On Tuesday, Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal to remain with Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. The move wasn’t shocking at all being that Busch has been in the No. 41 Ford for the last four seasons. Really, the only shock to me was that this deal didn’t get done sooner.
Back on Aug. 1, SHR informed Busch that they wouldn’t be honoring their option for his contract next season. While it seemed shocking that SHR would let a talented driver like Busch go, one that just won the Daytona 500 earlier that season, it was more contract lingo rather than performance based instead. See, SHR wanted Busch back. They really never explored anyone else. The goal was always intended for Busch to be back in that car again next season. Unfortunately, financial circumstances stepped in the way.
See, Monster Energy wasn’t guaranteed to come back to the team as a primary sponsor on Busch’s car past 2017. Since they’ve signed onto the team in 2016, the company has also become the title sponsor of the series itself. Did they really want to sponsor the series as a whole as well as a car too?
That left SHR in limbo and with Busch’s contract stating that if he’s going to remain under his old contract with the team for 2018, the team had to honor it by Aug. 1. Well, without the large amount of financial funding to back the car, SHR wasn’t in a financial state to pay Busch the millions that he was owed on their end of the agreement. Basically it was this, if the team wanted to keep Busch’s contract going for 2018 and beyond, paying him millions upon millions but have no guaranteed for a sponsor, they they sign on the dotted line on that Aug. 1 deadline. If they don’t do anything by Aug. 1, sign nothing, do nothing, then Busch’s contract is done upon the checked flag flying at Homestead in November and he’s able to pursue another ride.
Obviously, we know what happened.
But, the team did present Busch a new deal in the process. Unfortunately for Busch, the base pay was significantly less than the current one he was making. See, NASCAR is switching to a different pay scale. In the thriving years, drivers were paid crazy amounts of money, upwards of eight figures annually. They didn’t have to bring a sponsor, the team had one. The sponsor, was loyal and sponsored every race during the season. Now a days, teams can’t find sponsors, the drivers have to bring them. As costs got higher for run a competitive car, the sponsorship dollar has gone down. Attendance and TV ratings are falling. Companies aren’t willing to sponsor a full season anymore. Now, teams are having to patch a full season program together with multiple partners on the car. That in turn hurts the drivers’ pocketbook.
As the series enters a new wave, the younger drivers coming in have always had to bring money. It’s basically pay to play per say. Want a ride? Bring a check. Don’t have a check? Don’t have a ride.
It’s tough to grasp for these stars that entered the sports in the 1990s or 2000s. Those drivers are used to making over $10-million if not more a year. Now, they’re lucky to see a deal where they get paid even $1-million. I guarantee you William Byron is making far less money to Hendrick Motorsports than what Kasey Kahne is due. Younger driver, has funding, talented and marketable for far less money. Same with Erik Jones at Joe Gibbs Racing. Same with Aric Almirola and Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s why drivers like Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick, others are being left out. They’re used to making big dollars. The replacements aren’t. If Kahne, Kenseth, Danica and others took far less money, they’d have a competitive ride for 2018.
But, athletes have egos. Busch, feels like he’s driving as well now as at any point during his Cup career. He just won the Daytona 500 for crying out loud, the first ever for SHR. The old contract was reported to pay Busch millions, the new one was significantly less. Why would a driver in the latter parts of his prime take a lot less money?
So, Busch held out. He knew he had a contract waiting for him if he wanted. But, he chose to look elsewhere. The only criteria for him was a competitive ride. As the chips fell in Silly Season, all competitive rides were basically already accounted for. The only real option all along for Busch was with SHR. Look at what’s around. Nothing against Front Row Motorsports, BK Racing or anyone like that, but they’re not going to give Busch the car to compete like SHR would.
So, Busch swallowed his pride, took less money and signed a one-year deal to bet on himself.