NASCAR: Missed opportunity to market when Kyle Busch came up

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR wouldn't totally dispute the comments from Kyle Busch that it has an increased focus on marketing young drivers, but its top marketing executive indicated it was more a matter of timing than targeting a specific driver.

NASCAR Chief Global Sales & Marketing Officer Steve Phelps said Wednesday night that when Busch was coming up in the sport in the mid-2000s, NASCAR didn't market its drivers as much. Now that it has a strong crop of young drivers, he said, the timing is right to make a push with them.

"It was a miss on our part [in his day]," Phelps said in a conference call with reporters. "Until four or five years ago, most of our marketing was about the racing itself. ... It wasn't about the stars of our sport.

"It's fair when he came into the sport and started winning right off the bat, I think it's a fair statement that we did not give that kind of sport."

Busch, who admitted that younger drivers often are more willing to do things NASCAR asks, appeared frustrated with NASCAR's recent philosophy when asked Tuesday about the push of younger drivers.

"It is bothersome," the 32-year-old Busch said. "We've paid our dues, and our sponsors have and everything else, and all you're doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver.

"I think it's stupid. But I don't know, I'm not the marketing genius that's behind this deal. You know, I just do what I can do, and my part of it is what my part is."

Phelps said when 21-year-old Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in 2011 as a relative unknown, it made NASCAR realize it needed to promote young drivers, so when they race in Cup, they are known quantities. NASCAR has six Cup drivers under 25, and Phelps said the fans know them well.

Busch is among 15 Cup drivers participating in some marketing initiatives this year.

"Kyle does a lot for our sport," Phelps said. "I think we expose Kyle in a good, meaningful way and Toyota does as well and [his sponsor] M&Ms does working with [his Joe] Gibbs guys, and that's important for us.

"It's not about veterans complaining they're not getting their fair share."

At least some of the young drivers didn't appreciate Busch's comments.

"The reason I get asked to do it a lot is because I say yes a lot, because I think it is good for the sport and myself," said 24-year-old Ryan Blaney. "I can tell you personally that [Busch] doesn't like doing a lot of stuff, so that is why they don't ask him to do a lot of stuff. That kind of made me upset how he bashed that part of it. To each his own.

"If he doesn't want to do anything, so be it. I just think it is really important to have not only young drivers but all NASCAR drivers trying to be pushing to get to new demographics of the world to get interested in our sport. Whether it is young fans or new fans that don't pay attention to it who aren't young."