What is NASCAR?

That’s a complex question, and this article can only be considered the “Cliff’s Notes” version.  What needs to be understood from the outset is that NASCAR controls everything you see and hear about them, so this is one of the few subjective analyses of this particular sport & its business model.

The best online tool for following a race is NASCAR Live Leaderboard, which tracks each driver’s position continuously. If your favorite driver isn’t being discussed (or when they go to commercial), simply mute the broadcast and watch the drivers juggle around on the leaderboard, it’s actually more fascinating and tells the story much better than MRN or Fox1.

Also download this form on race day from Foxsports/NASCAR, which has what you need to know about the cars in the field:

For most people, NASCAR is about the teams & drivers, so here’s a quick look at every significant 2017 team (large & small) and their drivers.  The primary sponsor is important because it tells you how each driver is branding themselves, along with their ability to bring in money.  Note that some drivers don’t have sponsors, which means they won’t be around very long.  The column formatting is: car number–driver–sponsor, with each team listed alphabetically downwards until the end. A photo (or two) is included for each team, along with a few notes for context. (R) stands for rookie.

No.                       Driver                         Primary Sponsor

Chip Ganassi Racing

1                   Jamie McMurray              McDonald’s
42                 Kyle Larson                       Target

This is probably the best second-tier team in NASCAR, with the best young driver in Kyle Larsen.

Circle Sport/MSG

33                   Jeffrey Earnhardt                    Little Joes Autos/ Curtis Key Plumbing

Jeffrey Earnhardt is the nephew of Dale, Jr.

Germain Racing 

13                   Ty Dillon (R)                           Twisted Tea

Ty Dillon is the younger brother of fellow NASCAR driver Austin Dillon (discussed below). He is the son of former driver Mike Dillon and grandson of Richard Childress (discussed below). Germain Racing is in technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

Hendrick Motorsports

5                   Kasey Kahne                     Farmers Insurance
24                  Chase Elliott                      NAPA
48                  Jimmie Johnson               Lowes
88                  Dale Earnhardt Jr.            Axalta (DuPont rebranded)

This is NASCAR’s (Brian France’s) favorite team, because Dale Jr. is it’s biggest hero, and Jimmie Johnson it’s greatest champion.  Dale Jr. is the most influential driver in NASCAR, and I believe he should use that power to speak up (even more) on issues that affect the teams & drivers. Steve O’Donnell will listen to no one else.

JTG Daugherty Racing

37                  Chris Buescher                Bush’s Beans
47                  A. J. Allmendinger            Kroger

JTG Daugherty Racing is a lower-tier team owned by advertising executive Tad Geschickter and his wife Jodi, along with former NBA star Brad Daugherty.

Kroger’s ClickList is killing Whole Foods [1]. Kroger is a regional discount grocer that now carries organic products and offers home delivery.  Many upper-middle class snoots wouldn’t be caught dead in a Kroger’s, but they will have them home deliver at 15-20% savings over Whole Foods’ organics. This may put Whole Foods out of business, and it proves that smart advertising in racing pays off.

Leavine Family Racing

95                 Michael McDowell           K-Love

According to Wikipedia, “K-Love is a contemporary Christian music radio programming service in the United States operated by the Educational Media Foundation. As of March 2013, the network’s programming is simulcast on over 440 FM stations and translators in 47 states.”   I’ve said all I need to say about Michael McDowell as a driver– here.

Richard Childress Racing

3                   Austin Dillon                      DOW
27                 Paul Menard                     Menards
31                 Ryan Newman                 Caterpillar

IMO, this team is the most mid-range team in NASCAR. None of these drivers are considered elite, but none are consider poor either. One of these drivers may make the Chase in a given season (16 drivers do in the current format), but none are considered to be potential Chase finalists when NASCAR reaches Homestead. Admittedly, I kinda like Austin Dillon’s cowboy shtick (below).

Rick Ware Racing

51                 Timmy Hill                         Bubba Burger/Go-Parts.com

Not much sponsorship here.  It’s like when Scotty beams Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the other guy down; and there are only three transports back to the USS Enterprise. Take a wild guess on who won’t be around very long, unless he finds some money in a hurry?

