NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: What Does Chase Elliott’s Contract Extension Mean for Hendrick Motorsports?

2017 is the year of long-term contracts in NASCAR.

First, it was Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, both announcing at Daytona they would be remain with their respective teams. Then, it was Jimmie Johnson. Now, it is Chase Elliott.

Clearly, team owners have not paid much attention to Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, where multi-year deals are hurting organizations left and right.

Hopefully, NASCAR teams are smart and will not make the mistake the New York Mets made with Bobby Bonilla. The Metropolitans have to pay Bonilla $1.19 million every July 1, which happens to be this Saturday, the day of NASCAR’s return to Daytona International Speedway.

The Mets aren’t the only team to mess up when signing a long-term deal with an athlete, but they are certainly the perfect example of what not to do. Deron Williams once inked a five-year, $98 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets. But that’s nothing. Rick DiPietro signed a 15-year, $67.5 million deal with the New York Islanders, which he didn’t even fulfill because his career ended seven seasons (11 overall) into the contract.

So let’s hope that NASCAR teams have learned from the mistakes of their counterparts when it comes to long-term deals.

Sometimes, you’ll end up with a lifetime contract like Jeff Gordon. Other times? Well, good luck to the owner who risks it all to put all their chips in when the dealer is ready to pass out the deck.

Q: What does Chase Elliott’s contract extension mean for Hendrick Motorsports? – Wesley R., San Diego

A: This could be a bigger gamble than it seems for Hendrick Motorsports. The team is signing Elliott through 2022, which is slightly less than Logano’s contract extension (2023) and exceeds that of HMS teammate Johnson, who is signed through 2020.

Elliott still has not driven his No. 24 car into Victory Lane, something he expected to do well before he ran what is now 57 races in NASCAR’s premier division. While the performance is certainly there, consistently running in the top 10 and as of the last month, the

chase
Is the move to sign Elliott to a long-term contract a brilliant move or extremely risky? Time will tell. (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

top five, he still has an egg in the win column.

While the Georgia native should break into the Winner’s Circle sooner rather than later, it is a bold move to sign a winless driver to a contract spanning several years. It is even bolder to do so when each of the driver’s sponsors are only signed through 2018, even though they have the potential to extend for at least part of Elliott’s new deal.

Elliott’s potential is endless, using lessons learned from not only his veteran teammates, but his father as well.

He could potentially become NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver in 2018, taking the reigns from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who became the most popular man in the sport after Elliott’s father, Bill Elliott, last won the award in 2002.

That in itself would make the extension worthwhile for HMS as the team will attempt to fill a marketing gap that is potentially damaging to the organization. Earnhardt’s departure could mean a shuffling of sponsors within the four-car team, along with searching for strategies to make its future driver line-up as popular as ever before.

But for Elliott, the popularity will only go so far if he does not win frequently as he continues to settle into the sport’s most prestigious level. He’s proven he can compete for victories, but putting together a complete race is lacking, making this extension premature.

His numbers are quite respectable, finishing 10th in the championship standings last year, earning 10 top fives and 17 top 10s, along with poles at the first two restrictor plate races of that season. This year, he is continuing the pace with five top fives and 10 top 10s through 16 contests.

If he doesn’t win, what do the results mean? They are just numbers without trophies to put in the entrance of the Nos. 5 and 24 shop.

But if Elliott does win, the gamble is an incredibly wise one on Hendrick’s part. It gives the team potential to market Elliott for several years, developing an on-going relationship with sponsors in an effort to build the program for once team owner Rick Hendrick, 67, retires.

And Elliott’s deal is incredibly important moving forward, securing at least two of the team’s four rides through 2020 and beyond, even if he doesn’t succeed like originally expected.

Once the organization figures out when to move XFINITY Series rookie William Byron to the Cup Series, which should be either 2019 or 2020, and determines who will fill Earnhardt’s ride, the team can begin its process at determining what is best for the future. Elliott will certainly be an integral part of the team’s plans, but he needs to show Hendrick Motorsports why this deal is a smart one.

Q: Could we see 16 winners in Cup before the playoffs begin? – Lisa K., Charlotte

A: Of the 11 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers to lead more than 100 laps this year, four are winless and one of them has an encumbered win.

