Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Harvick: Earnhardt "Stunting The Growth Of NASCAR"

Former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick pulled no punches last night when talking about the imminent retirement of fellow driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., saying the sport’s perennial Most Popular Driver “had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” by not winning enough races.
Speaking on his weekly Sirius XM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours,” the 2014 series champion said he is puzzled by the popularity of Earnhardt, who has won just nine races in the last 10 seasons.
“He is the most popular driver, but did he have the credentials to back up being the highest paid driver in the sport? Probably not,” said Harvick. He was the most popular driver in the sport (and) he could demand a huge sum of money, because he brought things in from the souvenir side of things and a popularity side of things, that other drivers didn’t. He earned his money a different way. It wasn’t from a performance base.
“This is where some of the growth in this sport has not reached the levels that it should have,” he added. Because our most popular driver hasn’t been our most successful driver.
“When you look at other sports; basketball (and) football -- and you look at their most popular (athletes) -- they’re also right up there at the top of the list as their most successful. So, I believe that Dale Jr. has had a big part in kind of stunting the growth of NASCAR, because he’s got these legions of fans. (He has) this huge outreach, being able to reach different places that none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won 9 races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports.
“Did we miss a lot of that wave because our most popular driver wasn’t winning?” 
Harvick admitted that “these aren’t the most popular comments,” but insisted “those are real-life facts that you can look up on the stat sheet.”
Harvick said Earnhardt’s massive fan base is “totally confusing to me,” adding that “Jimmie Johnson should be our most popular guy, because he’s won seven championships. But when you look at the souvenir sheets every week, he’s 3-4-5, coming off of a championship year.
“That part is a little bit confusing.”
Harvick said Earnhardt’s late father, Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, Sr. “became Dale Earnhardt because of the fact that he won seven championships and was out there grinding every week. That hasn’t happened (with Junior). The thing that makes sports go around is success. The people… that are the most popular people in other sports, win.”
“Lebron James wins. Steph Curry wins. Peyton Manning won. That’s how you drive the sport and take it to a new level; when your most popular guys are winning, week after week after week. It’s so confusing to me, the whole scenario. I keep bringing up Jimmie Johnson because he’s won seven championships. (We should be) putting him on a pedestal with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, but it’s like that doesn’t even register with everybody out there.”
Harvick also discounted Earnhardt’s recent comments about declining driver salaries, saying, “Dale’s never really been in a position -- since he’s been at Hendrick Motorsports -- to understand where normal driver salaries even are.
“He’s always been the highest-paid guy in NASCAR. He’s been the guy that makes the most money.
“Hendrick Motorsports is about to go through a total reset,” he said. “For years, they’ve had the highest-paid athletes in motorsports on their team. Now, with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kasey Kahne exiting within a two-year period, it’s a complete re-branding. Sure it’s going to lower the cost. Hendrick Motorsports has had the highest paid drivers for a number of years, with Jeff Gordon and the highest paid driver, Dale Jr.
“(In 2018), they’re going to have some of the lowest payroll with three of their drivers. They’re going to lean on Jimmie Johnson to be the veteran guy and lead the company; teaching those guys how to race. And they’re going to have to pay him more than the other three guys combined, in order to take that role and push Hendrick Motorsports forward.”

Monday, August 07, 2017

COMMENTARY: "Right-Sizing" Proving Painful For Veteran Drivers

Kahne is out at HMS
Three of NASCAR’s biggest names are currently “at leisure” for the 2018 season; a fact that many observers struggle to understand.

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed today that Kasey Kahne has been released from the final year of his contract, freeing him to explore other opportunities for 2018 and beyond. Last week, Stewart Haas Racing declined to exercise its contract option on Kurt Busch, while Matt Kenseth currently has no ride lined up for next season, after losing his spot with Joe Gibbs Racing.

How do three proven drivers with a combined 85 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins and two series championships find themselves on the outside, looking in? And while we’re at it, how does Greg Biffle – a former Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series champion with 19 career MENCS wins -- languish on the sidelines while drivers with a small fraction of his resume continue to compete every week?

The answer comes down to money, or the lack thereof.

“Kasey has worked extremely hard,” said team owner Rick Hendrick in announcing Kahne’s impending departure. “He’s a tremendous teammate and person, and he has been totally dedicated to our program since day one.”

Kurt Busch is a free agent...
All of that is unquestionably true. Unfortunately, Kahne is also a veteran driver who expects a certain level of compensation for his labor. And like Kenseth, Busch and Biffle, Kahne’s desired level of compensation makes him expendable in these changing economic times.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – who owns a top NASCAR Xfinity Series team in addition to his driving duties with Hendrick Motorsports – explained the realities of today’s NASCAR to NBCSports.com recently, saying, “You’ve got a guy who you think has got a lot of talent (and) a lot of potential, and a veteran who is established but wants three, four, five, six times the amount of money. You’re going to go with the younger guy, because it’s a better deal financially.”

...as is Kenseth.
Earnhardt said that in an era where sponsorship is increasingly difficult to come by, drivers can no longer write their own check when it comes to salary.

“The trickle-down effect is coming through in the drivers’ contracts and making a big difference in the decisions these owners are making,” said Earnhardt. “You can’t pay a driver $5 to $8 million a year, if you ain’t got but $10 million worth of sponsorship.”

And that, my friends, is the rub.

