LAS VEGAS — Embedded in Kyle Busch’s post-race interview after his Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory last weekend was a commentary on one of his young drivers, 18-year-old Todd Gilliland. His remarks suggested that the time to perform was now.
But two drivers who have successfully matriculated through the Kyle Busch Motorsports pipeline — Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson, both with multiple KBM wins to their names — said that the pressure on drivers still in their teenaged years is immense. But both said that’s largely owed to the system and the brief window available for drivers to establish themselves as competitive regulars.
“I think if you would’ve asked this question 20 years ago to a guy in my position, coming into the Cup Series, it’d be, ‘yeah, these guys are too young. They need to develop your skills,’ ” said Noah Gragson, who now drives in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports. “But that’s all you have these days is young guys and there’s 20 more behind me, so if I don’t get the job done, there’s 20 more that can. That just gives me more motivation and hunger and drive to be the best that I can be and work hard.
“Twenty years ago, you could have a guy who could develop his skills, spend three or four years in Cup, and then he starts winning races. Now if you don’t go into Cup your first or second year and win races, you’re out.”
Gilliland, an alum of the NASCAR Next youth initiative, sits winless in 28 Truck Series races despite competing in top-flight equipment. Busch indicated that on at least two occasions, Gilliland should have prevailed but that the chance to capitalize slipped away.
Bell shares the same developmental path as Gilliland when it comes to NASCAR’s national tours, honing his skills at Kyle Busch Motorsports. But Bell was a relative latecomer, with his Truck Series debut coming at age 20 in 2015.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It is crazy seeing how young people are,” Bell said. “I’m 24 years old and I feel like I’m one of the older guys in the Xfinity Series right now, so there’s a lot younger guys who are running Cup. I think Chase (Elliott) is younger than me and he’s been in Cup for a number of years now. It’s very interesting to see the younger guys come up. They keep getting younger and younger as well.”