Media Tour Day 3: To promote or not to promote?

Hey, did you see the quotes from the NASCAR Media Tour this week?

Oh boy, the barbs were flying.

Kyle Busch said NASCAR’s suddenly intense promotion of younger drivers was “stupid” and “bothersome,” adding he’s “not the marketing genius that’s behind this deal.”

Then Kevin Harvick said those comments were “like the child that is whining for some attention.” Bubba Wallace let out an exaggerated laugh and said Busch’s comments were “so dumb” and “so stupid.” Ryan Blaney said Busch was being unfair because “doesn’t want to do anything” when it comes to promoting the sport.

Wheeeee! And the season hasn’t even started yet. NASCAR!

But in reality, that summary is a very shallow interpretation of Busch’s comments — and the reaction to them.

What’s really going on here? Well, there’s a lot to it — and it’s worth exploring before making a judgment.

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Let’s start with Busch’s premise: That NASCAR is putting its promotional muscle into the younger drivers at the expense of established, successful veterans.

That seems hard to deny based on all we’ve seen and heard about Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson over the last couple seasons — and now that William Byron, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, Ty Dillon and Alex Bowman have replaced veteran drivers, the young stars seem to be everywhere.

But can you blame NASCAR if it’s leaning heavily on the new generation? The superstars all just retired in a span of a few years — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart — leaving NASCAR scrambling to keep millions of fans from feeling disconnected.

Officially, NASCAR insists it is promoting both young and veteran drivers (NASCAR executive Steve Phelps said the strategy was a “mix” of both). But it is certainly counting on the new class to carry the future.

Last May, the week after Earnhardt announced his retirement, NASCAR sent Larson, Blaney, Elliott and Jones on a media tour to New York City — and why not? There’s a lot riding on their shoulders now.

Busch, of course, has noticed — along with the rest of us — that NASCAR really wants fans to get attached to one of the new drivers so they can grow with them over the next 15 or 20 years. But Busch is wondering where that push was when he was a young driver himself.

And actually, NASCAR’s Phelps said, Busch has a point.

“Until four or five years ago, most of our marketing was about the racing itself and pretty pictures around the racing,” Phelps said. “It wasn’t about the stars of our sport.

“So do I think that’s fair. When he came into the sport and started winning right off the bat? Yeah, I think it’s a fair statement that we did not give that kind of support.”

It’s true. NASCAR didn’t give the same promotion to Busch or Denny Hamlin or Carl Edwards like it’s doing with the current crop of new drivers. You can argue the Gillette Young Guns were a thing, but that was a sponsor program — not a NASCAR initiative (it also had drivers who were established and even some in their 30s).

Even after NASCAR began focusing more on the “star power” initiative, it did so by pushing the drivers who were already big names in order to sell tickets and try to stop the bleeding with TV ratings. You can’t really fault that strategy.

But it also caused Busch’s class of drivers to get passed over, and in the process created sort of a lost generation. Now it’s too late to suddenly start convincing fans to make Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano their guy.

Hamlin said today’s young drivers are “very lucky” they’re coming in during a time where fans are actively looking for a new person to pull for. It’s sort of a clean break.

“Most likely, (a fan’s next driver) is not going to be someone who raced against their (old) favorite driver; it’s going to be someone new that comes in,” Hamlin said. “They’re picking someone from the start just like they picked their driver who retired from the start.”

There’s nothing wrong with NASCAR picking up on that, because it is trying to plant the seeds for the future — albeit a little late.

And Busch — despite his sharp-tongued comments — definitely understands that. My theory is Busch’s frustration comes from wanting the attention for his sponsor, not himself. As the years have progressed, Busch understands his livelihood is tied to M&Ms continuing to feel like it gets enough bang for its buck. That’s why he’s willing to do things like record a wacky touchdown dance on video. So if he’s in the latest NASCAR ad campaign, that gives his sponsor exposure and, in turn, helps his job security.

But there’s a second part to this whole discussion, and it’s one where the veteran drivers could take some lessons from their younger peers.

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Behind the scenes, NASCAR is always communicating with drivers and their representatives about promotional opportunities.

Would you like to do a radio hit on an Orlando sports talk station?

Would you be willing to appear on the Kansas City FOX affiliate’s morning show?

Any interest in a cameo on a new TV series that’s coming out next fall?

Want to be a voice in Cars 3?

This probably won’t surprise you, but NASCAR has much more success getting younger drivers to accept these types of invitations.

Ryan Blaney, in particular, is known as someone who says yes to most of the things NASCAR asks him to do.

Why?

“You have to think of the end game,” Blaney said. “I would rather make other people happy than myself. If I have to sacrifice time, it is just time. I would rather do something meaningful to the sport than to go sit on my couch.

“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. I want to do as much as I can right now to make it work and make other people happy and make this thing the best it can.”

