Tha Sports Junkies 101

BDJ’s NASCAR Hodgepodge Vol 1: NASCAR’s Other Generational Shift


Multi-generational drivers are nothing new in NASCAR. In fact, one is going on right now with Sprint Cup drivers Chase Elliott (Son of Cup champion Bill Elliott) and Ryan Blaney (Son of Dave Blaney). Several up-and-comers bear the family genes for NASCAR races as well, like Harrison Burton (Son of NASCAR on NBC analyst and former Cup Driver Jeff Burton), Todd Gilliand (Son of Front Row Motorsports driver David Gilliand), and Jesse Little (Son of former Cup driver Chad Little).

But, another hyped up generational shift occurred in the late 1990’s and into the first half of the 2000’s. Several drivers showed true potential, and even won races at NASCAR’s national level. But, were either shut of of a Cup ride, couldn’t advance far (performance, no rides or sponsorship), or in one case a life cut short. Below are several examples of the names gone by from a different generation.

Jason Jarrett: Jason is the son of 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett and the grandson of two-time champion Ned Jarrett. Between 1997 and 2000, Jarrett competed in over 40 NASCAR Busch Series events. But, his notable season season was in 2000 when his Jarrett-Farve (yes, the Ex-Packers QB Brett Farve) attempted the full BGN schedule. However, nothing came about as he DNQ’d for several races, and even when he qualified Jason lurked in the back of the field. Although he would make 2 Cup series starts (2003 & 2004) and a modest ARCA career with 2 wins and 67 top 10’s, he retired from active competition in 2005. Jason has since worked as a spotter for teams like Germain Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Richard Childress Racing.

Justin Labonte: Justin is the son of two-time Winston Cup Series champion Terry Labonte, and the nephew of 2000 champion Bobby Labonte. Justin’s career spanned over a decade in NASCAR with some decent results, but his best seasons were in the Busch Series in both 2004 & 2005 and was arguably the best in this “generational rise”. His lone NASCAR win at Chicagoland in 2004 was only one of 3 top 10 finishes during his most successful years. Although his last NASCAR race was the 2007 Craftsman Truck Series 2007 Kroger 200 at Martinsville, Justin has been active in short-track racing as of recently.

Kerry Earnhardt: Kerry is the elder son of seven-time Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt and half-brother of current Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Although he was a late bloomer, Kerry never found much luck despite his families name and at one point having industry ties with RCR and DEI. Kerry’s best BGN finish was a 2nd at Kansas back in 2002 with Fitz-Bradshaw Racing, while his best Truck Series finish was 11th (Nashville and Las Vegas) in 2006 with Thorsport Racing. He has also made 7 career Cup series starts, one with Dave Marcis’s team and six with Richard Childress Racing with a best finish of 17th back at Talladega in May 2005. He was employed by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as a consultant, specializing in driver development, until 2011. His son Jeffrey is also a current Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender with GoFAS Racing.

The Gibbs Brothers: Coy and J.D. Gibbs both were the sons of multi-NASCAR Sprint Cup championship owner and Super Bowl winning coach Joe Gibbs. Coy ran one full time BGN and 2 full Truck Series seasons between 2001-2003. He would earn 2 top 10’s in trucks, but is more notable for an incident at Martrinsville that led to the suspension of Kevin Harvick for the following day’s Cup race. Coy also had 21 top 10’s and 6 top 5’s the the NASCAR Busch Series, with a best being at Texas in 2002, finishing second. J.D. made 5 BGN starts between 1997-1999 and 8 Truck Series starts between 2000-2002. Unlike his modest brother, J.D. struggled as he only finished 2 truck and 3 Busch Series start while being marred with crashes. Both J.D. and Coy eventually traded their firesuits for business suits as they are part of their father’s day-to-day team operations to this day.

Adam Petty: Adam was the first fourth-generational driver in NASCAR history. He was the son of Kyle Petty and was widely expected to become the next great Petty, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather Richard, and great-grandfather Lee. For a while, it appeared he was destined for that path. Adam collected wins in the ASA and ARCA ranks in 1998 before making the step up to the Busch Series full time in 1999. From there, he scored 3 top fives and 4 top tens in his rookie year. In his second year, Adam struggled running mid-pack despite solid qualifying efforts. He also garnered national media attention at Texas Motor Speedway when he made his Winston Cup Series debut by becoming the 1st 4th generational pro athlete, but he blew an engine after running 215 of the 334 laps. Sadly, Adam’s life was cut short in a fatal accident during a BGN practice session for the Busch 200 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway later that same year. It was part of a dark year in the sport that also lost Kenny Irwin Jr. at the same track and Tony Roper during a Truck Series race. The Petty family opened Victory Junction Gang Camp in 2004 to honor Adam.

Conclusion: Although the sport was stacked then, several of the drivers above accomplished a lot is such short time in the sport despite either not having the opportunity to advance or had it cut short. Their impacts and influences are not forgotten even as NASCAR goes it’s current Generational change. An Earnhardt is running for Rookie of the Year thanks to the generational shift of the 90’s-2000’s and Joe Gibbs Racing have used JD and Coy as a mold for young talent such as Erik Jones.