Leave it to Dale Earnhardt Jr. to perfectly explain why this year’s Silly Season seems so crazy.
Unproven Alex Bowman was named as Earnhardt’s replacement in the No. 88 and former champions Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are currently free agents. Eighteen-time race winner Kasey Kahne may be on the hot seat, too.
So what the hell is going on? Well, it all comes down to driver salaries.
Here’s Earnhardt talking about the economics of NASCAR today at Watkins Glen:
“You’ve got more drivers coming in being offered — and accepting — contracts that are a fifth to a tenth of what veterans are getting paid. And that’s money that can go into the team. These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money they used to, so everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back. Everybody’s got to realize they’ve got to accept some of that difference.
“You’ve got a guy who you think has got a lot of talent, very young, lot of potential — and a veteran who is established but he wants three, four, five, six times the amount of money. I mean, you’re going to go with a younger guy because it’s a better deal financially.
“It took awhile, but when we had our major reset (financially) — the trickle-down effect is coming through the drivers’ contracts and making a big difference into the decisions these owners are making. You can’t pay a driver $5 to $8 million a year if you ain’t got but $10 million a year in sponsorship. You can’t. That ain’t gonna work. (Owners) aren’t getting $20, $30, $40 million a year on sponsorship.
“Drivers sort of have to understand that change is coming down the pipe. If it hasn’t happened to ’em yet, it’s going to happen to them. And the young guys, they don’t know any better. They’re taking a nickel to race. They’re taking whatever they can get.”
“That’s a shift that’s going to be better for the sport. Get those salaries in a realistic range for how much money we have from corporate America.”