Youth Movement: NASCAR Searching For Young Stars To Challenge Jimmie Johnson
As NASCAR tries to "attract a younger fan base, the top talent keeps getting older with no signs of that changing," according to David Newton of ESPN.com. The average age of drivers in the top 10 in the standings "is 36.5, four years older" than in '08. Not since Jimmie Johnson in '02 "has there been a young driver who successfully and consistently challenged the old guard for championships." So now the sport "needs a young, hot superstar to challenge Johnson." NASCAR "recognizes this issue," as the governing body has "lowered the age limits in most of its developmental series since 2007 to encourage more participation and speed up the learning curve." NASCAR in '11 began the "NASCAR Next program to help spotlight rising stars and increase fan awareness of young talent." Among those who "have benefited are Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and Darrell Wallace Jr." All have shown "flashes of brilliance," but none "are on the Cup level." None may "make it for a couple of years, at least." Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski said, "To be quite frank, I don't see a lot of turnover coming because I don't see a significant crop of young drivers that are better." Newton wrote that is "not good news for a sport that has its largest fan base in the 45-54 age group and its smallest in the 18-24 age group." Finding young drivers to challenge Johnson "would be a more immediate fix to energize the fan base the way" Jeff Gordon did in his first full season in '93 (ESPN.com, 8/3).
MARKET WATCH: Watkins Glen Int'l Speedway President Michael Printup said that he "expects a large Western New York crowd" at this weekend's Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races. He said that WGI officials will be "ramping up a Buffalo-heavy marketing effort to attract more local race fans." Printup said, "Buffalo should be our No. 1 market. We should be taking better advantage of it." Printup said that ticket sales "are going well, with attendance expected to be its highest in 11 years." In Buffalo, James Fink noted more than 94,000 fans "are expected" for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 At The Glen and "as many as 160,000 people for the entire weekend" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 8/5).