Column: As sponsorship dollars dwindle, NASCAR’s stars fade

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Matt Kenseth, a destiny Hall of Famer, approaching has dual races left in his life as a famous NASCAR driver.

The final chair in a carousel of pursuit options will be filled Wednesday when Stewart-Haas Racing is approaching to announce Aric Almirola as a new driver.

Yes, a two-time Daytona 500 leader and former array champion was upheld over for a motorist with one feat in 242 career starts. It is nonetheless another chair that didn’t go to Kenseth, who embarrassingly has turn a peculiar male out in a giveaway group duration that has focused distant some-more on salaries and sponsorship than talent.

Kenseth, who told reporters over a weekend that he will take time off in 2018 , is frequency alone in his plight. Danica Patrick has zero lined adult for subsequent year , same for reigning Daytona 500 leader Kurt Busch. Greg Biffle sensitively went divided during a finish of final season, and Carl Edwards announced his retirement after entrance 10 laps bashful of winning a championship a year ago.

All yet Patrick started in a strong mercantile duration for NASCAR, where teams were flush with unite dollars and could fundamentally sinecure any motorist they wanted. Jack Roush was a fat cat in a early 2000s, and he’d reason gong-show character auditions for drivers to see who got interconnected with his newest open seat.

Kenseth, Busch, Biffle and Edwards all went on to turn stars in Roush’s complement while rising remunerative and extensive careers.

But a math has altered considerably. Sponsors are profitable distant reduction for a right to publicize on a automobile during a NASCAR race, and they are increasingly formidable to get. In a days of bursting popularity, a tip group competence spend $30 million to run a competition car. Most of that income came from sponsorship, and tip drivers were creation $10 million per year.

Now owners are using teams for half of what they did 15 years ago, and motorist salaries are solemnly being practiced accordingly. If a group owners can’t get a motorist that financially matches a sponsorship level, afterwards a owners has to compensate losses out of pocket.

Brad Keselowski is widely regarded as a motorist of a Miller Lite car, yet Team Penske final week suggested a sponsorship module for a No. 2 automobile in pieces, and it usually includes 11 races with Miller Lite as a primary sponsor. Discount Tire was sole a rights to be on Keselowski’s automobile in subsequent year’s season-opening Daytona 500 and deteriorate culmination during Homestead, as good as 8 other events. The Würth Group was announced as a three-race sponsor.

Still, Penske was means to do what few others can conduct right now: Put together a sponsorship package that is profitable adequate for him to means a cost driver.

Kenseth struck out time and again in a hunt that began when Joe Gibbs Racing suddenly told him it was bringing growth motorist Erik Jones in-house subsequent season, a preference that cost a 45-year-old Kenseth a mark in a lineup.

The 19-year Cup maestro didn’t get rides during Hendrick Motorsports, that will see Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne skip after a season. Alex Bowman and William Byron will allegedly expostulate subsequent year for something like $500,000 in salary.

It is transparent that sponsorship budgets have been decreased, reflecting in many ways radio viewership for NASCAR races and assemblage during several tracks. With fewer dollars entrance in, automobile owners have to be clever to equivocate profitable too many losses out of pocket. Driver salaries don’t seem to be a priority right now, and a man like Kenseth would remove income on transport for himself, his mother and 4 children to some or all of a 38 races on a Cup schedule.

Earnhardt warned progressing this year that NASCAR’s financial complement was in for a vital reset, and it has happened faster than anyone expected.

“On a large intrigue of things, we feel like things have happened quickly, yet nonetheless on a other hand, it kind of does warn me how, we know, a reset, hasn’t been totally linear,” Kenseth recently said. “Some people have been means to make it work, some people haven’t. Certainly right now is a really engaging time.

“I consider it’s a really tough time for automobile owners to find a income that they need to margin rival competition cars with rival personnel. we consider it’s substantially harder than during slightest it’s been given I’ve been around. And a cost is aloft than when we started, as well. Certainly a severe environment.”

Tony Stewart had been unprotected to a changing NASCAR sponsorship landscape once he assimilated Gene Haas as co-owner of their four-car team, yet even he’s been astounded during a problems in anticipating funding.

The group had a large batch of open register on Clint Bowyer’s automobile this year, ran into a sponsorship brawl with Patrick’s backers right before a start of a deteriorate and Haas has been radically appropriation Busch’s automobile out of pocket. For Busch to lapse to a team, he is approaching going to accept a poignant compensate cut.

SHR now has Smithfield Foods entrance aboard, and Almirola seems pegged to continue a driver-sponsorship attribute he began during Richard Petty Motorsports. SHR could have Kenseth or even Brickyard 400 leader Kahne, yet instead is going with a motorist a unite is already gentle with.

Stewart is clever to note it’s not a sponsor-driven decision, though.

“I’m not employing drivers that have money. I’ve been a track that in a dirt-track stuff. I’ve seen it, it’s not a approach to run a competition team,” Stewart told The Associated Press final month. “I know there’s people that have to do that to survive, yet if that’s what we had to do to survive, we wouldn’t do it, it’s not value it to me.

“I wish to sinecure drivers that we feel like can go out and run good and win races, and if we can’t sinecure them on their talent, we don’t wish to do it all.”

Stewart pronounced he’d dump a automobile before he’d sinecure a motorist bringing in sponsorship money. However, that’s radically what Patrick did when she came to NASCAR with her GoDaddy Funding . When that ran out, SHR did find her new sponsorship.

Stewart believes a indication needs a ton of work and a plan starts with increasing viewership. If ratings and assemblage improve, a sponsorship dollars grow again.

Until then, NASCAR is in a cycle where drivers such as Kenseth will be sidelined subsequent year. He finished fourth during Texas on Sunday. He’s ninth in a standings.

“You do this since we wish to contest and we wish to go out and try to contend for races and championships, and if you’re carrying to do it only to get by, there’s no fun in that,” Stewart said.

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More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/

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