So you can understand why it frustrated Blaney when he heard Busch say the younger drivers are “bullied into doing more things” for NASCAR because the veterans say ‘No’ a lot more.

“We’ve been there, done that and have families and want to spend as much time as we can at home,” Busch said.

Blaney said he agrees to those opportunities not because he’s coerced, but because “I think it is good for the sport and myself.”

“I can tell you personally 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,” Blaney said. “That kind of made me upset how he bashed that part of it. To each his own. If he doesn’t want to do anything, so be it.”

This is where the younger drivers have a major edge over their older counterparts. They’ve come into NASCAR during a period of struggle, which has given them the mindset of needing to do whatever it takes to stay relevant.

“Certain drivers…when they get to this certain level, they stop doing stuff,” Bubba Wallace said. “… It’s kind of like pulling teeth when you get well-established in the Cup Series.”

Wallace told reporters they could pinch him if he ever acts that way.

But many veteran drivers entered the sport during the glory years and have lived through the decline. So they feel discouraged, as if there’s not much one driver can do to make a difference. That makes them more likely to turn down some of the promotional work a new driver might accept.

It’s hard to fault them, either. For example: Let’s say NASCAR asked a driver to do a satellite media tour — where they sit in a studio for a couple hours and talk to various local TV stations all over the country every 15 minutes. Is that really going to do anything to impact NASCAR’s health? What about a radio spot on KISS 98.5 or 1080 The Fan?

“The reality is what I do today to promote the sport most likely makes very little difference in this time span and this era,” Keselowski said. “I am not saying it makes no difference, but very little difference.”

Keselowski emphasized he believes promoting the sport is part of his job. And his intention is to leave the sport well-stocked for the future, which he’s done in areas outside marketing — like developing future talent in his Truck Series team.

But the truth is, times have changed for everyone. The downturn many others in NASCAR have felt over the last 10 years is finally hitting drivers in their wallets. And it’s not going to get any better with the status quo.

So the drivers — both young and veteran — have two choices. They can either ride it out as long as possible without doing much, hoping to make it to retirement; or they can actively try to play a role in building NASCAR back up to help future generations receive the same sort of lucrative opportunities they’ve had along the way.

34 Replies to “Media Tour Day 3: To promote or not to promote?”

  1. So I don’t understand why Kyle is crying so loud, if, he doesn’t want to do the work!. “He” said he says no. Whereas Ryan and Bubba say yes. Soooo what is NASCAR supposed to do, just forget the marketing and see if the racing will sell itself? If Kyle is tired of the young’un’s getting all the attention then he needs to go to NASCAR and say “Hey! What about me? Let’s go, I’m ready.” Oooor he needs to shut the heck up!!!

    1. Kyle gets paid 10-15x what they do. And the kids are willing to take 10-15x less just to drive these cars. In a sense, what Kyle is saying is by lowering the value of what a driver is worth, it takes food off of his table. Now, we are comparing apples to oranges in terms of what we make, vs. them. But, he has a very valid point.

      -Imagine walking in and getting paid $10 million your first season at Hendrick in 2005. Imagine walking in and getting paid $500k for your first year at Hendrick in 2018. It lowers the value of the driver significantly. Basically, Hendrick is only paying JJ and Chase. Got Bowman & Byron for free. Which now lowers what they are willing to pay Jimmie n Chase. They just do not openly air dirty laundry.

      Also, Kyle has contributed over $100 million in his truck team to get kids going. Yes, sponsors foot most of that bill. He along with Brad have done more than the other drivers. I think Kyle is just upset at what the value is currently at for his skill set. Kybu simply has a terrible way of expressing himself along with his brother. However, he is dead set right……

      1. Ding ding ding….dead on correct. Nascar is promoting drivers that make percentages of the top driver salaries. Lower driver salaries, more sponsorship. I like Kyle and understand his annoyance, but drivers don’t run Nascar, sponsorship does.

    2. His anger stems from the fact NASCAR should be promoting more veteran drivers and needs to stop shoving embryos – a derogatory term for the young drivers that I’ve heard at least once – down our throats. NASCAR also needs to deemphasize cheesy promotion and work harder on substance – opening up passing, stopping team overspending, ending stupid gimmicks and putting racing back to a legitimate level.

  2. I liked reading this Jeff. My husband and I have been Dale Jr fans years. NASCAR will not be the same in our home. We will probably be a divided #NASCAR Home this year. #StillAnUndecidedNASCARFan

  3. You did see more of the younger drivers getting more attention,but also see they need live up to it as well. It seemed as though Danica had a lot of attention with Go Daddy then with Jr. But you know she had to drive hard to live up to that hype that was given to her. So I look at it as those newbies will have to live up to that hype given to them as well.

