As long as racing has been in existence, money has been paramount.
That will never change, but as of late, the concept seems to be morphing to some degree.
When the sport was at its peak in the early-to-mid 2000s, sponsors aplenty came into NASCAR like clockwork. Heck, I can only imagine what it’d be like if a team told a sponsor to get in line to be a part of their organization.
Back then, teams hired the best driver, then found a sponsor. Now, sponsors are few and far between (relatively speaking), and teams hire a driver based upon sponsorship they bring to the table.
It’s been that way for a long time, but has been magnified since the recession hit. The dollar became more important than ever, and motorsports wasn’t an exception. Unfortunately, drivers with talent were on the outs, and drivers with money were on the way in.
That’s always been the name of the game. But recently, there’s been some glimmers of hope that the “pay to play” mantra that’s been dominating the sports headlines negatively when it comes to “Silly Season” may be on the outs.
See: Ross Chastain. Rumors as of late are that he’ll be driving for Kaulig Racing next season in the Xfinity Series. Sure, Nutrien Ag Solutions loves Chastain, and will likely come over with him. But he didn’t get the Chip Ganassi Racing ride and put it in Victory Lane with a sponsor backing him. A team did.
How about Chris Buescher’s move to Roush Fenway Racing? After winning the championship with RFR in the Xfinity Series, he moved to Front Row Motorsports in Cup with basically nothing. Then to JTG Daugherty Racing with, again, basically nothing.
Now, back to Roush he goes, bringing little to no sponsorship. Jack Roush admitted he made a mistake by letting Buescher go in the first place, and he’s convinced his sponsors this move will be worthwhile for them.
Tyler Reddick‘s grandfather has ties to Broken Bow Records, which has helped with some sponsorship in his Xfinity Series season. But his move to Cup has been strictly performance based. Richard Childress will tell you as much.
Ryan Preece had to dig deep in his pockets to get a chance at his ultimate goal: winning in the Cup Series. He bet on himself by securing some events with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, made the most of them, and JTG took a chance on him.
Alex Bowman replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and sponsors Nationwide and Axalta staying on, after the most popular driver for almost two decades steps away? That speaks volumes.
But there are still questions to be answered as to whether the proverbial problem has been solved. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. … will he land on his feet somewhere? Will he bring any sponsorship with him and if so, how much? If not, what does he do?
For all those that haven’t brought sponsorship but wound up in competitive rides, there are countless more that can’t say the same.
See: Tommy Joe Martins…
— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) September 28, 2019
I get the pessimism from most. But NASCAR seems to be in a better place than they have been when it comes to this issue. And that’s a start.