Front Row Motorsports

34                 Landon Cassill            Love’s Travel Stops
38                 David Ragan               Camping World

Landon Cassill (above) on how drivers get paid: “You probably see drivers bring in anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the team’s revenue, depending on the prize money and sponsorship they get. Honestly, every deal is different. There’s drivers in the Cup Series that make anywhere from five percent to 50 percent of the prize money. But the drivers who make 50 percent probably don’t have any type of salary. There are drivers who make five percent who have some sort of salary. It just depends on the deal.”

Go Fas Racing

32                Matt DiBenedetto                    Can-Am/Kappa

Matt DiBenedetto #32 (pictured below) made the switch from BK Racing to Go FAS for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Can-Am/Kappa, Keen Parts, Visone RV, Really Cheap Floors & Cosmo Motors are all smallish sponsors, but DiBenedetto keeps picking up more & more, which proves he’s respected by racing fans & the business world. Switching to a better team really helps, as BK Racing is considered to be near or at the bottom of the NASCAR barrel.

Richard Petty Motorsports

43                     Aric Almirola                      Smithfield

In 2010, Medallion Financial Corp., a Wall Street investment group led by NYC taxi tycoon Andrew Murstein (with Petty above), became majority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). Before the acquisition, RPM reportedly had debts of $90+ million and was on the brink of bankruptcy. Medallion purchased RPM for $12 million, after previous owner George Gillett spent $120 million in 2007.  Today Richard Petty Motorsports fields only the #43 car, driven by Aric Almerola. They own two NASCAR charters (explained below), but are leasing one out in 2017.  RPM remains in the lower-tier of competitive teams–  in terms of driver skill, speed under the hood, and ability to attract new sponsors.

Roush Fenway Racing

6                 Trevor Bayne                     Advocare
17               Ricky Stenhouse Jr.          Fastenal

John W. Henry (above) is one of three owners of this team, as well as primary owner of Boston Red Sox since 2003. Trevor Bayne (below) has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  His primary sponsor is Advocare– a pyramid scheme [2].

Stewart-Haas Racing

4                  Kevin Harvick                    Jimmy John’s
10                Danica Patrick                   Aspen Dental
14                Clint Bowyer                       N/A
41                Kurt Busch                         Monster Energy

Gene Haas (above) went to prison for tax evasion. This team let Nature’s Bakery slide on unpaid bills for too long, and now they are trying to collect in court. We all know how that goes. Currently half of the SHR drivers (#41 Kurt Busch– who won the Daytona 500, and #14 Clint Bowyer) don’t have consistent sponsorship.

The #10 car always has a sponsor. With all the empty seats and declining ratings for NASCAR, that’s what counts most.

Here is the average NASCAR attendance from 2007-2012, and as you can see it has steadily declined every year. Beginning in 2013, NASCAR stopped releasing its attendance figures.

Year     Average Attendance       Compared to Prior
2012             99051                        -0.55%
2011             99602                        -2.49%
2010            102149                       -9.50%
2009             112877                      -8.25%
2008             123029                      -5.58%
2007             130305                        N/A

Team Penske

2                  Brad Keselowski                Miller Lite
22                Joey Logano                      Shell-Pennzoil

Roger Penske (above) is one of the biggest names in racing & NASCAR. This is a tight outfit, and the best-run team in my opinion.  They have fast cars every year, with two elite drivers who work together and know how to win without wrecking others. Sponsorship is not an issue, as these are two of the most recognized & respected drivers in NASCAR.

Wood Brothers Racing

21                 Ryan Blaney                     Motorcraft

This is the oldest active team in NASCAR, having fielded cars since 1950, always Ford.

BK Racing

23                 Joey Gase/Gray Gaulding (R)     SunFrog.com
83                 Corey LaJoie                                 RMC Events

SunFrog is online t-shirt printing operation, established ~3 years ago. It looks similar to another famous .com giant, but is missing a few elements: like a global vision & an iconic spokesperson. RMC Events was established in 1999, and is an event staffing firm headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, with two additional regional offices in Charlottesville.

