The NFL Draft is next week, and football teams will attempt to shape their futures by selecting athletes who they believe can be the faces of their franchises.
That got me to thinking: What would a NASCAR Draft look like?
This is purely an exercise in imagination, of course – not a suggestion for reality – but let's say all 43 Sprint Cup Series drivers were eligible to be drafted, and every team was starting over from scratch.
The draft, held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with each pick announced by Brian France, would have 11 picks in each round (one pick for each current multi-car Cup team).
I'm a team owner of one of the multi-car teams, and I'm charged with building a team from the ground up. Which drivers would I want to draft the most?
Here are the criteria I'd be looking for (in no particular order): Talent, marketability, past accomplishments and – a big one here – enough years left in their careers to help me build my team.
Below is my driver wish list – in order – if I was starting a new race team through the NASCAR Draft:
No. 1 Pick: Kyle Busch
Why I'd draft him: Busch is the most desirable driver with which to start my team because he seems to win in whatever situation he's in. Just plug him in and go. He's still a work in progress on the public relations front, but he appears to be good with sponsors and is still so young that you could make a long-term investment in building your team around him.
No. 2 Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why I'd draft him: Not only will Johnson go down as one of the greatest drivers of all time, but he embodies the corporate, clean-cut approach to racing that most sponsors want. And since I don't plan to run the team out of my own pocket, sponsors are crucial to my operation. There's one main factor that keeps him from the top spot on this list: Age. At 35 years old, he can't keep this up forever...can he?
No. 3 Pick: Carl Edwards
Why I'd draft him: Edwards is the marketer's dream. Sponsors know they can build a major campaign around this guy – which means I could use him as the anchor for my team. He's ultra-talented and generally great with fans/people not named Keselowski. His friendly and approachable personality makes him an easy sell for sponsors.
No. 4 Pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Why I'd draft him: His performance on the track wouldn't matter much to me, as his very presence would instantly bring a flock of sponsors with him. Not to be greedy, but any new team needs an infusion of cash to get started. The parade of sponsors who would want to be associated with Earnhardt Jr. would guarantee I wouldn't have to start-and-park in my first season as a team owner. Plus, if I was able to get him back in Victory Lane, I'd be adored by millions.
No. 5 Pick: Kasey Kahne
Why I'd draft him: Age and marketability are attractive factors here, as you wouldn't think it would be too hard to find him a sponsor. Once my team got a decent-paying company to help us out, Kahne would start running well again. There's no doubt he can win with a team that's a good fit; a few early wins would do wonders to accelerate the building process.
No. 6 Pick: Jeff Gordon
Why I'd draft him: Despite his age, Gordon has retained his ability to be competitive and remains one of the most sponsor-friendly drivers. If I drafted Gordon, I'd make sure to pair him with a young, Landon Cassill-type guy in the second round so Gordon could serve as a mentor and help assure my team has a bright future.
No. 7 Pick: Tony Stewart
Why I'd draft him: Well, I almost wouldn't draft him. I'm not sure Stewart would be a good employee – he seems better in the boss role. But despite his age (he turns 40 next month), Stewart obviously still has the ability to attract high-dollar sponsors and can still win. And, as they say, you can overlook a lot of things if your team is winning.
No. 8 Pick: Kevin Harvick
Why I'd draft him: Kevin Harvick Inc. seems to be doing a good business on the sponsor side, so I'm confident Harvick would get sponsorship if I drafted him for my team. Also, the Budweiser marketing people are pretty smart and they seem to think he's a good investment, so I'd have to agree. He wouldn't be a bad guy to build a team around, but he doesn't quite carry the same clout as some other superstars.
No. 9 Pick: Trevor Bayne
Why I'd draft him: Bayne might be a bit of a gamble this high in the draft, but it's an investment in the future. Plus, given his age and lack of a resume so far (aside from one massively big win, of course), I'd hope to sign him rather cheaply. If it works out, I could have the next Jeff Gordon on my hands. To make sure he gets developed properly, I'd pair him with a veteran driver (Jeff Burton, perhaps?) who would be a nurturing teammate and help him grow.
No. 10 Pick: Joey Logano
Why I'd draft him: He's a steal at No. 10. I'm one of those who still believes in Logano's potential and talent, despite his lack of results in the Cup Series. His stock may have dropped a bit since the initial hype of his entrance into NASCAR, but he's a good guy and could be the cornerstone of my team if I put him in the right situation.
No. 11 Pick: Brad Keselowski
Why I'd draft him: The jury is still out on whether Keselowski will succeed in Sprint Cup, but he's so damn intelligent and savvy that I think he'd be a great leader for my young organization. Hopefully we would be able to sell some sponsorship for him and put him in a winning car. He still has a lot to prove, and I'd use that as motivation for my team.
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Clint Bowyer
3. Ryan Newman
4. AJ Allmendinger
5. Matt Kenseth
6. Greg Biffle
7. Jamie McMurray
8. Juan Pablo Montoya
9. Jeff Burton
10. Kurt Busch
11. Brian Vickers