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 outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.

 

 

 

SunnyD to sponsor Kevin Harvick in two races, Riley Herbst in Daytona 500

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Kevin Harvick has picked up a sponsor for the new season, and Riley Herbst has picked up a ride in the Daytona 500.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that orange drink SunnyD will be the primary sponsor for Harvick’s No. 4 Ford at Darlington Raceway (May 14) and Kansas Speedway (Sept. 10).

SunnyD also will be the sponsor for Herbst as he joins the entry list for the Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing car. The orange drink also will be an associate sponsor for Herbst in the No. 98 Xfinity car fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.

The 2023 season will be Harvick’s final year as a full-time Cup driver.

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The Daytona 500 will mark Herbst’s first Cup Series start. The 24-year-old native of Las Vegas has made 109 Xfinity Series starts.

“It’s great to have Riley making his first NASCAR Cup Series start with RWR and be a part of the next step in his career,” said team owner Rick Ware in a statement released by the team.

“As a kid you always dream of being able to race in the Daytona 500, and I’m able to accomplish that with Rick Ware Racing,” Herbst said. “It’s such a big event and for it to be my first Cup start will be a crazy experience.”

 

 

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).