  4. I think Kyle Busch is right because Ryan Blaney has no kids or wife/girlfriend, and is not the owner of a race car team, so yeah to Kyle Busch’s and Jimmy Johnson’s say no a lot because they want to spend quality time with there kids and spouses doing fun things like skiing planing birthday parties and going to the beach because there are no do overs when it comes to family. Ryan Blaney has 1 win and Bubba Wallace wasn’t even that good in the xfinity series and now is in the big boy league where he’s gonna get crushed by the veterans on a weekly basis and NASCAR is busy promoting him and not Kyle Busch the guy that discovered him? Half the young guns that are in the monster energy series right now are people that Kyle discovered like Erik Jones and William Byron and Bubba Wallace as well as Daniel and Chris Bell and I think people tend to forget that. Brad K said that’s what his part is to promote the younger drivers and so far the only real success he’s had is with Blaney where as with Kyle almost every drive that goes through KBM has become a star and a champion.

    1. Both are right. I don’t have a problem with veterans turning down promotions because they want to spend time with family. However, you can’t turn down promotions AND say NASCAR isn’t promoting you.

    2. Oh, wow, i see we have a whinny Kyle Busch fan here. Give me a break. Most of the talent that he brought through the truck series, HE did not find. Most drivers were handed to him by others. And if you are following him, again, he is whinning. He is talking about shutting down his truck teams, because he isn’t getting the attention he thinks he deserves. “Taking my toys, and going home.” You can’t deny the talents of a Kyle Busch, but, you can’t take the crying baby he has ALWAYS been. Never seen someone with so much talent that just can not act like a man. THAT’S why i will never be a Kyle Busch fan.

  5. Listen up Kyle, Joey, Denny, etc…these young drivers promote the sport because they love the sport! Yes, they will drive for 1/10th the salary of the pampered few drivers because they love to drive the cars and have respect for NASCAR and hope to be a part of NASCAR turning around the popularity of the sport. If NASCAR were to rely on the ego of Kyle, Joeyand Brad the sport will continue to decline, seats will remain empty, and viewers will turn off the races permanently. I honestly believe this young group of drivers are doing every thing in their power to help sustain and grow the racing sport. I say Good Luck and God’s speed in doing just that!

  6. I’m coming at this as a 100% casual fan…but I get where all the drivers are coming from, but I think the vets are right, they’re just missing the bigger conclusion.

    NASCAR is the problem. They’re not growing the business, rather they’re clinging to what they have. The fans that have hung in through the long careers of retiring guys will certainly pick somebody new. They’re too invested to walk away…and them alone is not enough to thrive anyway

    However, I believe there are folks like me who really haven’t been sold by the standard operating procedure of the “star driver”, folks who could be won over by a larger team promotion…and honestly the behind the scenes drama that leads up to the race.

    Take Busch: if as “star driver” he’s undersold in marketing despite his track success, then help him. Give him a deeper bench. New, casual fans are going to be band wagon jumpers, so NASCAR can market the young guys, but if Busch is beating them, all they get are existing fans whose driver retired….not the new or casual fan. But if you let me know his crew, introduce me to his team, then maybe they make me care about Busch.

    I know it’s old, cliche, etc but call it The Days of Thunder marketing theory: If the movie is just about Tom Cruise, it’s very one note…but it’s not just about him, it’s about Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, John C. Reilly, the dude from Princess Bride. So apply it to NASCAR today: Maybe I think Cruise is a d*ck, but I root for the old crew chief on his last run, the upstart owner facing long odds, the young crew member who contributes…or I like the guy who’s hated by all of them because that’s how much I don’t like them.

    I’m just saying NASCAR has sold drivers for decades and they hit their peak, but have been receding since…so stop doing the same stuff that worked 20 years ago and evolve.

    1. Agree. What I was trying to say. But I am a die hard NASCAR fan. It is my sport. I like to know about the people who do the work. I so enjoyed the pit crew challenge from the old days.

  7. Lots of valid comments. Personally I have always had more than 1 fav driver. I get excited about several drivers. I’ve watched the rise & decline of many. NASCAR promoting certain drivers is a calculated risk. Not all drivers will be superstars, but most want to be. As drivers reach a certain “tax bracket” they usually need to start businesses or find investments that will sustain them after driving. Like the rest of us, focus changes.
    I enjoy seeing the drivers with their families, like pre-race. I enjoy following drivers who share their life outside of racing. Social media has changed the world. Drivers can promote themselves in so many ways. I think the most successful drivers know this. Each has a responsibility for their own success. That comes in conjunction with promoting NASCAR, sponsors, team owners, and more.
    NASCAR is a business with many tentacles. Drivers ride the wave of their own success on the track. Racing is a team sport. Drivers get the spotlight. But they alone cannot reach the top. Everyone has a stake in the success of the team, owner, sponsors, & NASCAR.
    Create your own wave.

