Matt Kenseth's NASCAR Departure Reflective Of New Sponsorship Realities In The Sport
Driver Matt Kenseth recently announced he will be stepping away from NASCAR at the end of '17, becoming the "odd man out in a free agency period that has focused far more on salaries and sponsorship than talent," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. But Kenseth is "hardly alone" in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch have "nothing lined up" for '18, while Greg Biffle "quietly went away" at the end of '16. The driver shuffle comes as sponsors are "paying far less for the right to advertise on a car," and those deals are "increasingly difficult to get." In the days of "exploding popularity, a top team might spend" $30M to run a car. Most of that "came from sponsorship," and top drivers were making $10M annually. Now, owners are "running teams for half of what they did 15 years ago, and driver salaries are slowly being adjusted." Team Penske last week revealed its '18 program for Brad Keselowski and it "only includes 11 races with Miller Lite as the primary sponsor." But Penske was "able to do what few others can manage right now: Put together a sponsorship package that is valuable enough for him to afford a high-priced driver." The declines for sponsorship budgets are "reflecting in many ways television viewership for NASCAR races and attendance at various tracks." With fewer dollars, owners "have to be careful to avoid paying too many expenses out of pocket." At Stewart-Haas Racing, Smithfield Foods is coming aboard, and Aric Almirola seems "pegged to continue" with Smithfield. SHR could have Kenseth or Kasey Kahne, but "instead is going with the driver the sponsor is already comfortable with," as Almirola had Smithfield with Richard Petty Motorsports this season (AP, 11/6).
HARD TO SAY GOODBYE: In Milwaukee, Dave Kallmann notes Kenseth is "disappointed he’s stepping away" because there are "no opportunities for him." But "this is his reality." Kenseth said, "I wish things would have worked out differently or got handled differently or all that kind of stuff, or (I) could have finished (my) career there or at least had the opportunity to another year or two. That part, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really disappointed the way that all went down." He added, "July or August, that’s when I probably knew in my heart it probably wasn’t meant to be to continue racing at this level." Over the past four years, Kenseth has "seen many of his peers bow out," including Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth said, "When you see a bunch of drivers that are close to your age ... start retiring, you think more about it" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 11/7).