On a baseball team, players change pretty frequently. Unless they’ve been locked down to a long-term contract, your favorite player could end up playing for your team’s bitter rival by next week. Now you must make the decision whether you’ll root for your favorite player or your favorite team.
NASCAR is different. A driver usually stays with their team for a long time. Jeff Gordon will always be with Hendrick Motorsports, as will Jimmie Johnson. Some drivers move around a lot, like AJ Allmendinger and Mark Martin. But every year, only a few drivers retire, and even then they normally only semi-retire. But what do you do when your favorite driver actually retires and you don’t see them at the track?
This is the question I had to ask myself after the 2013 season. After being a Mark Martin fan since I began watching NASCAR in 2002, I realized that after years of partial schedules I would have to find a new favorite driver to cheer for.
I decided to pick Austin Dillon, because I had been following him since he began his Truck Series career. After watching him win championships in the Truck and Nationwide series, I figured he would be a great driver to follow into the future.
But one thing I never thought of was having to measure expectations. When Mark Martin was in the car, I knew he was a threat to win every weekend. Even if he didn’t have a good car, he had the capability to dial the car in just enough to be competitive.
But Austin Dillon is a rookie, and I’ve had to realize that he won’t be able to win every weekend. I’ve had to settle with a “good finish” in the top 20. With Mark, I would be pretty upset if he didn’t finish in the top 10.
I’ve enjoyed listening to Austin on the radio every weekend. It’s been pretty interesting listening to his team work to find out what he needs to drive the car and get it to the front.
This year has been interesting so far, and I just wanted to use the first off-week to reflect on the season. It’s been exciting to see him get the finishes that he’s gotten, and I’m glad that I picked a pretty good rookie.
I’m not sure if he’ll win the Rookie of the Year since Kyle Larson has been running so well, but it will be fun to watch them race for the rest of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a win before the end of the season. Until that happens, I’ll have to continue to manage expectations and be happy with where he finishes.