NASCAR believes it has the right mix in its marketing programs now but that doesn’t mean the sanctioning body has always done things the right way.
And it doesn’t mean Kyle Busch’s criticism this week of NASCAR’s focus on young drivers lacks some validity.
Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s chief global sales and marketing officer, said Wednesday that when Busch first came on the scene in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2005, NASCAR didn’t focus on marketing drivers or their personalities.
“I think it was a miss on our part. Until four or five years ago, most of our marketing was about the racing itself and pretty pictures around the racing,” Phelps said. “It wasn’t about the stars of our sport.
“So, do I think that’s fair that when he came into the sport and started winning right off the bat? Yeah, I think it’s a fair statement that we did not give that kind of support.”
Bayne's upset 500 win a "wake-up call"
Phelps said the 2011 Daytona 500 victory by then 19-year-old Trevor Bayne opened NASCAR’s eyes of the need for fans to have an idea who stars were before they were thrust on the scene.
“That was a bit of a wake-up call. We never wanted to put ourselves in that position again,” he said. “So, that’s why we have our (Drive for Diversity) class. That’s why we have our NASCAR Next program.
“That’s why we make sure that we're promoting at the K&N East and West series and then Trucks and Xfinity ‘Where names are made,’ so when they finally get up to the Monster Energy Series, they are known quantities; they’re winners.”
Finding the right mix in marketing campaigns
Phelps does take exception, however, that NASCAR somehow overemphasizes its efforts on just the up-and-comers.
He believes the sport currently has a good mix of promoting new faces as well as established veterans.
“Our marketing has traditionally been kind of a combination of deference of the young drivers, probably a little more emphasis on the veteran drivers, just because we haven't had a group or crop of young drivers previously that we’ve had in the last couple years,” Phelps said.
“If you look at our marketing and our advertising, it is a mix of veteran drivers and these young drivers. The list of veteran drivers is Kyle, it’s Jimmie (Johnson), it's Brad (Keselowski), it's Joey (Logano), Denny (Hamlin) – many of them who are future Hall of Famers. That is an important element for us.
“And then we also are telling the stories of these young drivers, Chase (Elliott) and Ryan (Blaney) and Kyle Larson and Danny Suárez and Bubba Wallace and this whole group of young drivers who are capturing the imagination of our fans, as well.”