In the early 80s Terry Labonte, Neil Bonnet, and Dale Earnhardt were the first of a movement of drivers to begin pushing the sport in a new direction. It was a youth movement in NASCAR, pushing the Winston brand along with the tough bad-ass race car driver.

In the early 90s, that image changed with Jeff Gordon, Jeremy Mayfield, and Jeff Burton. NASCAR’s image began to become polish, more of a Wall Street feel. As companies came in, sponsorship dollars went up. The sport changed with the changing of the guard.

In 2004, the guard changed hands again. R.J. Reynolds was out, NEXTEL was in. Along with that were drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, and Jimmie Johnson. Media savvy and commercial ready as the market was at its peak with sponsor dollars pouring in. We’ve been living in that world since and the guard is about to change hands one more time.

This change started when Joey Logano started that first race driving the 02 for Joe Gibbs Racing. And the undisputable fact its coming became clear the day Brad Keselowski won his 2012 Sprint Cup title. For anyone that doesn’t believe it with Brad’s win, it is crystal clear with Kyle Larson stepping into the 42 next year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning the pole in Atlanta, and Austin Dillon all but officially announced into the 3. They lead the wave of young talent along with Darrel Wallace Jr., Chase Elliot, Ty Dillon, Jeb Burton, James Buescher, 

Multi-generational drivers and hungry kids clawing to the top is what will be the next guard of drivers to take NASCAR into the next two decades. As Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and maybe Mark Martin (let’s be honest we got no freaking clue what the hell he’s doing), take part time rides, or even jobs in other sectors of the sport these young drivers are the future.

And that future is now and the future looks good.

It looked good the second Brad Keselowski gave that drunken championship Sports Center speech. It looked good when Joey Logano became a Chase contending driver. It looked good Ricky Stenhouse Jr won that pole at Atlanta. It looked good as Kyle Larson continues to silence critics and gain support for his run into the 42. It looked really good when Ty Dillon went spinning across the hood of Chase Elliot in Canada.

Perhaps the best the future will look when Austin Dillon is officially announced as the driver to return the 3 to Sprint Cup racing. Austin’s amazing run in Trucks and the Nationwide has made what was once a taboo topic for anyone outside of Earnhardt to drive that car, a reality.

A hole was put in many a fan’s hearts when Dale Earnhardt died. While Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. made great efforts at healing that wound, the return of the 3 and a new guard may be what’s required for the finally needed healing.

While this new youth movement is coming in, the current guard isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. It’s still Jimmie Johnson’s world and we’re just racing in it. As long as Jimmie, Junior, Smoke, and Kahne want to be here, they’ll be here.

Yet picture this if you will in a future maybe about four years away. Jeff Gordon has been retired from active full time Sprint Cup driving for two years. His predecessor in a renumbered 24 to 25 is Chase Elliot, who has just won his sixth race, edging Jimmie Johnson by now three wins.

He has put a massive 47 point lead onto Jimmie Johnson. JJ still has a shot at winning what would be his record breaking eighth Sprint Cup championship. He must go into Las Vegas (remember it’s a fantasy here people), lead the most laps, win the race and must hope Chase has mechanical issues. Jimmie does just that, he leads almost every lap and wins the race. Problem is Chase finishes in eighth and still leads Jimmie by 34 points.

Does it sound familiar? It should, it’s the same point margin and same scenario Jeff Gordon beat Dale Earnhardt by. That’s when the guard changed then.

It may be how the guard changes and it may be sooner than any of us think.

In random news:

There is apparently a NASCAR movie in the works. Until it’s topped, Stroker Ace will stand to me as the best NASCAR racing movie of all time.

2014 Pre-Season Thunder testing in Daytona’s dates have been announced. Events will go from the 9th of January to the 14th. Events are expanded to have the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series to also come down and test in Daytona.

Texas Motors Speedway announced Monday Night they were moving the Saturday Night April race to Sunday Afternoon. This was in hopes to attract fans in town for the NCAA College Basketball tournament. They also announced they are adding 218 feet wide and 94.6 wide video board on the back stretch. So the Burton Smith tracks are thinking “No, let’s not improve the racing, lets add big ass video boards!” Way to go Burton, it’s that thinking that ruined Bristol for a number of years.

Jimmy Johns is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing with Kevin Harvick. What’s funny to me is it was reported that Kevin wasn’t allowed to try and convince any sponsors to move with him, and guess what they’ve done? Quicken Loans on the flip side is moving with Ryan Newman to Richard Childress Racing. So there ya go.

Valvoline will be replacing Quaker State as the motor oil sponsor at Hendrick Motorsports. They will also be involved in the Hendrick Automotive Group in a deal similar to the one Pennzoil has with Penske.

 Kasey Kahne gave a strange and odd interview after his wreck at New Hampshire. Some were concerned Kasey may have had a health issue, turns out he was just upset and gave a crappy interview.

Brian Scott will make his cup debut driving the 33 for RCR at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Wonder bread not only is returning to store shelves, they are returning to NASCAR. They will sponsor Kurt Busch at Talladega.

Random Sports/Non Sports Thought:

Somehow a pair of red socks, that I have no clue whom they belong to got into my load of white socks……I think we all have a good idea of how that’s turned out……Shut up…..

Have a question, suggestion or witty comment? Feel free to leave one below! Don’t want to do that? Then the fastest, easiest, and quickest way to interact with me is on Twitter, @tpierc07. I also am on Facebook, but that one you have to work for. Don’t do social media? Then feel free to e-mail me at tpierc07@yahoo.com!

So until we meet again just know, I’ll be waiting for you at the next left turn at the Monster Mile of Dover!

Tyler Pierce