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Denny Hamlin: ‘NASCAR drivers should be making NBA, NFL money’; calls for redistribution of revenue

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CHARLOTTE – Denny Hamlin lobbied Wednesday for the revenue distribution model to be shifted in NASCAR’s premier series, giving teams and drivers the opportunity to make more money.

To ensure the long-term economic viability of championship-caliber race teams, whose budgets can exceed $100 million annually to field four cars in Cup, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver believes the reliance on corporate sponsorship should be “bonus money,” and that teams should be able to survive on purse money.

Under terms of a consolidated national network TV era that began in 2001, tracks receive 65 percent of revenue from rights fees revenue, teams receive 25 percent, and NASCAR gets 10 percent. NASCAR signed Fox and NBC in a 10-year deal, which is in its third season, that has been estimated at more than $8 billion.

“The pie has to be shifted for sure,” Hamlin said at a charity event Wednesday morning to promote International Walk to School Day with sponsor FedEx. “The TV dollars coming into NASCAR is higher than it’s ever been, but we’re seeing fewer and fewer teams, and it just can’t survive. So it economically doesn’t make sense. The pie, the amount of TV money that the race teams share, has to go up, in my opinion.”

With sponsorship more difficult to find for teams, the breaking point seems to be driver salaries, which seem to be in an ongoing reset as the Cup Series undergoes a youth movement. Dale Earnhardt Jr. estimated the new wave of drivers will earn a fraction of what his generation made.

Asked whether decreasing driver salaries was a way to address team financials, Hamlin replied: “You’ve got the wrong guy to ask me on that, because I think we’re way underpaid on that as race car drivers. That’s a fact. I think there’s no doubt doing what we do, the schedule we have, the danger we incur every single week, NASCAR drivers should be making NBA, NFL money.

“I really, truly believe that. But it can not come out of the owners’ pockets.”

Do drivers deserve more because they are risking their lives more than in other professional sports or because of the length of schedule?

“It’s a combination of all those things,” Hamlin said. “Essentially the drivers get two months off. The teams get no months off. There just has to be some kind of different revenue sharing. I’m sure this will be in some headline somewhere where ‘Denny says the drivers aren’t paid enough.’

“I’m basing it off all other sports. I’m not including myself. I’m including probably the back half of the field that those drivers are risking the same amount I am, and they should be paid a hell of a lot more.”

Given that tracks earn the largest percentage of the revenue distribution, it would seem they would be the likeliest target for Hamlin’s redistribution plan.

Hamlin said it was incumbent upon tracks to prove worthy of their share by spending on upgrades.

“Racetracks are making a lot of money,” Hamlin said. “And I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus, but they’ve either got to reinvest that money, which some tracks are. I’m not going to put some on the same island as others, but Dover (has) terrible garage stalls. It’s not even a garage. A garage is defined as something that’s enclosed. We have lean-tos that we’re working under.

“The crew members deserve better working conditions than what they’ve got. We’ve got to hold these tracks to a higher standard, not only with the race surface but the fan experience, the team experience. That money has to be reinvested to give us a better product and something for fans to see.”

According to Dover International Speedway, the track did install SAFER barrier extensions in 2017 and ’16 and a new catchfence in 2015.

Hamlin also saw a warning sign in the K&N East finale at the 1-mile oval last Friday. There were 15 cars that competed, down from 27 last year and 31 in the ’15 finale.

“One of the most disappointing things I saw this weekend was eight cars running at the end of a K&N race at Dover,” he said. “The model is not right. Someone’s got to come in and say, ‘Let’s reset.’ We have to start over from scratch.

“And I get it. Hey, it’s the way it’s been done for 50, 60 years, but the economics of sports have changed since then, and I believe there’s got to be a reset, and it doesn’t come from drivers. It comes from NASCAR switching and helping teams survive on a better basis. You’re going to get a better product on the racetrack. Listen, we don’t want only six race teams to be in NASCAR five years from now, but that’s the way it’s heading.”

Hamlin’s views grew out of a discussion of the 2018 rules that NASCAR announced Tuesday. The new regulations include a common splitter and radiator that are intended to help reduce costs because teams will buy spec parts instead of spending enormous sums on R&D to optimize their own handcrafted versions.

“I think the radiators will be the biggest expense,” he said. “I think really they’re just trying to stack pennies and trying to get to a bigger cost savings. Because ultimately what do we want to see in NASCAR? We want to see teams be able to fund race cars without sponsors being on the side of it. We need to keep this sport healthy.

“We shouldn’t have to rely on the money that comes in from the sponsors. (That) should be bonus money that goes to the team. That’s where I’d like to see it. These teams should be able to survive on purse money, and right now they can’t.”

The economic sustainability of the NASCAR team business model has been a hot-button issue in recent years, notably around the 2014 formation of the Race Team Alliance and last year’s creation of the charter system (which guaranteed participation and revenue streams for 36 cars annually).

In August, Richard Petty Motorsports majority co-owner Andrew Murstein told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long that he had proposed the idea of a salary cap in the Cup Series. Murstein also said that NASCAR drivers relatively are underpaid compared to other professional sports.

“I see hockey guys who play a third of the game make $17 million a year,” Murstein said. “Now you’re talking about (drivers) who are 10th best in the world at what they do getting only salaries of $5 million, so I actually think their salaries are low compared to other sports but the business needs that right now with the sponsorship decline.

“I love the fact of how no other sport has a partner with the athletes where here the athletes get 40 percent of the race winnings. So each race they go into as your partner vs. other sports where they win or lose, it makes no difference at all.”

