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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Marketing of Youth Important to NASCAR’s Future – Despite Criticism

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With five big-name drivers stepping away from NASCAR over the past three years, there has been an emphasis put on keeping fans attracted, as well as trying to draw new faces. After all, who are the fans who cheered for those five competitors going to turn to now?

At the same time as veterans make their way out of the sport, a new generation of racers has arrived looking to leave their mark, ranging from Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, to Erik Jones and Christopher Bell.

As part of trying to keep fans interested, combined with possibly attracting more millennials, NASCAR has been doing more marketing efforts with their younger drivers. Many can be seen in advertisements, combined with doing events and television appearances.

Although the strategy may look good on paper, it has caused a bit of frustration in the garage, as Kyle Busch says the focus on youth has become “bothersome.”

“We’ve paid our dues, and our sponsors have and everything else, and all you’re doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver,” Busch said. “I think it’s stupid. But I don’t know, I’m not the marketing genius that’s behind this deal. You know, I just do what I can do, and my part of it is what my part is.”

Busch went on to say that part of this is probably because younger drivers are willing to do more of these events than the older drivers, as “we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that, have families, things like that, and want to spend as much time as we can at home.”

Other drivers don’t see it the same way, though.

Matthew T. Thacker NKP

“I think it’s all relative,” William Byron said. “When new guys come in, and it’s a kind of fresh thing to talk about, but we’re ultimately going to have to prove ourselves on the racetrack and do the things that we’re capable of. I think that’s going to show over time, and hopefully a couple of us young guys can win some more races.”

Jamie McMurray stated that “some seek attention more than others,” and since he isn’t one of those, he is fine with the norm. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick said the comments sounded “like the child that is whining for some attention.” Darrell Wallace Jr. added that the comments were “so dumb and so stupid.”

Blaney went as far to say that the comments upset him, saying that Busch “doesn’t like doing a lot of stuff, so that is why they don’t ask him to do a lot of stuff.”

“I would rather do something meaningful to the sport than to go sit on my couch,” he continued. “I don’t feel like I am doing anything then and feel I could be more useful somewhere else. I say no now and then. The only times I say no really is when I have my job to do –
if it will interfere with things like that. If it is just me, I try to take personal days too, but that is for vacation. Very rarely do I say no to things just to sit on my couch. I can do that at night, and I can do that when I retire.”

Brett Moist NKP

Wallace further expanded on the comments, stating that trying to get some of the well-established drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to do certain appearances is like pulling teething.

“It’s one of those things where I look at how is it going to promote my brand, promote the sport, promote the youth movement, and if I’m promoting the sport, that means I’m promoting everybody in this room, right?” Wallace added. “We’re all part of the sport together.  So it’s actually like you’re welcome for doing the dirty work.  And I wouldn’t call it dirty work because some of it’s fun.  We get to go to LA and hang out and be on Nickelodeon and doing all this stuff, and we like doing that.  I don’t have the M&M’s sponsor to carry me full‑time.  I have 13 races, so I have to put myself out there.  I have to sell myself.  And if NASCAR is going to do that and I don’t have to pay for it, hell yeah, sign me up.”

While some frustrations and mixed views have amounted, the reasoning for the latest advertising strategy is easy to understand.

If you’re trying to attract teenagers and those in their 20s, what better way than to use someone they can relate to? Furthermore, if you draw that younger age group and make them a fan, then you have them for the next several years as someone to line your pockets.

Also, by getting a fan – young or old – attracted to a more youthful driver who you assume will be involved in NASCAR for 10 to 20 years from now, you can build a bond. Just look through the years with those who continue to be Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans to this day.

As Denny Hamlin said, “It’s hard to bank and try to grow your sport off of someone that’s not going to be there in the next few years.”

He went on to add that’s why a lot of fans tend to graduate towards drivers in their first couple of years, because fan bases are grown mostly during that time, rather than the later stages.

Nigel Kinrade NKP

“I think the young guys are very lucky now that they’re coming in the sport, it’s as other drivers are leaving, so those experienced drivers have their fan base that then they want to pull for somebody else,” Hamlin said. “Most likely it’s not going to be someone that raced against their favorite driver; it’s going to be someone new that comes in. So that’s where all the fans go is to the new guys for that reason. They’re picking someone from the start just like they picked their driver that retired from the start.”

That’s why Blaney has always been one of the drivers willing to step up and do events, including recent appearances in Cars 3, Logan Lucky, and NBC’s show Taken. The Team Penske driver said he’s always been open to these opportinities because “it helps the sport, and helps yourself.”

“I just think it is really important to have not only young drivers but all NASCAR drivers trying to be pushing to get to new demographics of the world to get interested in our sport,” he added. “Whether it is young fans or new fans that don’t pay attention to it who aren’t young. That is everybody, not just young drivers that will make people appeal to the sport. I think everybody should be more open to helping the sport out because that is how it is going to survive. I am trying to do the best I can at it, and a lot of other drivers are helping too, just trying to get more and more every day.”

Over the past couple of years, a lot of questions have been asked regarding the driver turnover, and what happens to fans. Some have said that they are going to continue watching without a favorite driver, perhaps just tuning in since Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. will be in the broadcast booth. However, others have said that they will choose, or have already decided a new competitor to follow and cheer for each weekend.

The sport has withstood driver turnover before, so one has to wonder why we’re overly concerned now. It’s just another phase, and like every other one, it’ll probably go smoother than predicted. At least heading into 2018, there is some comfort looking at the line-up that remains, filled with familiar faces that have been around for 15 or more years, joined by youth that wants to leave their mark on the sport.

“I do think we’re at a point now where the driver pool that we have now is probably going to be the pool two and three years from now,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think you’ll see much turnover here in the next two to three years, so you’re going to see ‑‑ this is going to be the field for a little while, I believe.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.