The director yells that the cameras are ready to roll and the stars are needed on the set, and suddenly here they come, the six young men who hold the future of NASCAR in their hands. Stepping out of their individual motor homes, they meet and stride shoulder-to-shoulder through the frosty winter morning at Concord (N.C.) Motorsports Park, each gliding along with the cool of a mountain lion. Except for a film crew of 100, the track is empty. But as on race day, when 120,000 fans gather in the grandstands, every set of eyes locks onto the six young men.
"There they are," a crew member yells. "The Young Guns are in the house!"
It's mid-December and the six Nextel Cup drivers—Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman—are about to shoot a commercial for Gillette. In front of pit lane they sit on a semicircle of racing tires. Their breath white puffs, they talk like kids back in school after Christmas break. This is the first time that NASCAR's Young Guns, as they've been tagged by countless headline writers, have been together since the 2003 season ended, and what do they chat about? The O.C? MTV? Boozy nights with their buddies?
"Getting old sucks," says Newman, 26.
"I can't do hard workouts anymore," adds Kenseth, 31. "If I do, I won't be able to get out of bed the next morning."
"Dudes," says Earnhardt Jr., who is all of 29.
"I'm starting to get random pains."
Young Guns? These guys? Time to reveal a secret: The Guns have grown up.
The numbers are staggering. Last year Busch, Earnhardt, Harvick, Johnson, Kenseth and Newman won 19 of the 36 Cup races (52.7%). They took 16 poles (44.4%) and had 75 top five finishes. In the points standings they finished first (Kenseth), second ( Johnson), third ( Earnhardt), fifth (Harvick), sixth ( Newman), and 11th ( Busch). Even veterans-most of whom would rather swig motor oil than say something nice about a fresh-faced driver—admit that the torch has been passed to this six-pack of NASCAR tall boys.
"There's never been a youth movement like this in the history of NASCAR," says Darrell Waltrip, a three-time Cup champion who's now the lead commentator on Fox's racing telecasts. "In the past we've had one or two young guns trickle in and make an impact, but never anything like this."