Opinion: Top Talent
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on December 14, 2016 | 9:04 A.M. EST
If the top names in NASCAR were all available as free agents, what would the pecking order look like? (Photo: Getty Images)
What driver would command the biggest attention if they were on the open market?
The line-up for next year’s NASCAR Premier Series is all but set with only a few news faces in different places. Chris Buescher in a second ride at JTG Daugherty Racing and Erik Jones elevating himself from the XFINITY Series to team with Martin Truex Jr. in the new Furniture Row Racing entry are the significant moves for 2017.
But if the top names in the sport were all available as free agents, what would the pecking order look like? Here’s one man’s view of how the top 10 would shake out:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Assuming Earnhardt will stay healthy for the rest of his driving career there is still no bigger star in the sport. Earnhardt Jr., who has already been a free agent back when his DEI days ended and he was scooped up by Hendrick Motorsports, would again create a frenzy if he ever decided to find a new home.
He’s still relatively young despite his long tenure in the series and Busch has an impeccable resume of accomplishment not in the least is his series championship of a year ago. The stigma Busch carried with him earlier in his career as a sometimes petulant troublemaker has faded tremendously and his marketability is very solid. Busch would command top dollar from a host of suitors.
His place in the record book is already set with a seventh championship and Johnson has more than a good shot at breaking the tie he shares with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Johnson has everything a team and sponsor could want including is place as the most successful driver currently competing in the sport.
He’s come into his own since joining Team Penske and has twice gone down to the wire of winning the championship at the Homestead finale. Logano may have lost some fans with his Matt Kenseth run-in of 2015, but he’s still one of the top talents in NASCAR and has a huge upside in the marketing and promotion department as well.
Edwards is a dream spokesperson for any sponsor and has evolved into one of the sport’s most articulate personalities. He can still get it done behind the wheel as well as he’s shown with Joe Gibbs Racing since his move there two seasons ago.
The man of many nicknames can still get it done on track albeit with an old school mentality and personality. Harvick’s take no prisoners attitude still suits him well behind the wheel and he can help the right sponsor in the publicity and exposure department as well.
Similar in nature to Harvick with a little less mileage, Keselowski is a former champion who is not afraid to speak his mind or do what’s necessary (mostly within reason) on track to succeed.
The future of NASCAR arrived in style last season when Elliott won the Rookie of the Year title. He has a built-in connection to the sport’s fan base thanks to his legendary father Bill’s exploits in the sport, but Chase has already proven he can compete at the top level and the young driver will be around for some time to come.
The winner of this year’s Daytona 500, Hamlin has been successful but yet to peak into superstardom. He’s connected to the general sports world, a relationship that helps in the marketability and promotion department, and has enough talent to continue winning and at least challenge for championships in the future.
A controversial choice to be sure but should Patrick find herself no longer a member of Stewart-Haas Racing, she’d find a home in no time thanks to her notoriety and marketing prowess. Say what you want about Patrick’s lack of success at NASCAR’s top level, she is still one of the most recognizable names in all of sports.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.