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Branden Williams | NASCAR

Texas track’s ‘New Kids’ banner rekindles generational debate

FORT WORTH, Texas – Those new kids on the track, you’ve got the right stuff, babies. But those wily vets? They’re hangin’ tough, hangin’ tough.

Are they tough enough?

That’s more than plenty New Kids on the Block lyric references for one day, but you might find yourself asking … why are they even necessary to begin with and what does it have to do with NASCAR?

Here’s a … step-by-step (that’s right – snuck one more in) … guide to why drivers young and old are being asked about the vintage boy band, especially when some of them were born well after NKOTB first disbanded.

It all started at January’s NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The sport has seen some driver turnover the past few seasons, seeing the old guard (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards) make way for a new crop of drivers (Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, etc.).

While there will always be fond memories of races past with the above retired, there’s plenty to be excited about regarding the prospects of these fresh faces. As such, plenty of attention, media opportunities and general spotlight arose for the young talent, leaving some of those in-betweeners – the veterans of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series still in the prime of their careers — to feel a bit left in the dark.

Voice their opinions, they did. Former series champ Kyle Busch, 32, issued the first salvo, and Ryan Blaney – the personable, 24-year-old Team Penske driver that more than backs it up on track – fired right back.

MORE: ‘Fortunate’ Ryan Blaney fires back at Kyle Busch

Things then quieted down a bit … before Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer went out and won five of the season’s first six races before the off-weekend.

Veteran, veteran, veteran.

Harvick, ever the pot-stirrer, made sure this didn’t go unnoticed.

And now for the New Kids on the Block tie-in.

Upon arrival at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, the walk up to the media center displayed an unmissable (seriously – the thing is huge) banner featuring Suarez, Darrell Wallace Jr., Blaney, Elliott, Jones, Byron and Bowman, proclaiming them the “New Kids on the Track.”

New Kids on the Track sign at Texas.
Branden Williams | NASCAR

Average age? 23. Combined wins? One.

Next to the banner is a small (think diecast : full-size stock car) printout of Harvick’s tweet.

Kevin Harvick's tweet on young vs. old.
Pat DeCola/NASCAR

It’s the unmistakable work of track president Eddie Gossage – arguably NASCAR’s most … unique … track promoter – and it was easily the talk of No Limits, Texas on Friday.

Drivers young and old were asked about the banner during their availabilities, with some very interesting viewpoints.

Harvick

“It is a cool promotion. I like the promotion. If you like good marketing, it is good. If you like winners, you go for the old guys. I love every one of those kids on that poster and I think they are all great for our sport. I am not taking personal digs on them, I am trying to have fun with it and I told them that they should have fun with it, too. That is really what it is about. The dad and kid sitting in the grandstands from two different generations and mom and daughter sitting in the grandstands from two different generations. They root for the old guys and you root for the young guys. That is great for our sport, it really is. It makes it fun to be able to have that banter back and forth. Most of those guys probably don’t even know who New Kids on the Block are. I would venture to say that.”

Suarez

“You know, sometimes I look to myself and I feel like I’m getting old and I’m glad Texas Motor Speedway keeps looking at me like a kid. I like that. I feel like that’s very cool. I’ve been racing with some … all of those guys in the banner for a long time, since the K&N days. So it’s very cool to see all these guys now in the Cup Series with myself and racing each other in the highest level of racing. Because I remember back in 2011 and ‘12, we were racing in K&N. It’s very cool how things change in the sport and in the young drivers and in the young series. It’s very cool for me to see that kind of pictures or banners because it gives you a lot of memories from back in the day.”

“I think (the older drivers are) a little bit (jealous of the promotion of the younger drivers). The way I think is that all of the veteran drivers, they are very strong. They have a very strong fan base and they have, obviously, a lot of support. They have pretty much the path already made and I feel like for young drivers sometimes we need that extra push to start making that path and to start building that fan base and this is nothing wrong to have some extra support. I’m sure – I mean, I can’t guarantee this because I wasn’t around – but I’m sure that when Kevin or Kyle or when any of the veteran drivers, when they were young, in their middle 20s, I’m sure that they had some good exposure as well to help build their brand and to help build that fan base. You know, I – that’s what I think. But maybe that’s part of racing too. Everyone is competitive, sometimes not just on the race track but as well outside of the race track.”

Stewart

“I’m not one of the dogs in the fight, but … the stats prove that you don’t have to be a teenager to win races. The guys that have experience are the guys that have won the races this year.”

Jones

“Well, I’ve seen (the banner). So, we were actually just talking about it in the hauler and I don’t know the New Kids on the Block. I was born in 1996 and the last year they were a group was 1995. They asked me what new kid on the block I was and I was like ‘Man, I’ve got to be honest with you, I have no idea.’ I saw that though. It’s cool. It made me laugh. I liked the sign they put next to it better. At first I thought Harvick actually put it there. I was like ‘That, that’s pretty funny,’ but then I realized the track did it.

“I think it’s just cyclical. We haven’t had a young group – crop of guys all enter the sport at once in I don’t know, probably 15 years now. When you see this many young guys coming at once, obviously I think NASCAR’s done a good job trying to promote us and give us an advantage early on to get our names out there and get some more fans and get some more exposure and you know we all appreciate it. I mean we’re willing to take advantage of those events and I think Blaney said it well. Well, I guess it was back at Media Day now in Charlotte – I think we’re just more willing to take some of these opportunities that they’re not willing to. You know 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. I think we’re just more willing right now to take advantage of some of those opportunities.”

Blaney

“I’ve heard of the New Kids on the Block. I’ve never listened to any of their songs. I may know one of their songs. I get them and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch mixed up. I thought that was pretty funny. I saw a picture of it last night. I don’t know who tweeted it, (Jeff) Gluck or somebody. I thought that was pretty neat.

“Eddie has always done really well at making things fun and light and things like that. I saw the average age sign and the small one next to it. I thought that was pretty funny. It’s just cool to be a part of that group. I’ve said it all along. It’s just really fortunate to be involved in not only in NASCAR but involved in this younger driver group with some of those guys. I don’t really look at age. They’re just competitors to me. I don’t really understand the hate that everyone gets for the younger veterans. It’s not a rivalry. 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.”

Call it what you want, but this one (may be) for the children.

(Two more!)