  8. How many more clues do we need to know what big trouble NASCAR is in? How many other major sports do you see lowering their stars’ salary?

  9. BOOM! Love looking at ALL sides of this! Bottom line is NASCAR is changing, either get on board or……well like Matt Kenneth knows first hand, a younger guy is willing to take that seat for MUCH LESS!

  10. As a long time fan of NASCAR I can see both sides. I think a lot of this promotion of the younger guys is more necessary because of today’s “low attention span people”. I tend to agree with Kyle on this…some of the younger promotion is cute/funny some is stupid. Bottom line is promote them all they want but if they don’t execute on the track then it’s a waste of money.

  11. Been done with NASCAR since they stopped dancing with the one that brought them to the dance and took Atlanta’s season finale and second race and gave us a shit spot in February. Good riddance, I’ll go watch my racing at the local dirt track. F- The France Family, wouldn’t even have seen this if Jr. had not retweeted.

  12. Dale Jr. tried to warn them last year. Yes, it sucks to have to take lesser pay for doing the same things a veteran driver did. But, its because of where the sport is today. Listen, its crazy to sit in the stands, watching young fans sitting there looking at their cell phones, talking to the person next to them and not even watching the race. Why did they even come to the track? And they bitch to NASCAR that they can’t hear the person sitting next to them, so can you quiet the cars so we can talk and hear one another? WTF is that. I go to the track to see the cars going around the track, watching the racing, smelling the smells. Trust me, there is nothing like the feel of all that horse power flying by you. The smell of the racing fuel, hot tires, its thrilling and exhilarating. Gets me pumped up. I love the sounds of the cars, the smells, the racing. I do not go to races to sit and talk to the person next to me, or stare at a damn Cell Phone, and wish i could hear the people next to me. To me, it’s an experience, and a wonderful one. WATCHING the race, smelling the smells, feeling the excitement of the race and what’s going on. But NASCAR, they are trying to cater to the young crowd. Talking crap about putting muffler’s on the cars to quiet them down, (Because of fan’s) . The fan’s are the reason for the STAGE racing. NASCAR trying to get those young fans to actually pay attention to what’s going on on the track. Its ridiculous the things they are doing to please a crowd of people that are not even watching the racing. And in kissing all their young a**es, they have forsaken the older generation of fan’s that got NASCAR to the top of the mountain. It’s not fan to those of us that have followed NASCAR for over 40 yrs and now we are no longer relevant. We’ve spent all our money, we can’t make it to the track and climb all those stairs anymore. We’ve out lived our usefulness. And do you know why the sport has declined the past 10 years, as they say? Because NASCAR is changing things to try to please that young crowd, that will turn their backs on them as soon as something else comes along to take their attentions away. Then what will NASCAR do? I’ve been a fan of the sport for over 40 yrs., and was still interested in the sport. I’m a race fan. But with all the driver’s retiring, and everyone leaving us behind, it could be time to go back to the short tracks and the Friday and Saturday night racing, where it all started, and forget about NASCAR like they have forgot about me.

    1. My sentiments exactly. It’s not the younger or older drivers, it’s the younger generation that is running NASCAR now who have ruined the sport with all their changes. Too many races won on pit road because the cars are so equal, etc. that there’s not that much passing, racing on the track. 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was real racing!

  13. YouTube the TV show CHAMPIONS when Dale Sr. was interviewed by Neil Bonnet. Then YouTube MTV Cribs when Denny Hamlin or even Junior was on it, and look at the difference. That’s what the problem is, nobody gives a damn about 40 spoiled silver sooon rich kids driving around in circles pitching fits when things don’t go their way. Their are no more good ole boys on the track so their are no more good ole boys in the stands. When you can’t sell out Talladega your in trouble. And nascar is a shell of the sport it was. I know I’ve gave them my last dollar but keep spending that money on them long weekends. More pit roads will be turning into drag strips

  14. After reading this, the first thing that came to mind is Denny Hamlin’s comments last year. What he says and does is night and day vs how Blaney or Chase interacts. Don’t remember the last time I saw Hamlin promote himself or a sponsor.

  15. No amount of promotion of Kyle Busch when he was first starting out in NASCAR would have given him more fans because his overall actions and demeanor week to week made it clear that he was a dick.

    1. Amen! The lack of NASCAR making Kyle available showed NASCAR doesn’t respect fans! He’s at the top of the Prima Dona drivers. No wonder the young drivers enthusiasm is fun to watch.

  16. I agree 50% with Kyle and 50% with the “youth”/ cheaper $ drivers movement. Here’s Kyles point in my view. Young guys like Suárez taking Edwards seat while Carl was a championship contender in my opinion is about money. A joke, but guys like Byron Larson and Elliott, you can see they have Cup talent. Guys like Ty Dillon, possibly Austin Dillon are racing because of money just like Suárez.

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