It’s not uncommon for NASCAR drivers to be much older than the stars of the other major American sports leagues. But throughout its long history, many drivers in their late teens and early 20s have graced the Cup Series. Knowing this, you may wonder who the youngest NASCAR drivers are.
The 12 youngest NASCAR drivers ever are:
- Donald Thomas (17)
- Bobby Hillin Jr (17)
- Kyle Busch (18)
- Joey Logano (18)
- Erik Jones (18)
- Kyle Petty (19)
- Chase Elliot (19)
- Trevor Bayne (19)
- Adam Petty (19)
- Ty Gibbs (19)
- Brian Vickers (19)
- Rob Moroso (20)
Below, we will reveal the youngest active NASCAR driver, before we discuss who the youngest NASCAR driver to start a Cup Series race was. We will also discuss the youngest race winners and champions in NASCAR, before we touch on whether there is a minimum age in the Cup Series.
Who Is The Youngest Active NASCAR Driver?
Ty Gibbs, grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, is the youngest active NASCAR driver, at age 20. He made his Cup Series debut in 2022 at the age of 19, making him one of the youngest NASCAR drivers to ever start a Cup Series race. He drives the number 54 car for Joe Gibbs Racing.
NASCAR is a sport where drivers are getting younger. And in the 2020s, it’s not uncommon to see a driver in their late teens or early 20s take to the track with a full-time ride. And that’s what you see with the youngest full-time driver on the circuit today. Ty Gibbs won the NASCAR Xfinity Championship in 2022, and he now races full-time in the Cup Series.
Gibbs replaces Kyle Busch in the renumbered 54 car, a number that has since become synonymous with Gibbs’ young NASCAR career. While Gibbs will be filling some big shoes in replacing Busch, the two have many similarities. Busch was 19 when he ran his first Cup Series season, the same age Gibbs was when he raced in 2022 as a fill-in driver.
Who Is The Youngest NASCAR Driver To Start A Race?
The youngest NASCAR driver to ever start a race was Donald Thomas, who started the 1950 Martinsville race at just 17 years old. This record will remain in place as long as NASCAR mandates that drivers be at least 18. He won one Cup Series race, and his NASCAR career ended at the 1956 Langhorne race.
NASCAR is classically a sport where drivers of older age often got the nod over their younger counterparts. For example, NASCAR greats like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Tony Stewart did not start their first Cup Series races until they entered their late 20s. Jeff Gordon, who ran his first race in 1992 at age 21, was a major outlier. So was Dale Earnhardt Sr, who was 23.
However, there were even younger outliers in the past. On rare occasions, drivers as young as 17 could start a NASCAR race, and the youngest to start a race was Donald Thomas in 1950, just under two months before his 18th birthday. Thomas beats out Bobby Hillin Jr, also 17 in his first start, by mere days to claim the title of youngest NASCAR driver ever.
Thomas started 76 races between 1950 and 1956. The younger brother of former NASCAR Champion Herb Thomas, Donald notched one career win, 37 top ten finishes, and a career-best ninth place finish in the points in 1952. He also logged one career pole.
The 12 Youngest NASCAR Drivers Of All Time
1. Donald Thomas
Active: 1950-1956 | Age At First Race: 17 years, 315 days | Wins: 1 | Championships: 0
Years before NASCAR mandated a minimum age (see the next section), Donald Thomas secured a ride at just 17. He raced in just 79 events between 1950 and 1956, but he tallied one win and 37 top ten finishes. His win at Lakewood, Atlanta in 1952 made him the youngest driver to win a race in Cup Series history until Kyle Busch broke the record in 2005.
In the race, Thomas’ brother Herb was leading, but a mechanical failure forced the elder sibling to end his day early. Donald took the lead and never looked back!
