The driver demographic in NASCAR's Sprint Cup garage is younger than ever.

Joey Logano is 18-years-old, the youngest driver ever to start a Cup race, when he took the green flag for the Daytona 500 in February. Kyle Busch, David Ragan and Reed Sorenson are 23. Brian Vickers and Aric Almirola are 25. Scott Speed is 26.

It's only natural that younger drivers would attract a younger fan base, and younger fans tend to be more technologically literate than their older counterparts. Accordingly, drivers and their sponsors are tapping into avenues of communication with their fans that would have been unheard of five years ago.

Brian Vickers' fan site 'Club V' engages fans in live uncensored chats. Candy company Mars is using its motorsports programme - specifically its M&M's sponsorship of the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Kyle Busch - as a laboratory for the company's digital marketing strategy.

Through the racing site of sponsor UPS, Ragan provides weekly written and video blogs that give fans more of an insider's view of the sport.

"So much of NASCAR racing is broadcast on TV," said Ragan, who drives the #6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. "You can see the race cars, the racing, the qualifying, the practice. But the fans want that little bit of extra about your life. They want that little bit of extra about your routines during the week, what you do away from the racetrack.

"I think it's neat to bring them a little bit closer, and certainly they really do love it. That's why we go to the extra lengths to get that information out to not only No. 6 fans but to NASCAR fans and UPS employees."

In an era where the desire for information is immediate and all but insatiable, fans can follow certain drivers through microblogging via Twitter feeds. Those following 'tweets' from Ragan's camp last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, for example, would have been among the first to know that Ragan's engine was overheating and ultimately failed.

Similarly, you can track Kyle Busch's progress through an entire race in minute detail through tweets provided by one of his PR representatives.

Ragan by nature loves the outdoors, but he's a quick study when it comes to cyberspace.

"I've gotten pretty good education over the last three or four months," he said. "It's fun talking about our race weekends on a Monday, and looking forward to other next weekend - it's all about more information that the fans can't get on a TV.

"Every single day, whether it's a little bit in the morning or a little bit in the evening, I've got a few websites I always go to. Obviously, my Sprint Blackberry is always vibrating throughout the day with messages and e-mails. So I spend a lot of time searching the web. I read a lot of my news articles and stuff online. I'd say I'm online pretty often every single day."

Lest you get the impression that social networking is the exclusive province of 20-somethings, there are veteran drivers and established organizations that are taking advantage of the immediacy of social networking, too.

Fans got a chance to preview Tony Stewart's new Old Spice commercial on You Tube before it aired nationally. Kevin Harvick Inc. launched Kevin Harvick Fan Central, where fans can post profiles, join forums, blog and chat online. "Infield Parking," a social networking site co-founded by Dale Earnhardt Jr., now has 60,000 members.

NASCAR.com launched an online community in 2007; it now features more than 65,000 members. The sanctioning body itself has an official fan page on Facebook.com that boasts more than 40,000 users. NASCAR also posts its only blog giving its take on the news of the day at http://community.nascar.com/crews/NASCAR_Says.

The current state of social networking in the sport is just the tip of the iceberg. You can expect an explosion of information as young drivers attract new, younger fans and as older fans learn the capabilities of the new technologies.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News