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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott Taking Sport to New Level

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After Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s first top-five of 2017 at Texas Motor Speedway, he praised his team on Twitter, but also the success of a competitor – Wood Brothers Racing.

In an age when some fans feel NASCAR’s roots are slowly fading away, Earnhardt brings up a solid point. The No. 21 team’s success is crucial on a bigger level, though.  

Since the beginning of stock car racing, superstars have come and gone in waves. The stories of these transitions, including Richard Petty’s last race being Jeff Gordon’s first and Earnhardt picking up much of his father’s fan base after he died in 2001 are arguably over-told, but still important points.

For some time now, it seems NASCAR as a whole, and the fans that follow it, have been searching for that next large figure. Gordon and Tony Stewart are gone. Earnhardt, the biggest name left, may renew his contract with Hendrick Motorsports this year, but still is limited in time.

NASCAR has many recognizable personalities. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson are just a handful of names synonymous with the sport today. However, some of NASCAR’s best periods were among times where iconic figures overshadowed the rest. Petty may have lapped the field in a race that today would be labeled as boring, but many were still watching his every move and rooting him on.

It is no secret that NASCAR has been struggling in its attempt to attract a new, younger audience without losing their core fan base. For Ryan Blaney, there is the opportunity to encapsulate both of those goals. Driving for such an iconic team– and doing it successfully – is a major plus for fans that recall the car’s frequent contention for race wins back in the day.          

The driver, alternatively, is a fresh face. He is the social media guru, frequently interacting with fans on Twitter, Snapchat and through a recently launched and slightly edgy podcast titled “Glass Case of Emotion.” The podcast, a new initiative from NASCAR.com, comes with an offensive language warning message and showcases his personality better than any television interview could.

However, Blaney is not the only one mixing up the landscape. Chase Elliott is going down a similar path. As the son of Bill Elliott, he has the name. As the driver of the famous No. 24, he has additional recognition. Add youth, being in tune with pop culture and interactive with fans just like Blaney, and you have the perfect ingredients for superstardom.

Last August in Watkins Glen, both Blaney and Elliott, good friends, asked on social media for fans to join them in the infield to play soccer. Taking those initiatives is praiseworthy and does not go unnoticed by fans, especially ones just being introduced to auto racing.

There are many young drivers with the skill level to be a big name in NASCAR. Many of them will get there. However, new faces are often overhyped and unable to reach superstar level or even become recognizable. Without even scoring a victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – and they eventually will – Blaney and Elliott are already proving they have what it takes to carry the sport on their shoulders and stand out from the rest.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @TravisBarend

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Travis Barend

A 2016 graduate of SUNY Oswego in upstate New York, Travis Barend now resides in the New York City area, where he is a public relations intern for Highwire PR, an agency that works with high-tech, disruptive brands. As a contributor to POPULAR SPEED, Travis continues his journey of motorsports writing, which began in his high school days when he created his own blog specifically about the topic. Later taking positions with SpeedwayMedia.com and Eutechnyx, a former NASCAR video game developer, Travis improved his writing ability and knowledge of the sport. As both a public relations specialist and an avid motorsports writer, Travis strives to continue his professional development to one day work in the sports and entertainment industry.