2. Bobby Hillin Jr
Active: 1982-2000 | Age At First Race: 17 years, 317 days | Wins: 1 | Championships: 0
Bobby Hillin Jr gained the attention of NASCAR team owners when he was 16, but he made his Cup Series debut less than 2 months before his 18th birthday at North Wilkesboro. Starting in 1984, he signed with the Stavola Brothers and ran for seven seasons with the team, finishing in the top ten in points in 1986.
During his time with Stavola Brothers, he notched his only career win, which occurred in 1986 at the Fall Talladega Race. After leaving Stavola Brothers, Hillin became a journeyman driver, floating between part-time and full-time with 14 different teams.
3. Kyle Busch
Active: 2004-present | Age At First Race: 18 years, 73 days | Wins: 60 | Championships: 2
Kyle Busch’s career was supposed to begin in November 2003, but his entry was withdrawn. He instead made his first career start for Hendrick Motorsports at age 18 in 2004, before he moved up to race full-time in 2005. Since then, Busch has been one of the faces of NASCAR, notching 60 wins between his time at Hendrick Motorsports and later Joe Gibbs Racing.
He was also the youngest pole sitter in NASCAR history when he won the spot for the 2005 Auto Club Race. For 2023, Busch moved to his third team, Richard Childress Racing, a team searching for its first championship since Dale Earnhardt won what was then the Winston Cup in 1994.
4. Joey Logano
Active: 2008-present | Age At First Race: 18 years, 113 days | Wins: 31 | Championships: 2
Joey Logano is one of NASCAR’s most accomplished stars and his career started at age 18, when he finished 32nd at the 2008 Sylvania 300 driving for Hall of Fame Racing. He made two more starts that season, one with Hall of Fame Racing and another with Joe Gibbs Racing, who he would race full-time for starting in 2009.
Logano struggled during his early seasons, as he was still just 18 when he began the 2009 season in the #20 car that Tony Stewart made so famous. He scored his first top ten finish in the points in 2012, and has been one of the most successful NASCAR drivers since, notching a first championship in 2018, before he scored his most recent in 2022.
5. Erik Jones
Active: 2015-present | Age At First Race: 18 years, 344 days | Wins: 3 | Championships: 0
Erik Jones ran his first Cup Series race just weeks before his 19th birthday at the Kansas Speedway in 2015. Since then, Jones hasn’t been at the top too much, but he does have three Cup Series wins and 78 top ten finishes to his name. He has also been a bit of a journeyman in NASCAR, having raced for Joe Gibbs, Furniture Row Racing, and Petty GMS Motorsports.
Despite his limited success in NASCAR, Jones holds the distinction of winning the Southern 500 twice, once in 2019, and again in 2022. Unfortunately, he did not make the NASCAR playoffs that year, so the Southern 500 win did not advance him closer to a championship.
6. Kyle Petty
Active: 1979-2008 | Age At First Race: 19 years, 64 days | Wins: 8 | Championships: 0
Kyle Petty grew up watching his father, Richard Petty, dominate the Cup Series during the 1960s and 1970s. He got his first start at the 1979 Talladega 500 and finished ninth. Petty primarily raced part-time until 1981, remaining with the family team, Petty Enterprises, until his career stabilized toward the mid-1980s.
His career never materialized to match his father’s success. However, Kyle Petty enjoyed a remarkable run during the greater part of the 1980s, when he spent time with the Wood Brothers, placing ninth, 10th, and 7th between 1985 and 1987. He achieved a career-best fifth-place finish in 1992 and 1993 as a member of SABCO Racing.
7. Chase Elliott
Active: 2015-present | Age At First Race: 19 years, 121 days | Wins: 18 | Championships: 1
Chase Elliott is the son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, so when your name is attached to one of the sport’s greatest, you have some big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, many drivers like Kyle Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr, among others, never reached the pinnacle on which their fathers stood. Elliott made a good start on that though, when he notched his first career championship in 2020.
