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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.”

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”