10 folks are locked into the playoffs, which will once again feature 16 drivers. With 10 races left before the cutoff race at Richmond International Raceway, all four Joe Gibbs Racing cars are winless, and so are three Hendrick Motorsports drivers, two Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, amongst others.

Yeah, a lot can happen come September.

For the first time since introducing this playoff format during the 2014 season, NASCAR might find itself with a good problem — parity at the end of races. Drivers like Kyle Busch have dominated events, but they have failed to tame the competition when it counts the most. Late-race cautions are shaping finishes — for better or for worst — and because of it, there might be 16-plus winners once the playoffs start.

Let’s take a look at the drivers who haven’t won that have a legitimate chance to do so at tracks other than Daytona International Speedway this coming weekend since anyone can win there as long as they stay out of trouble.

Besides Busch, Hamlin and veteran Matt Kenseth have yet to win. All three of them should very well visit Victory Lane at least once each before the playoffs start. Add in rookie Daniel Suarez, who could sneak in a win, and you have four drivers right there who can make the playoffs.

jamie mcmurray sonoma
Could McMurray be another driver who add a little more pressure to drivers like Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade /
NKP)

That puts 14 in the playoffs.

Then, there is the aforementioned Logano, who is just at the start of a major contract with Team Penske. After his encumbered win at Richmond, he needs another one because points will likely not get him into the playoffs.

Elliott is still winless as well, along with Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne. Say Earnhardt wins at Daytona and then Elliott wins at a track like Michigan International Speedway, you have potentially 15-18 winners already — 10, plus three-four JGR drivers, Logano and the HMS guys.

Oh, and let’s not forget about Jamie McMurray, who like teammate Kyle Larson, is riding on Cloud 9. The No. 1 team would currently be in the playoffs based on points, sitting eighth in the standings and 13th in the playoff grid. In the midst of what could be a career-best season at this pace in terms of top fives and top 10s, if he wins, it would be icing on the cake and would guarantee 16 winners before the playoffs.

AJ Allmendinger is another driver who can sneak in a win. The road course ace is having a rough season, sitting 27th in points. But a win at Watkins Glen International will propel this team into the playoffs and could give the sport a situation that sees more than 16 winners.

Clint Bowyer is eager for a victory. After a disappointing second-place run at Sonoma Raceway, it is unbelievable to say that he could be disappointed after an unforgettable 2016. But that shows he is back and hungry. With more speed than the No. 14 car has shown in years, he and teammate Danica Patrick have potential to sneak in a win at Daytona, with Bowyer being able to do so at a track like Loudon as well.

The parity in NASCAR might not be present early in races, but it is certainly there at the end, when cautions breed cautions and strategy comes into play. The right strategy could be one that makes a team’s season, and it could prove that points still matter if there are more than 16 winners once the checkered flag waves at Richmond.

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Elliott Kahne

Man – I guess it’s becoming the “in” thing to rip on Chase. He is performing well in equipment that seems to be in decline. Also, the team’s pit strategy seems to be out to lunch. I love hoe people like this are saying “his popularity will only get him so far.” Jr was able to have a long career in NASCAR while running noncompetitive for years at a time. I remember the year the other HMS cars finished 1-2-3 in the points and he was in the 20’s but none of it ever mattered due to his popularity.

kb

What it means? T Shirt sales will still continue with healthy bottom line. Same deal as is with Ralphie…insane fans think Chase is Bill, the way they think Booger is his father as he drives past them at each race. Hearts aflutter and life is good!

kb

…And the young Clyde drives the iconic 24 car…which boosts T shirt sales too!! No doubt when the 24 drives on by…the hearts flutter wishing it was Jeff, and who is to blame them! Dammum…think about it, the younger Clyde has SOME people wishing it was his father driving, and see the 24 car SOME still wish it was Jeff. Clyde better get a win on his own…..some heads might explode!

Carl D.

Say what you want to about Chase, but the fact is he’s a hot commodity. He has the popularity of a Dale Jr. but with more talent and potential. It’s quite possible that a long-term extension was the only surefire way to keep him at HMS. I’m not claiming he’s sliced bread, but he’s definitely one of the most promising talents (though certainly not the only one) to come along in the past couple of years.

DoninAjax

I’ve been wondering for a while what happened to the sons of Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth?

Carl D.

I remember hearing that Mark Martin’s son (Matt) decided that he wanted to pursue a different occupation. Don’t know about Kenseth’s son.