Upon winning the NASCAR Championship, he and Bill became the third father-son duo in NASCAR history to win it all. They joined Lee and Richard Petty, and Ned and Dale Jarrett. Elliott has also been a regular championship contender since his Cup Series career began in 2016.
8. Trevor Bayne
Active: 2010-2018 | Age At First Race: 19 years, 261 days | Wins: 1 | Championships: 0
Trevor Bayne isn’t just one of the youngest NASCAR drivers of all time, as he is also the youngest winner of the Daytona 500, having won the race one day after his 20th birthday. Bayne, however, made his first career Cup Series start in 2010, at age 19, and he went on to make 187 Cup Series starts.
Unfortunately, his 2011 Daytona 500 win was the high water mark of his career, and he never saw Victory Lane again. Bayne also did not race full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series until 2015 when he signed with Roush Fenway Racing. He notched a career-best 22nd in the points standings in 2016 and 2017, before his Cup Series career ended following the 2018 season.
9. Adam Petty
Active: 2000 | Age At First Race: 19 years, 267 days | Wins: 0 | Championships: 0
The son of Kyle Petty and grandson of Richard Petty, Adam Petty competed full-time in the Xfinity Series in 1999 and for the first part of 2000. During this time, he made one Cup Series start in the #45 car, which officially made him one of the NASCAR Cup Series’ youngest drivers.
Petty finished 40th in that race because of engine failure, but until then, he ran a competitive race. The plan was to race Petty for a few more races before potentially moving him up to full-time in 2001. Unfortunately, he was killed just a month later during a practice session at New Hampshire when his throttle stuck, and he struck the cement wall at near full-speed.
10. Ty Gibbs
Active: 2022-present | Age At First Race: 19 years, 293 days | Wins: 0 | Championships; 0
Ty Gibbs got his first start in the Cup Series to fill in for an injured Kurt Busch. And while he didn’t light up the Cup Series in the same way that he did the Xfinity Series, he still fared well over his first 15 starts. Ty Gibbs is now racing for his grandfather’s team, Joe Gibbs Racing, and he has potential to evolve into NASCAR’s next prodigy.
In his first 51 career Xfinity starts, he notched 11 wins and 33 top ten finishes en route to winning the 2022 Xfinity Championship in his first full season. He also won in his very first Xfinity start at the Daytona Road Course in 2021.
11. Brian Vickers
Active: 2003-2016 | Age At First Race: 19 years, 352 days | Wins: 3 | Championships: 0
Brian Vickers got his first Cup Series start just weeks before his 20th birthday in 2003. When the 2004 season rolled around, he found himself racing full-time in the #25 car for Hendrick Motorsports, but he often underachieved for one of NASCAR’s most distinguished teams. He notched one career win with Hendrick, which occurred during the 2006 season.
He later raced for Team Red Bull, where he secured his second career win in 2009 on his way to a career-best 12th place finish in the standings. Vickers later raced for Michael Waltrip Racing. He also filled in for Denny Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, and for Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2016.
12. Rob Moroso
Active: 1988-1990 | Age At First Race: 20 years, 13 days | Wins: 0 | Championships: 0
Rob Moroso was the son of drag racer and businessman Dick Moroso, and he became an instant hit in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, then called the Busch Series. After six wins, 42 top tens, and a championship in the series, Moroso moved up to the Cup Series in 1988, just weeks after his 20th birthday, driving for Hendrick Motorsports.
But his career did not pan out, and he scored just one top ten finish racing under his father’s team, Moroso Racing. Four days after turning 22, Moroso was killed while driving under the influence in a crash that also killed another driver. This occurred following a reckless stint that Moros had behind the wheel of road cars, where he was involved in two previous rollover crashes.
Is There A Minimum Age For NASCAR Drivers?
There is a minimum age for NASCAR drivers, as you must be at least 18 years old to race in the Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series. To race in a regional touring series, like the K&N Pro Series East and West, plus the Whelen Modified Tour, the minimum age is 15.
