by Ryan Isley
Is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series about to go out with the old and in with the new? Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch would like to think not. While NASCAR has been busy promoting its younger drivers, Harvick and Busch have been busy racking up points and wins.
When the season was about to begin, Busch spoke out about NASCAR’s marketing campaign that centered around younger drivers such as Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, William Byron, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr, all drivers who are currently 26 years of age or younger. And then this past week at Texas Motor Speedway, there was a banner promoting the “new kids on the track” featuring those seven drivers.
But while NASCAR seems hellbent on marketing its younger drivers, the older drivers have done their own marketing with their driving. In the first seven races of the season, five were won by drivers who are 37 years of age or older and one was won by a 32-year-old (Busch). The only race won by a driver under 30 years old was the Daytona 500, won by Austin Dillon. The average age of the last six race winners is 39.6 years old.
Busch is letting his driving do the talking after stirring up a storm with his comments prior to the season. He reminded everyone that he was not going to be easily forgotten at Texas, when he took matters into his own hands and beat all those younger drivers (and everyone else) in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 for his first win of 2018.
The 42-year-old Harvick finished second, just not able to run down the dominant car of Busch.
It was just more of the norm for Busch and Harvick this season. Before picking up a win at Texas, Busch had finished second or third in four straight races. That streak included back-to-back runner-up finishes to Harvick, who entered Texas having already picked up three wins on the season and had finished fifth the week before at Martinsville.
The old guys aren’t just winning, either. They are littering the leaderboard with top-5 finishes.
Through seven races, drivers who are at least 32 years of age have 27 top-5 finishes out of a possible 35 spots, with one race being a sweep of the top-5 and two others having four drivers at least 32 years old in the top-5. In the last six races, there have been 26 top-5 finishes by drivers 32 years of age or older. And only three drivers have five top-5 finishes – Busch, Harvick and 37-year-old Martin Truex Jr, who also has a win.
The drivers featured on the Texas banner have just a combined six top-5s and 17 top-10s this season.
Busch leads the points standings, and seven of the top nine are at least 32 years old. The only driver under 27 years of age is Blaney, who has three top-5s and five top-10s so far in the 24-year-old’s third full-time season in the MENCS.
Things don’t look much better this week for the young guns, either.
As the MENCS heads to Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch and Harvick have to be smiling ear-to-ear. Busch’s six wins and Harvick’s 12 top-5s are the most among active drivers. Busch has also led more laps than any other current drivers at Bristol with 2,116.
In the two races at Bristol in 2018, the winners were 41-year-old Jimmie Johnson and 32-year-old Kyle Busch. The top-5 in each race was dominated by older drivers, with the average age of the top-5 in the spring race was 38 years old and the average in the fall race was 34.6. Altogether, the average age of a top-5 finisher in 2018 at Bristol was 36.3 years old.
The younger drivers will eventually get their chance to shine on NASCAR’s biggest stage, but the older guys aren’t ready to move over and just let them take it. But when they do, NASCAR will start promoting another batch of young drivers and the cycle will start all over.