It’s not 1998 anymore. The days when a sponsor would happily stroke a check for $30 million per year are long gone, and they’re not coming back anytime soon. The number of sponsors willing (or able) to fund an entire, 38-race season can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand. And as sponsorship wanes, teams must respond by cutting payroll, slashing expenses and paring their operation closer to the bone than ever before.

End result?

Biffle: Still sidelined
A proven commodity like Kenseth finds himself jettisoned in favor of 21-year old newcomer Erik Jones, who will win races and contend for championships while cashing a much smaller paycheck than the man he replaced.

Busch has his contract option declined by Stewart Haas Racing, who will almost certainly attempt to ink a new pact with the former series champion, at a lower rate of compensation.

Biffle – who sources say was near the top of Richard Petty’s wish list when Aric Almirola was sidelined by injury earlier this season – gets passed over in favor of 23-year old Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, in large measure due to the gaping disparity in their pay demands.

And Kahne is let go by Hendrick Motorsports, likely in favor of young William Byron; a wildly talented 19-year old who will race competitively for less money than Kahne likely has scattered beneath his couch cushions.

NASCAR has recently come face-to-face with a difficult (though arguably long overdue) period of right-sizing. The days when mid-pack drivers owned their own private jets are long gone. The team owner’s helicopter went up for sale years ago, and the mountain chalet is now a luxury, rather than a necessity.

There is a leaner, meaner NASCAR on the horizon, and the transition will be uncomfortable for some. In the end, though, we will ultimately get back to what the sport was supposed to be about all along, racing instead of revenue

BREAKING: Kahne, Hendrick To Part At Season's End

Hendrick Motorsports has announced that Kasey Kahne has been released from the final year of his contract, allowing him to immediately pursue opportunities for 2018.
“Kasey has worked extremely hard,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “He’s a tremendous teammate and person, and he has been totally dedicated to our program since day one. I’ve always believed that he’s a special talent, and I know he will thrive in the right situation. We will do everything we can to finish the season as strong as we can.”
Kahne, 37, will complete the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series schedule for Hendrick Motorsports. He was signed by the organization in April 2010, nearly two years before his February 2012 debut in its No. 5 Chevrolet. Now in their sixth season together, Kahne has earned six of his 18 career points-paying Cup victories with the No. 5 team.
“I’d like to thank Rick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for their hard work and dedication, along with providing me a great opportunity and success over the last six years,” said Kahne, who most recently won July 23 at Indianapolis. “We won six races together and I'm coming off of one of the biggest wins of my career at the Brickyard, which has given the (No.) 5 team a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs. We still have a lot of racing left in 2017 and finishing strong is our top priority. I look forward to what the next chapter in my career holds.”
Hendrick Motorsports will announce 2018 plans for its four-car operation at a later date.

Busch, Keselowski Offer Differing Views On Mid-Race Crash

Busch was fuming after the race.
Kyle Busch stalked away from his M&Ms Caramel Toyota following Sunday’s I Love New York 355 at The Glen; trailed by a pack of reporters anxious to witness a promised, post-race dustup between the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and rival Brad Keselowski, who had tangled on-track earlier in the day.

Despite an earlier warning that his crew “better keep me away from that @#$%& after the race,” Busch disappointed the media entourage, walking straight to his team’s transporter without so much as a sideways glance toward Keselowski.

Their lap-45 crash – as well as an earlier pit road miscue that dropped him to the tail of the field – ruined what appeared to be a dominating day for the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, dashing his hopes of sweep the WGI weekend and claiming his second consecutive MENCS checkered flag.

The two raced side-by-side into The Glen’s tricky “bus stop;” a right-left-left-right chicane that is difficult to negotiate, even in single-file formation. They banged doors and spun, with Busch unable to re-fire until he had fallen nearly a half-lap behind the leaders. Both drivers were forced to pit shortly afterward for tires and body repairs, effectively ending their hopes for Victory Lane.

Kyle led early...
Busch rebounded to seventh at the finish, with Keselowski 15th after driving through too many pit stalls on his final stop and serving a NASCAR penalty.

"I was going in the corner and I had (AJ Allmendinger) behind me,” explained Keselowski afterward. “I got to the corner and my spotter said `somebody there.’ I had already gotten to the corner and by then I was already committed.

"I think he was probably committed (as well). It looked like he tried to make a big move from a couple of car lengths back and it was more than what there was room for. It probably didn't help either one of us. It was a bummer.”

Asked for his post-race take on the incident, Busch said simply, "Imagine that. I couldn't tell you (what happened). I haven't seen (the replay)."

Brad led late...
Busch and Keselowski have had their moments before on the 2.454-mile road course. In 2012, Busch spun after last-lap contact from Keselowski on an oil-slicked race track, ending his hopes for victory.

Earlier this season, they tangled on the opening lap of a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Michigan International Speedway in June, and following a similar dust-up at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016, Busch called Keselowski “a dirty racer.”

This time around, however, both drivers likely owned a share of the blame, whether they accept it or not.

"This is a track where you fight for inches,” countered Keselowski. And we both are probably not willing to give in. It didn't help my day at all either, I can tell you that. I wasn't looking to get into him and I don't think he was looking to get into me. He probably had the dominant car. He didn't need any trouble. Neither did I.

After viewing the post-race videotape, Busch later tweeted that he “was going to make the corner just fine until I got drilled in my right side door.”

Asked if he expects to talk through the incident before this weekend’s race at MIS, Keselowski said, “I don’t think (Busch) is really the listening type.

“So that is pretty doubtful.”