The minimum age of these series used to be 18, but NASCAR lowered the age to 16 in 2007. Joey Logano, one of the youngest drivers to start a NASCAR race, took advantage of the new rule and took the championship in the K&N Pro Series East just one year before he stepped into his first Cup Series ride.
NASCAR also allows 14-year-olds into the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series’ entry-level divisions via a Learner’s Permit. These changes allow young drivers to gain experience in NASCAR’s lower level divisions at the earliest age possible. This means we could see some of these drivers enter Cup Series cars in the future.
The 10 Youngest NASCAR Race Winners
|Driver||Active||Age at First Win||Wins|
|Joey Logano||2008-present||19 years, 35 days||31|
|Trevor Bayne||2010-2018||20 years, 1 day||1|
|Kyle Busch||2004-present||20 years, 125 days||60|
|Donald Thomas||1950-1956||20 years 129 days||1|
|Fireball Roberts||1950-1964||21 years, 205 days||33|
|Erik Jones||2015-present||22 years 38 days||3|
|Bobby Hillin Jr||1982-2000||22 years, 52 days||1|
|Richard Petty||1958-1992||22 years, 241 days||200|
|Jeff Gordon||1992-2016||22 years, 298 days||93|
|Brian Vickers||2003-2016||22 years, 349 days||3|
Joey Logano is the youngest driver to win a race in Cup Series history at 19 years and 35 days old. The win came at the 2009 New Hampshire Race, and it marked Logano’s only win for the first three seasons of his Cup Series career. Logano would notch his second Cup Series win at the 2012 Pocono Race during his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
The 10 Youngest NASCAR Champions
|Driver||Active||Age at First Championship||Championships|
|Bill Rexford||1949-1953||23 years, 219 days||1|
|Jeff Gordon||1992-2016||24 years, 100 days||4|
|Chase Elliott||2015-present||24 years, 346 days||1|
|Kurt Busch||2000-present||26 years, 109 days||1|
|Richard Petty||1958-1992||27 years, 40 days||7|
|Joey Logano||2008-present||28 years, 178 days||2|
|Tim Flock||1949-1961||28 years, 189 days||2|
|Herb Thomas||1949-1962||28 years, 233 days||2|
|Brad Keselowski||2008-present||28 years, 280 days||1|
|Kyle Larson||2013-present||29 years, 99 days||1|
NOTE: We’ve used the date of the last race in each driver’s first championship-winning season to determine how old they were when they were crowned champion.
Although NASCAR has grown younger in recent seasons, the youngest champion of all time is Bill Rexford, who won the championship in just his second season at 23 years old. His record is remarkable, not only given his age, but also the fact it has stood for over seven decades, since he won the title in 1950.
Kurt Busch no longer races full-time, but he is still considered an active driver, making him the youngest active driver to win a NASCAR championship. The youngest active full-time driver to win the championship is Chase Elliott, who won the Cup in 2020 at age 24.
Average Ages Of NASCAR Drivers Over The Years
Graph Of NASCAR Driver Ages Over The Years
Why The High Average Age?
The average age in NASCAR has hovered between 31 and 39 since 1980, placing it significantly higher than what you see in the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. One reason is that, in NASCAR’s older days, many drivers did not begin their Cup Series careers until a later age given the ample amount of driving experience most team owners looked for.
Therefore, it was normal to see the average age encroach the 36 to 39 range between 1980 and 2003. However, the average age has not reached 36 since the 2003 season, hovering between 31 and 35. In NASCAR’s most recent seasons, the average age of its drivers has only gotten younger, between 31 and 33 since owners now look for younger talent they can rely on for years to come.
NASCAR has traditionally been a sport that favors the older, more experienced veteran, though the average age of Cup Series drivers has dropped substantially since 2004. Despite being a sport where the average age has historically been between 31 and 39, NASCAR has seen drivers as young as 17 make starts in the Cup Series, before they implemented the minimum age rule.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.