The next generation of NASCAR drivers is developing throughout the three national series, and there’s a good crop of them heading into their respective 2021 seasons.
NASCAR.com’s Power Rankings guru, Pat DeCola, recently ranked the top 10 NASCAR prospects 23 years of age and younger. His No. 1 pick — spoiler — was Austin Cindric, the 2020 Xfinity Series champion who will try to defend his title with Team Penske in 2021 but already has a Cup Series ride lined up for 2022 thanks to Wood Brothers Racing.
Note: Drivers who fit the age requirement but have completed a full NASCAR Cup Series season or are slated to in 2021 were ineligible for consideration.
WAACK: Sam Mayer. This kid — and I do mean kid because he’s still just 17 years old — already has a win in a NASCAR national series event. Last year, Mayer won the Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, making him the second-youngest driver to record a victory in the division. (Cole Custer, who now races full time in the Cup Series, was 16 when he won in 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.) Mayer did it with flare, too, beating GMS Racing teammate and 2018 Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt to the finish line by a hefty 4.413 seconds. Mayer led the final 30 laps in what also happened to be the playoff opener, essentially taking away a guaranteed postseason berth from the championship-contending field.
On top of that career accomplishment, Mayer ran a full (albeit short) 2020 ARCA Menards East Series schedule and wound up as the overwhelming series champion. He won five out of the six races, and his sole non-win was a runner-up finish. Mayer also raced part time in the ARCA Menards Series last season, winning five of the 13 events in which he competed.
JR Motorsports recognized Mayer’s potential and jumped at the opportunity to sign him to its roster for the 2021 Xfinity Series season. Mayer will pilot Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 8 Chevrolet for the second half of the schedule. Then, in 2022, Mayer will take over the ride full time.
Mayer sure seems like a quick learner — and a quick winner.
WILHELM: If you had Zane Smith in your Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 last year, then you were probably in the minority. This year, though, it will be expected from the 21-year-old driver.
Not only did Smith finish runner-up in the points standings with two victories, but his inaugural Xfinity Series part-time campaign in 2019 also was an impressive one. Smith piloted the No. 8 JR Motorsports in 10 races, earning a pair of top fives and seven top 10s.
Smith is poised to give Camping World Truck Series champion and teammate Sheldon Creed, along with the rest of the field, a run for their money in his second full-time season with GMS Racing. I think he’ll pick up right where he left off with three top-three finishes to wrap up the 2020 season.
Yeah, Cindric and Mayer are quality picks, but Smith is a name we’ll be talking about for years to come.