Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Veteran drivers disposable in unsustainable NASCAR money pit

Kasey Kahne, celebrating a victory in the Brickyard 400 last month, has been a solid driver but that wasn't enough to save his job. [Associated Press]

Kasey Kahne, celebrating a victory in the Brickyard 400 last month, has been a solid driver but that wasn't enough to save his job. [Associated Press]

NASCAR's business model is imploding before our eyes.

A fire sale is going on; all you need to do is look up in the sky and see all those fat contracts burning up. Within the span of weeks, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne have been dropped from their teams with a "thanks for the memories" sendoff.

But the reasons are obvious:

The money is drying up, especially sponsorships, and nobody can afford to keep multiple drivers on big contracts. It's simple economics and the reality that NASCAR faces moving forward.

Kids — we use the term relatively, of course — will be fast-tracked into the Monster Energy Cup Series because they are much more affordable. Veterans may be able to stick around at a much lower rate. Teams will downsize. And you might find a driver or two pushed into retirement.

This should not be surprising at all if you've been paying attention.

"You've got to look at guys like myself," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said at Watkins Glen last weekend. "There's sort of been a major shift in how much drivers are getting paid. How much they're getting obviously changed with the new agreement we had a couple of years ago. Drivers started taking more of the purse. I don't know everybody's contract situation, but there is a less of a base and more purse-driven.

"But one thing that's changed is that you've got a lot of young guys coming in being offered and accepting contracts that are a fifth to a tenth of what veterans are getting paid. And that's money that can go into the team, you know?"

Earnhardt was quite prophetic, considering that just a few days later Hendrick Motorsports announced it would not be renewing teammate Kahne's contract. Although you could argue that Kahne has underachieved in his six-year run at Hendrick, he has been a solid driver.

He has finished in the top 18 the last four seasons, wound up fourth in 2012, and has qualified for the playoffs this season.

With Alex Bowman taking Earnhardt's ride next season in the No. 88, William Byron, only 19, will be the next man up to complete the four-driver group with Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson.

The news on Byron broke on Tuesday, just a day after the team announced that Kahne was out at the end of the season.

Someone like Johnson, a seven-time champ, commands big bucks. Although teams do not make contracts public, a top-tier driver can make upward of $10 million on a base salary and purse money alone, excluding endorsements. But those numbers are shrinking.

Forbes Magazine reported that Johnson and his team earned a $1.9 million Sprint Cup bonus for winning the title in 2016. But they pocketed $7.2 million for his 2008 title. Some of that inequity involves a new charter system, which creates more parity in the distribution of purses and bonuses.

But there's also less money on the table. Target recently announced it was dropping its sponsorship of Kyle Larson, who happens to be one of the best drivers on the Monster Energy Cup circuit with two victories this season and third place overall in the points standings.

"These sponsors aren't giving teams the money that they used to," Earnhardt said. "So the owners and everybody's got to take a little cut. Everybody's got to dial it back. Everybody's got to realize that they have to accept some of that fallback and difference. And that's the same with the drivers' contracts. A lot of these veteran drivers are getting paid multimillion dollars, and a lot of these guys coming in are getting a fraction of that."

The beneficiaries include Bowman, Byron, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones.

"The sport is in a different place now than it was a few years ago, and these young guys are providing owners a great driver at a bargain price," said Darrell Waltrip, a NASCAR Hall of Famer and now analyst on Fox Sports. "It's the changing of the guard and it's also the future of the sport."

Old-school is out. It is the New World Order in NASCAR.

Combustible reaction

Two of my all-time favorites were back at it last weekend, banging cars and in some cases wanting to bang fists.

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski became entangled at Watkins Glen, producing the predictable combustible reaction.

"You all better keep me away from that (expletive) after this race," Busch radioed to his team on his way to a seventh-place finish. "I will kill that (expletive)."

Fortunately, no lives were lost. Keselowski did own up to the mistake but declined to tell Busch in person.

"Nah," said Keselowski, who wound up 15th. "I don't think he is really the listening type, so that is pretty doubtful."

Busch, though, did start busting on people on Twitter.

(Hashtag)Awesome!

Veteran drivers disposable in unsustainable NASCAR money pit 08/11/17 [Last modified: Thursday, August 10, 2017 5:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning journal: Ryan Callahan feels good after first game action since January

    Sports

    TAMPA — As veteran RW Ryan Callahan was riding a stationary bike before Friday's exhibition game, he felt nervous. There was anxiety.

    Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) pursues Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons (10) during the first period of Friday (9/22/17) preseason game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  2. FSU players rally around freshman QB James Blackman

    College

    TALLAHASSEE — For the first few minutes Saturday, Florida State's James Blackman looked like a true freshman making his first start at quarterback for a big-time program.

    Florida State Seminoles quarterback James Blackman (1) gets sacked during the first quarter of the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  Final score, North Carolina State Wolfpack 27, Florida State Seminoles 21.
  3. No. 12 FSU, defense struggle in 27-21 loss to N.C. State

    College

    TALLAHASSEE — It's easy to blame No. 12 Florida State's 27-21 loss to North Carolina State on the injury to starting quarterback Deondre Francois or the three-week layoff because of Hurricane Irma.

    It would also be wrong.

    Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (8) carries during the first quarter of the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  4. Trump tells Warriors star Stephen Curry that White House visit is off

    Nba

    SOMERSET, N.J. — Stephen Curry and President Donald Trump agree on one thing: The Golden State star is not going to the White House anytime soon.

    Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry poses for photos during NBA basketball team media day Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. [Associated Press]
  5. For starters: Rays at Orioles, facing another old friend in Jeremy Hellickson

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 3:29: Here is the Rays lineup, with Duda at 1B and Morrison the DH: