WAID’S WORLD: Driver Exodus Product Of NASCAR’s Changing Circumstances
“Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’ “
— Bob Dylan
When it comes to NASCAR, Dylan had it right: The times are certainly changing – and rapidly when it comes to the drivers who will or won’t compete on its Monster Energy circuit.
Perhaps at no other time in its history have so many quality drivers associated with major, winning teams departed NASCAR.
In a sense it has become a complete overhaul with a large group of established talent going away, to be replaced by younger drivers with few achievements but a lot of promise.
Over the course of two years some of NASCAR’s most prominent – and popular – drivers have either left the sport or plan to by the end of this season.
Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart retired. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle simply quit. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire at the end of the 2017 campaign. Matt Kenseth has said he’ll find something else to do in 2018. And Danica Patrick has yet to find work for next season.
There could be others on the sidelines by 2018.
These departed or departing drivers have won multiple races and championships. Their popularity has been enormous. Nearly all of them are assured enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
There hasn’t been so large a NASCAR exodus since 1988 when drivers Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker retired. Bobby Allison’s career ended after he suffered life-threatening injuries in an accident at Pocono.
Is all of this coincidence or are there reasons for it?
Some of it is coincidental. Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Stewart, for their own reasons, planned for their retirements. But I’m not convinced the others did so. They were motivated by circumstances.
And in one man’s opinion the majority of those circumstances can be summarized by one word: economics.
NASCAR and its teams simply are not blessed with the incomes they enjoyed just a few years ago. And as such, they cannot spend as they once did.
Which means, in turn, they have had to economize – trim budgets and costs. And one way to do that is to reduce driver salaries. It follows that an expensive competitor might be released in favor of another who will work for less money.
How it all reached this point is a subject for debate. Many fans claim that NASCAR’s seemingly unending meddling with rules, technology, scheduling, policies, points system and championship format so severely diluted interest that race attendance and television ratings dropped.
It followed that sponsors either lost all interest or decided to cut their flow of dollars to the teams.
With sponsorship money much harder to find teams had to resort to multiple financial backers in order to compete. And while they did that, they also found ways to reduce the bills.Da
The causes may be up for discussion but the facts are these: Teams can no longer afford the luxury of $30 million single entity sponsors because there are so few, if any, available.
Gone are the days of extra personnel hired solely to work with inner-team organizations created solely for testing. Remember that?
For a while now teams have had to work hard simply to find the means to compete. That’s a reason why they have two, three, four or more sponsors on board for a single season.
These sponsors pay less to represent teams on a limited schedule. But it’s the only way they will participate in NASCAR – they are fully aware of smaller crowds and television numbers.
It is logical to assume that in their effort to reduce costs, teams have found it necessary to adjust salaries.
It could be that in some cases they have asked their drivers to take a salary cut. Perhaps they have declared that if they want to remain, they have to do so with reduced pay.
I’m not saying that drivers like Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth have done what they have because they won’t race for less money – or take a position with any team they determine to be substandard.
Common sense tells us they aren’t earning as much as their predecessors – who deserved every nickel, by the way.
I’m certain there is a lot more to all of this. But it is happening.
It’s part of a cycle that has always been associated with NASCAR – the times are a-changin’.
EMAIL STEVE AT firstname.lastname@example.org
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