Christopher Bell wins first career Xfinity Series race at Kansas

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Christopher Bell passed teammate Erik Jones with four laps left in the Kansas Lottery 300, withstood contact from behind by Jones and went on to claim his first career Xfinity Series win.

Bell, driving the No. 18 Toyota, earned the win in his fifth career start. It comes in the opening race of the second round of the playoffs.

Jones had dominated the race until the pass by Bell. He led 186 of the race’s 200 laps and swept the first two stages. He finished 15th, one lap down due to damage from running into the back of Bell.

It is the first win for Joe Gibbs Racing since Denny Hamlin won at Darlington Raceway, a five-race stretch. JGR has won 11 Xfinity races this season.

Bell, 22, is a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Erik Jones

STAGE 2 WINNER: Erik Jones

Check back for more

Dale Earnhardt Jr. bursting with joy over thoughts of baby girl

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — They laughed.

When the doctor told Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy that Amy was pregnant, the couple laughed.

It wasn’t the kind of laugh one makes after a joke or a funny story. It was … well, let Dale explain:

“Something just comes out,’’ Earnhardt said Saturday at Kansas Speedway. “You just burst out like joy. It wasn’t funny ha-ha. It was a joyful moment.’’

And then they got to hear the heartbeat.

“Somebody says you’re wife is pregnant, that registers a little bit but, man, when you hear that heartbeat, it’s like yep, it’s real,’’ Earnhardt said. “This is a real thing in there. It’s here. My God, it’s happening. Just all this emotion pops out.’’

The prelude to the excitement was the waiting. It was almost too much for Earnhardt when they first went to the doctor’s office to confirm that Amy was pregnant.

We went to the doctor and I’m still thinking man, I’m not believing crap until this doctor tells me,’’ Earnhardt said. “So, we’re sitting in there for like 20 minutes. And they’re talking woman language and I’m not understanding. They are just talking about things and I’m like well, when is she going to say it? I want to hear it from the doctor’s mouth that she’s pregnant, so we can rejoice.

“It took them a while. I was scared to speak up. Finally, they said something that confirmed it for me and I was like, awesome. And then we had the ultrasound and got to hear the heartbeat and all that right there, and that was great. We go back for another checkup here soon, in a couple of days, and those are awesome. They are so much fun because it’s like the closest you can get to it before they’re born and I’m looking forward to each and every one of them.”

Earnhardt said on his podcast this week that the baby is due May 2.

“I know that Amy has changed my life a lot, and I imagine this baby is going to have the same impact and just can’t wait to meet her,’’ Earnhardt said Saturday. “It’s just taking forever.”

Earnhardt says he understands the excitement friends and family have had with their children.

“I guess the thing that hits me is I’ve watched all my friends, a lot of them, have kids and my sister have kids,’’ he said. “I was happy for those milestones in their lives, but I had no idea what that really meant. And as we found out and were going through these little moments through the pregnancy it’s just hitting home how impactful that child has been in all the lives of my friends and family. And I just really didn’t understand or appreciate, I guess, how incredible that moment must have been for them and how their lives completely changed. I saw it from a completely different point of view when I wasn’t experiencing it myself. 

“I look at my friends completely different. I look at my sister completely different knowing what I know now and what I’m learning as I go. And I know there is more to be exposed to and more enlightening and more eye-opening experiences that will make me not only appreciate what me and Amy, what we have, but what my friends and family and folks that I am very close to have and what they have experienced. 

“Because I thought I knew, childbirth is exciting, it’s awesome to have children and everybody says it changes your life and everybody says it’s the greatest thing ever, but you just don’t know until you really go through it.’’

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Ryan Blaney fastest in final Cup practice at Kansas

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Ryan Blaney was fastest in the final NASCAR Cup Series practice at Kansas Speedway.

Blaney, who will start last Sunday after failing post-qualifying inspection, posted a top speed of 182.057 mph.

He was followed by Kyle Busch (181.143), Kevin Harvick (181.720), Danial Suarez (181.665) and Matt Kenseth (181.543).

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. was 12th fastest.

Harvick posted the best 10-lap average at 180.120 mph.

Jimmie Johnson, who was 15th fastest, recorded the most laps with 53.

There were no accidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

Tyler Reddick wins pole for Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway

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Tyler Reddick claimed his first career Xfinity Series pole Saturday at Kansas Speedway, winning the top spot with a speed of 181.117 mph.

Rounding out the top five are Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Austin Dillon

William Byron was the highest qualifying playoff driver in sixth, but he will start from the year because of unapproved adjustments.

Reddick’s pole comes in his 17th Xfinity start. It also continues an impressive stretch for Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet. Both Reddick and Alex Bowman earned their first Xfinity wins in the last three races. Reddick won at Kentucky Speedway. Bowman won at Charlotte Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

“This cooler weather might be helping us,” Reddick told NBCSN. “We were really tight yesterday. I think that’s going to help us in the race.”

The pole also comes the week after one of his grandmothers, Carolyn Joyce Brown, passed away. Her name is on the roof of his car.

“The last two weeks have been rough,” Reddick said. “She was battling health for a long time and just finally lost the battle. She watched every single race and ever lap on track. She was there watching it at the race track or at home. Hopefully we can do something special for her. This will be the first race she hasn’t been here to see.”

Here is where the playoff drivers qualified:

William Byron – sixth

Cole Custer – seventh

Matt Tifft – eighth

Brennan Poole – ninth

Daniel Hemric – 10th

Elliott Sadler – 11th

Justin Allgaier – 13th

Ryan Reed – 15th

Click here for the qualifying results.