Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sports

Veteran drivers disposable in unsustainable NASCAR money pit

RECOMMENDED READING


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!

Comments
Resilient Saints rally, win eighth straight

Resilient Saints rally, win eighth straight

NEW ORLEANS — Alvin Kamara climbed into the Superdome stands, stood in the first row with his arms folded and soaked in the adulation of fans who had stuck around after all had looked lost. Kamara’s celebration of his 18-yard touchdown reception had ...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Figures from FSU case enter latest allegation against Jameis Winston

Figures from FSU case enter latest allegation against Jameis Winston

MIAMI GARDENS — The case of Jameis Winston and a female Uber driver in Arizona took more twists Sunday, with Winston getting some level of corroboration, and his unnamed accuser retaining a familiar, high-profile attorney.Eagles cornerback Ronald Dar...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jones: Even in victory, dread hangs over the Bucs

Jones: Even in victory, dread hangs over the Bucs

MIAMI GARDENS — A dark cloud is hanging over this football team.It’s a heaviness. A dread. A dread for what might have happened in the past and what might happen in the future.And that makes it hard for fans to truly enjoy what happened Sunday.The Bu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs-Dolphins journal: Patrick Murray on winning kick: ‘I knew I was going to make it’

Bucs-Dolphins journal: Patrick Murray on winning kick: ‘I knew I was going to make it’

MIAMI GARDENS — Patrick Murray has been so consistent since taking over as the Bucs’ kicker that he had no doubt when called upon to make a go-ahead field goal with four seconds left in Sunday’s win.Ryan Fitzpatrick completed three passes for 55 yard...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs-Dolphins report card: Grading Tampa Bay’s 30-20 victory

Bucs-Dolphins report card: Grading Tampa Bay’s 30-20 victory

MIAMI GARDENS — That was one ugly football game.The Bucs had a bad game. The Dolphins had a really bad game. And who had the worst game of all? The officials.In fact, the best part of Sunday’s game was before the game even started, thanks to a stirri...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs-Dolphins: How Ryan Fitzpatrick steadied Tampa Bay

Bucs-Dolphins: How Ryan Fitzpatrick steadied Tampa Bay

MIAMI GARDENS — For chaos, there was Jameis Winston missing his second game with a shoulder injury and an NFL investigation swirling around him.For calamity, there was the Bucs forcing four of their five turnovers in the first half and building a two...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs-Dolphins:  How rookies like O.J. Howard carried the day

Bucs-Dolphins: How rookies like O.J. Howard carried the day

MIAMI GARDENS — From start to finish, the Bucs’ wobbly 30-20 win over the Dolphins on Sunday was made possible by game-changing plays made by rookies.The Bucs’ top three picks in this year’s draft — tight end O.J. Howard, safety Justin Evans and rece...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Ariya Jutanugarn rallies past Lexi Thompson to win LPGA’s Tour Championship

Ariya Jutanugarn rallies past Lexi Thompson to win LPGA’s Tour Championship

NAPLES — Lexi Thompson never had a putt so short that was potentially worth so much. She had a one-shot lead when she settled over a 2-foot par putt on the final hole Sunday at the Tour Championship. A victory would be worth $500,000 in prize money ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs-Dolphins: Social media reactions to Tampa Bay’s 30-20 victory

Bucs-Dolphins: Social media reactions to Tampa Bay’s 30-20 victory

The Bucs won their second straight and snapped a six-game road losing streak Sunday. And they did it after blowing a 13-point lead.Here’s a sampling of reactions on social media to Tampa Bay’s 30-20 win over the Dolphins in Miami Gardens:...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lightning’s rare loss produces reality check

Lightning’s rare loss produces reality check

TAMPA — Jon Cooper stood at the podium late Saturday night to address the media after a regulation loss for only the third time this season."Let’s be honest," he said, "we’ve had one hell of a start."The loss, he added, was frustrating, even when you...
Updated: 3 hours ago