Bill B

My thought is Hendrick has to have one piece in place to build on. Johnson probably retires after his current contract (3 years). Kahne will be gone after next year if he isn’t gone at the end of this year and Jr is out the door. He needs to land two decent drivers and get them up to speed in the next two years. At least now he knows Chase is part of the 5 year plan.

Anthony P.

One thing you’ll notice is that any contract extension from here on out will only be from now through 2022, when the current TV contracts expire. I’m not sure Nascar will be nearly as marketable on the deals the next contract go around. I also bet Monsters deal runs through the same period as the TV deals.

Echo

Young Blaney might spoil dreams of Chase taking over the sports most popular driver award, he has quite the following on social networks. Chase will do just fine and get his fair share and more of wins. Race near the front consistently and the wins will come. Now that the ridiculous idea of the fools who were saying Edwards would take over the 88 have been laughed away by Carl we have the same media putting Kenseth in the 88. Surely Rock wouldn’t be so foolish and instead he steals one of these current good young drivers already driving Cup. Steal Brad, or Larson or Eric Jones I hope. I just hope Rick is smart enough to not sign the guy Ford And NASCAR and Fox are all trying to push on us. Bubba can’t win an xfinity race in how many years and yet diversity for the sake of diversity is being shoved at us. I think Rick IS smarter than that because they can’t even find sponsors for a non winner now.

Echo

Can’t help but wonder why Bob Pockrass writes so many articles about Danica ! Fascination or $$$ ! Speaking of Danica, if she retires and Ricky starts winning will she continue coming to the races to support him ! Will he be allowed to celebrate his wins longer than one day unlike his only win! I say an emphatic NO she won’t be at the track many weekends and poof, the beginning of the end. Egos are a funny thing aren’t they lol

SmarterThanYou

I am a forever fan of Bill Elliott, but I certainly don’t wish it was Bill in the #24. (I kind of wish Chase was driving a #9 Ford, but that’s another issue.) Chase has his father’s legacy, but he is clearly his own man with a personality and persona quite distinct from his father’s. He handles the obnoxious media with skill, he does the social media thing, he throws parties for his fans, and he is a chick magnet. As for winning, that will come, but don’t forget that during a 7-year winless streak, Bill still managed to rack up the MPD award with ease every single year. There are fans that vote and fans that bitch about voting. Chase’s fan base clearly votes, as his MPD in NXS and his two All-Star fan votes attest. The popularity mantle will pass back to Dawsonville. This was a no-brainer for HMS.

Dale Brown

Not sure if anyone has noticed, but NASCAR races arn’t so easy to win these days. Chase will get his win in time, luck falling his way he would have already had 3 wins. We have had a ton of different drivers win this year, and few who have repeated. The new Less Downforce package is putting the driver back in the seat finally, of which you can see by all the different winners. It shows other things too like the great Kyle can’t buy a win getting close to 38 without a win now, and the entire Gibbs dynasty can’t buy a win! 7 time only has 2 or 3 and people who think Chase should have a handful by now, wins are not falling out of the sky. I was watching Chase’s dad when he finished with a ton of top 5’s but didn’t score his 1st win till the end of his 6th year, then went on to get 48 wins in his career with cars that had a less amount of money in them and just more smarts as the team grew. But it was much different then, no 25 million dollar a year sponsors and massive TV deals. Different times, different circumstances. Yes they said the same thing about him too for those who are old and wise enough to remember. Chase will get a win this year, when you least expect it probably like the rest of the wins this year have gone. Everyone needs to quit talking about it every time they open their mouths and it will happen. And yes Blaney is a good driver and will get some wins, but more DNF’s then most. He’s already showed that, and the lack of polish that Chase has will not help him in years to come sponsor wise. I have always loved the Wood’s back to the days of David Pearson and his domination in the 21 car. The Wood’s are getting a much needed boost from Ford and Penske that they have needed for years. I would have love to have seen a car that competitive when Bill Elliott was at the wheel for the Wood Brothers at the end of his career, but that is another story. Just let Chase run his races and he will get his win, and many more. The first one is always the hardest as we have seen with many new drivers, especially when the pariety is as close as it is now in the Cup series. But like all good things, it will come to those that wait. He has what it takes on and off the track, just needs a little racing luck. That too will happen.

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