Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage is an expert at starting a conversation, and he did so again Friday by hanging a large banner outside the media center.
The banner displays the caricatures of seven young drivers: Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, William Byron and Alex Bowman.
The title? “New Kids On The Track,” which is written in the logo style of the 90s boy band New Kids On The Block.
Of course, the hangup here is all those drivers have a combined one career victory. And aside from 27-year-old Austin Dillon’s win at the Daytona 500, the race winners this season have been 42-year-old Kevin Harvick, 37-year-old Martin Truex Jr. and 38-year-old Clint Bowyer.
That’s noted in a much smaller banner off to the side, which contains an enlarged version of a recent Kevin Harvick tweet:
In case anyone was wondering average age of the winners in the first six races 38.5. #oldguysrule
— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) March 27, 2018
So what do the drivers think of the NKOTT banner? As you might expect, the reactions varied.
“If you like good marketing, it is good,” Harvick said. “If you like winners, you go for the old guys.”
Harvick quickly added he wasn’t taking a personal dig at the young drivers, but enjoys the debate over the generational divide. The veteran is having fun with it, he said, “and I told (the young drivers) they should have fun with it, too.”
“The dad and kid sitting in the grandstands from two different generations and mom and daughter sitting in the grandstands — (the parents) root for the old guys and you root for the young guys,” he said. “That is great for our sport, it really is. It makes it fun to be able to have that banter back and forth.”
The banter hasn’t been all fun this year, though. Kyle Busch said NASCAR’s young guns push was “stupid” and “bothersome.” And Brad Keselowski told NBC’s Nate Ryan the veteran drivers are jealous of the young drivers’ marketing push — but it was warranted because they never received that support from NASCAR.
Suarez said that’s just drivers competitive off the track instead of on it.
“All of the veteran drivers are very strong; they have a very strong fan base and they have a lot of support,” he said. “They pretty much have the path already made. I feel like for young drivers, sometimes we need that extra push to start making that path and to start building that fan base.”
Ryan Blaney said he found the sign funny, and didn’t get why people try to divide the younger drivers from the veterans in the first place.
“It’s not a rivalry,” he said. “It’s not a competition. I don’t care if you’re 18 years old or 50 years old, we’re just competitors.
“I think it was a pretty neat thing that Gossage did. I laughed at it. I like how it has me throwing up the peace sign, too. I’ve never done that in my life.”
Blaney at least knew who the New Kids On The Block were. Suarez and Erik Jones said they had never heard of them (which was what Harvick predicted would be the case for every driver on the banner).
As Jones noted, he was born in 1996 — well past the prime of the New Kids. But he certainly was in favor of NASCAR helping give the new drivers a publicity push.
“I think we’re just more willing to take some of these opportunities that (the veterans are) not willing to,” he said. “A lot of them have families and want to spend as much time at home as they can, and for us to take a trip to wherever or spend some extra time somewhere isn’t as big of a deal.”