JOLIET, Ill. – There’s no debating that the highest level of NASCAR racing is witnessing a changing of the guard.
Jeff Gordon retired from full-time racing at the end of the 2015 season. Tony Stewart followed a year later. Earnhardt is playing out his final year in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Danica Patrick has announced she won’t return to Stewart-Haas Racing next year. And veterans Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne are out of their current rides, with no concrete plans to announce yet for 2018.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is short on star power. With neophytes Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones leading a parade of talented 20-somethings, Earnhardt believes he’s leading the competition in firm hands.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Earnhardt affirmed. “I think that these young guys are really crafty with social media and I think that’s a great direction for them to interact with not only current fans, but to find new fans. I think they do a great job at that.
“I had to learn what Twitter was and how to use it. These guys grew up in this generation, and they are sort of already masters of it. There’s a lot of great things going on on Instagram and Twitter, and I think that there’s a lot of opportunity there to capture an audience and make new fans and create new fans.”
Earnhardt also believes the drivers who will carry the sport for the next generation must accept the necessity of outreach—even if it’s an inconvenience.
“They need to push themselves, which is hard to do. I didn’t want to do any of this when I was young. But when NASCAR says we need somebody in New York to do morning shows this week to promote the playoffs, these guys need to jump on that wagon and go.
“It’s not a ton of fun, but once you’re in the middle of it, doing it, it’s really enjoyable meeting these people and these personalities and making these connections and networking with these people.”