NASCAR is undergoing a major changing of the guard popularity-wise after Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement, and the sport has lost several generational drivers in recent years.
Talent isn’t the problem for NASCAR moving forward. NASCAR might have as much talent top to bottom as it has ever had. But the main issue the sport is facing is the lack of personalities.
Think back over the last two decades about the number of drivers you can identify based on their nicknames. The Rainbow Warrior. The Intimidator. Smoke. Junior. Not only were those drivers dynamic on the track; they also had big personalities that fans either loved or hated.
Dale Jr. raised the issue on Twitter, and he said “a winner with no flavor can be a challenge.”
Earnhardt added that the young, talented drivers have to figure out a way to engage fans.
And he’s right. Talent isn’t the issue. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson will be staples in the Cup Series for the next decade. But do they have the personalities to help the sport grow?
What about Ryan Blaney? Or William Byron? Erik Jones? The talent is there. There’s no question about that, but the only way NASCAR can thrive is if the younger generation can produce talents who can engage with fans.
The veterans in NASCAR can help some. Kyle Busch has a big fan base and perhaps a bigger group of enemies, but Rowdy is at least polarizing. Denny Hamlin could become the next great villain for the sport, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30.
Brad Keselowski isn’t shy about voicing his opinions, and Martin Truex Jr. has developed into one of the biggest names in racing. And there’s always Jimmie Johnson, but he’s perhaps the greatest driver of all time and doesn’t exactly have the biggest persona.
It’s up to the younger generation, and as Dale Jr. pointed out, they have to realize that personality can be just as important as performance for the long term success of NASCAR.