Remember NASCAR‚Äôs 2018 Youth Movement?
The bloom came and went before spring. That‚Äôs racin‚Äô, as they say.
Somewhere in a file cabinet, within the walls of NASCAR‚Äôs marketing department, dust is thickening on plans to capitalize on the wave of 20-somethings who were mounting a charge to take stock-car racing into a brand new era.
In February, Daytona‚Äôs Speedweeks was the launching pad. When a 27-year-old racer (Austin Dillon) won the Daytona 500, with a 24-year-old (Bubba Wallace) finishing second, it was all-systems-go.
Since then? Not so much.
Through 17 races in NASCAR‚Äôs big-league Cup Series this year, only two winners have been under 30 ‚ÄĒ Dillon at Daytona, Joey Logano at Talladega (he was 27 at the time). And those two can‚Äôt be considered part of the new wave, since they have a combined 15 full-time seasons in the Cup Series.
The other 15 races have been won by the still-very-formidable Old Guard:
‚ÄĘ¬†Kevin Harvick, 42, in his 18th season: Five wins.
‚ÄĘ¬†Kyle Busch, 33, in his 14th season: Five wins.
‚ÄĘ¬†Martin Truex Jr., 38, in his 13th season: Three wins.
‚ÄĘ¬†Clint Bowyer: 39, in his 13th season: Two wins.
Immediately after the Daytona 500 wrapped up a Speedweeks that also saw two ‚Äúkids‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Ryan Blaney (24) and Chase Elliott (22) ‚ÄĒ win the 150-mile qualifying races, Harvick dammed the wave. In the season‚Äôs second race, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the veteran dominated and, without gloating, explained why.
‚ÄúThis is a racetrack that takes a lot of experience,‚ÄĚ he suggested. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a lot of things that you have to know about your car and know about the racetrack to get the car around.
‚ÄúThis is where experience pays off.‚ÄĚ
Well, the payments from experience kept coming after that.
From an overall marketing point of view, for a sport in need of a PR jolt, that‚Äôs a shame. Major-league sports thrive on rivalries, and the Young-vs.-Old battle that was going to define 2018 may have died on the vine.
It sure started in provocative fashion, with Busch (known for his sometimes prickly demeanor) lighting the fuse in the preseason. When asked his opinion of all the attention shining on the youngsters, Busch turned on his certain brand of charm.
‚ÄúIt is bothersome,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve paid our dues … and all you‚Äôre doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver. I think it‚Äôs stupid. But I don‚Äôt know, I‚Äôm not the marketing genius that‚Äôs behind this deal.‚ÄĚ
At least two of the young drivers ‚ÄĒ Blaney and Wallace ‚ÄĒ fired back, with Blaney blaming Busch‚Äôs own demeanor for his perceived lack of preseason attention. The promotional opportunities are there for all, Blaney suggested, if only Busch would be a willing participant more often.
‚ÄúI feel like if some drivers were more willing to do these things, they‚Äôd get asked more to do it,‚ÄĚ Blaney said in January. ‚ÄúThe reason why I get asked more to do it a lot is because I say yes a lot. I can tell you personally, he (Busch) doesn‚Äôt like doing a lot of stuff. And that‚Äôs why they don‚Äôt ask him to do a lot of stuff.‚ÄĚ
It was going to be fun, or so we thought. But the generational feud didn‚Äôt even make it to March.
Some of the blame goes to the longtime gold-standard of NASCAR teams, Hendrick Motorsports, which is severely off-stride this year compared to its norm. Three of the four Hendrick drivers ‚ÄĒ Elliott, 20-year-old William Byron and 25-year-old Alex Bowman ‚ÄĒ are all winless and sit between 14th and 21st in the current points standings.
Results have been below hopes and expectations throughout the youth camp.
‚ÄĘ¬†Blaney is 10th in points with just three top-fives.
‚ÄĘ¬†Elliott is 13th in points.
‚ÄĘ¬†Erik Jones (22) is 14th in points with just one top-five.
‚ÄĘ¬†Bowman is 15th in points with one top-five.
‚ÄĘ¬†Daniel Suarez (26) is 18th with one top-five.
‚ÄĘ¬†Dillon is 19th despite the win.
‚ÄĘ¬†Byron is 21st with just one top-10.
‚ÄĘ¬†Wallace is 24th with one top-10 since his runner-up at the Daytona 500.
‚ÄĘ¬†Chris Buescher (25) is 25th with one top-10.
But keep the faith, we‚Äôre told. Their day will come. Who said that? Kyle Busch, of all people. Of course, he‚Äôd just won the race at Pocono last month and was perhaps feeling charitable, but still, he offered some assurance to the Youth Movement and those who plan to exploit its marketing potential.
‚ÄúI think the young guys are on the brink, they‚Äôre on the cusp,‚ÄĚ Busch said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just a matter of when that happens.‚ÄĚ