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Volume 25 No. 239
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Young NASCAR Drivers Push Back On Blame For Sport's Woes

Dillon, who won this year's Daytona 500, is one of two drivers in their 20's to win this season
Photo: getty images

ISC President John Saunders "pinned some of NASCAR's woes on the failure of the new crop of drivers who have failed to replace retired stars" in performance and popularity, but some drivers have "had enough of serving as NASCAR's whipping boys," according to Dan Gelston of the AP. These young drivers are "not winning races -- or even fans inside their sport" -- and are "in danger of becoming the next big bust." Saunders on an earnings call on Thursday said, "We still have an issue with star power, and hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands." But 24-year-old driver Ryan Blaney said, "Honestly, this whole 'young guys need to win now' thing is getting old. We're trying. We're trying our hardest. It's not like I go out there and I'm happy for fifth every single week. ... It's not a competition here between young guys and old guys. It's a competition between 39 other cars and yourself." Other young drivers like Austin Dillon and Joey Logano, both 28, are the "only drivers in their 20's who have won this season." Just six drivers "overall have won races." Blaney said, "It would be healthy for the sport if we just see more variation in winners" (AP, 7/5). Dillon said, "I just want to know what we do about it. How do you move forward with that because the guys that are in this sport are talented enough to win" (NBCSPORTS.com, 7/5).

AGE IS NOT THE ISSUE: YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Bromberg wrote Saunders comments are "further proof of how ridiculous the external corporate pressure is getting for young drivers" to win races. The drivers are "recognizing how ridiculous and unfair it is." Blaming a "lack of star power" in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series also is "getting really old." Each of the five drivers "responsible for the last six championships are still racing," and three of them are "still under the age of 40." NASCAR was "trending downwards when it comes to attendance and television ratings" with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. "still racing." There is "little reason to think that drivers under a certain age threshold winning will cure NASCAR of all its very consistent long-term downward trends" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/5).

ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: Bubba Wallace said that young drivers feel some "responsibility to win for the sake of the sport." However, the 24-year-old driver said, "There is a lot of boring stuff that we still have that has been the same thing at ISC tracks that we could update to get more fans out. So it kind of goes in hand in hand from us behind the wheel to the people that are here hosting us. It is a group effort" (ESPN.com, 7/5). Wallace also said that the younger generation is "not the only one failing to reach victory lane." Wallace said, "There are a lot of guys that are not young, that have gray hair, that have not won yet. It's not all on us." In Orlando, Edgar Thompson writes NASCAR is "going to need drivers" such as Wallace, Blaney, Chase Elliott (22) and Kyle Larson (25) to "carry the torch" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/6). In Daytona Beach, Ken Willis wrote major-league sports "thrive on rivalries, and the Young-vs.-Old battle that was going to define" this season may have "died on the vine." Driver Kyle Busch said, "The Young guys are on the brink, they're on the cusp. It's just a matter of when that happens" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 7/5).