Veteran driv­ers feel­ing cuts in NASCAR

The Hamilton Spectator - - RACING 2017 - GE­ORGE DIAZ

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” send-off. 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 dur­ing me­dia avail­abil­ity 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.”

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

Two of my all-time favourites 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.”

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