If you listen to some NASCAR veterans, you could conclude they are not fond of what the next generation of drivers brings to the sport. Or maybe more to the point, the new kids on the block represent the future as they watch their own careers begin to be part of the past.
Kevin Harvick, at 45, is butting heads with Chase Elliott, 25. Denny Hamlin, 40, is trading barbs with Chase Briscoe, 26. And Kyle Busch, 36, well, he’s Kyle Busch. He hates everything and everybody when things aren’t going his way. But his wrath isn’t driver-specific; he’s taking on the entire "newer generation".
In an interview with RACER, Busch said:
“There’s a complete lack of respect everywhere all over the place. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a playoff driver or a non-playoff driver. The way all this has gone on the last four or five years, with a newer generation coming in, has completely ruined it from what it used to be. Now it might be exciting for the fans, but all you get is more torn-up stuff. And next year, these car owners are not going to enjoy paying the bills on that new car. I guarantee it.”
The problem with the "completely ruined it from what it used to be" quip is that Busch comes off as one of the biggest hypocrites NASCAR has ever seen. You hear from politicians that they are for something until they are against it. Busch was for pushing people out of the way until he was the one on the receiving end, so, of course, he is against it.
Aggressiveness has always been a part of NASCAR, and that, in turn, leads to wrecks, and it is not age-related, as Busch alleges. His shoot-from-the-lip style detracts from his Hall of Fame record in the sport. Unfortunately, he has never looked in the mirror before criticizing others.
NASCAR always feels the heat from drivers
Make no mistake: Harvick, Hamlin, and Busch are no strangers to voicing their opinions, whether it be in the heat of the moment during a race or slamming NASCAR. But as they get closer to retirement and further away from the prime of their career, they come off as grumpy old men, and not like the movie.
The Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon characters in 1993's Grumpy Old Men were contemporaries and hated each other. The trio of drivers is more like Statler and Waldorf of the Muppets, who heckled everyone from the balcony, just without the laugh track.
It really should come as no surprise that the driver complaints are from those who made the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Harvick and Elliott were hardly friendly competitors until the former was eliminated in the Round of 12 finale while the latter advanced. They had been going at it since Bristol and continued to the elimination event at the Charlotte Roval when Harvick appeared to wreck Elliott intentionally.
The Dawsonville native would get the last laugh, however, at least in this race, as Harvick crashed out late and ended his chances at another championship while Elliott got a chance to go back-to-back.
Meanwhile, Hamlin is frustrated, not just with his younger colleagues but with NASCAR itself. After losing out on obtaining a second charter for his new No. 45 team, his frustration boiled over with some rather salty language, as reported by Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern.
When Hamlin met with the media via teleconference on Wednesday, the loss of the charter was the last thing on his mind. He said:
“I think we have seen in our sport that there is no code. Just depends on how you were brought up and kind of how your racing background is and stuff like that on whether that is acceptable or not.
“It’s just one of those things that I just don’t understand the mentality of some of these guys, but like I said in post-race media after Texas that I understand that everybody is racing for their own individual race. You can go through the whole list of quotes that I’ve got. Somebody asked me that question, and I gave plenty of quotes for it.”
NASCAR has come a long way with innovation and safety since Harvick, Hamlin and Busch first broke in. If they were in their twenties today, would their driving approaches be any different from Elliott, Briscoe, Ryan Blaney, or Kyle Larson?
Some would argue that change isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it is inevitable. There will always be generational arguments about the best driver or what was the golden era of NASCAR. But to advocate that this generation of drivers is ruining things is absurd.
Back in 2010, NASCAR got tired of being the sport’s babysitter and put things back in the hands of the drivers with its "Have at it, boys" edict. Today, that is still the law of the racetrack unless the silliness of the Harvick and Elliott feud doesn’t appear to be ending.
There are just three races left in the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Whining about petty nonsense at this stage only takes away from the spectacle of the championship battle. To paraphrase political pundit Laura Ingraham’s wisecrack to Lebron James back in 2018, “Shut up and drive.”