. Despite a good, if dry, sense of humor, Kenseth is viewed as a vanilla driver with little personality. It's not accurate but the perception has to have hurt Kenseth's sponsorship opportunities. His last year with Roush Fenway had several unsponsored rides and RFR made little effort to bring him back resulting in a move to Joe Gibbs Racing this year. If Childress can take care of the business off the track, Kenseth has the talent to make it work on track.
Pick Eleven: Penske Racing selects Austin Dillon
In a huge surprise, the team that won last year's series championship selects a driver who's never run full time at the Sprint Cup level. Yet there's a method to Penske's madness. They've had great success with Keselowski and would likely see a similar opportunity with Dillon. They're both young drivers with active personalities. Both have won series championships on lower levels. And both are from racing families eager to make their own names in the sport. Penske can mold Dillon where a more experienced driver may resist the coaching. It's a risk but the upside is huge. A great value pick.
Pick Twelve: Stewart-Haas Racing selects Tony Stewart.
Stewart, as a team owner, was not eligible for selection by another team in the first round; otherwise, he comes off the board a whole lot sooner than this pick. Smoke has a racer's heart; it's both his biggest strength and his largest weakness. But there's no way he picks anyone else even if he's at #1 overall. Stewart believes that he's going to win every time he straps in a car no matter what the type. He's right quite a lot, too.
Pick Thirteen: Joe Gibbs Racing selects Greg Biffle
JGR has found great success in 2013 by taking a Roush Fenway driver and putting him in different equipment. Why not try it again? Biffle has won at every level in NASCAR including a driver's championship at both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide levels. He also has a long time relationship with sponsor 3M and knows how to bring the car home in one piece. He may not be the most marketable driver but as the face of NASCAR's Green initiative, he's on TV a lot and sponsors tend to like that.
Pick Fourteen: Roush Fenway Racing selects Kevin Harvick
If Harvick had managed a series championship during his career, it's like “The Closer” would go much higher on this list. He's had the opportunities but the breaks just haven't fallen his way to this point. He wins races and knows how to get up front. He's also outstanding at providing feedback to help improve the car over the course of a race. That feedback is something RFR desperately needs right now as they've fallen a step behind the Toyota and Chevrolet teams.
Pick Fifteen: Michael Waltrip Racing selects Kasey Kahne
Playing the role of Aaron Rodgers circa 2005 is Kasey Kahne. He waits until nearly the end of the first round but finally hears his name called. Kahne has driven for a number of different teams during his NASCAR tenure and has Toyota experience thanks to his year with Red Bull. Kahne also has the ability to project well for different types of sponsors as he's done ads involving everything from Budweiser to the Allstate Milfs. The ones with Michael Waltrip and Aaron's would be even better.
One of Kahne's Finer Commercial Moments
Pick Sixteen: Hendrick Motorsports selects Ryan Newman
The price of being NASCAR's pre-eminent team is picking at the end of this draft and Hendrick doesn't have a lot to choose from here. Had Brian Vickers' tenure with the team gone better he would be the choice; he's relatively young but has the necessary combination of talent and experience normally successful at Hendrick. But recall Vickers wrecking teammate Jimmie Johnson and you'll understand why that won't happen again. Instead, Hendrick taps the Rocketman. Newman is already familiar with Hendrick equipment as he's run it the last several years at SHR. He also has a partial sponsorship deal with Quicken Loans that cushions the financial impact. Newman may not be a threat to win the title any longer but he's also going to qualify well, lead laps, and win a race or two per year. That's better than some current Hendrick drivers can say.
The Completely Fictional NASCAR Draft Team thanks you for coming and hopes you enjoyed your time here. What do you think? Use the comment space below to argue why your favorite driver should have been taken higher or who shouldn't have been taken at all.