In 2013, Corey LaJoie (above) was placed on indefinite probation and instructed to attend sensitivity training by NASCAR, after tweeting that the TSA should perform a body cavity search on a man wearing a turban.  Apparently it didn’t help as LaJoie got into Reed Sorenson’s # 55 car, spinning him into the inside wall during qualifying for the Daytona 500 this past February.  LaJoie was unapologetic. “If that had been my mom, I probably would spin her out, too, to make the Daytona 500,” [3]

Furniture Row Racing

77                 Erik Jones (R)                    5-Hour Energy
78                 Martin Truex Jr.                  Bass Pro

Barney Visser (above w/ Martin Truex, Jr) is the owner, and this is the only NASCAR team based west of the Mississippi. They are in Denver, CO; where most others are based somewhere in North Carolina. They are in alliance with JGR, and are leasing a charter to accommodate rookie driver Erik Jones.

Joe Gibbs Racing

11                 Denny Hamlin                     Fed Ex
18                 Kyle Busch                          M&M’s
19                 Daniel Suárez (R)                Arris
20                 Matt Kenseth                       Dewalt

I respect Joe Gibbs who coached the Washington R-words to 3 Super Bowl titles with three different quarterbacks in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  He is a genius at organizing a winning team. The problem is he goes too far in pushing the rules concerning the safety of his athletes and the other competitors around them. JGR was a major violator in the lug nut controversy that raged during the 2016 season, as only 3 or 4 were being screwed onto each tire to speed up pit stops.  In general this team has the most speed because their manufacturer (Toyota) and its engineers do the best job. As for these drivers, several are too aggressive, much too often; and always blame others (or deny responsibility) when they cause wrecks (Hamlin below).

TriStar Motorsports

72                 Cole Whitt                         Bad Boy Mowers

TriStar Motorsports is a lower-tier team that competes full time.  You would never know this by listening to MRN (photo below) or watching Fox1.  Anytime a Cole Whitt is being talked about in a good way, a nebulous NASCAR Black Hand throws static into the broadcast (which has a 7-second delay– minimum), and the commentary becomes inaudible to the listener. NASCAR wants money, before it talks any team up.

TriStar Motorsports owner is Mark Smith– no Wikipedia bio available.  Fun fact: Cole Whitt calls himself the Ginger Lion (photo below).  Unfortunately, the last Cole Whitt website update (as of this publication) was May 6, 2016 @ Talladega.

Premium Motorsports

15                 Michael Waltrip                                            N/A
55                 Reed Sorenson/Derrike Cope                     N/A

Premium Motorsports was formerly called (photoed above) Jay Robinson Racing.  This was their controversial sponsor last summer at Texas Motor Speedway:

Jay Robinson said, “We’ve got advertising space to sell. Our revenue stream is our NASCAR purse money and sponsorship money. (A couple sponsors) wanted to do it and we weren’t against it.”

The ‘couple sponsors’ were none other than Jay Robinson and co-owner of Premium Motorsports–Michael Osbon .  No Wikipedia bio available for either, which again is typical for these murky NASCAR-affialited officials.

Reed Sorenson #55 runs weekly with no sponsor.

NASCAR was founded and owned entirely by “Big Bill” France, with his son Brian (above) inheriting it in 2003.  Brian France NASCAR CEO spoke at a Donald Trump campaign rally last summer, stating: “I’m here to tell you he wins with his family. Any of his children, you’d be proud to have them as part of your family. That’s how I judge a winner, how somebody manages their family, raises their family.”

NASCAR drivers Michael Waltrip, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Chase Elliott, and retired driver (father) Bill Elliott also appeared at the same rally to endorse Trump.  This is the deep reactionary underbelly of NASCAR, which is seldom discussed in mass media.

Today NASCAR is Brian France and a band of good ‘ol boys who have struck it rich, and are being devoured by capitalism. The staged-race format, which was rolled out at Daytona for its annual crown jewel event, has proven a disaster from a driver & fan popularity standpoint, but it stays in effect because it’s what the sponsors are demanding. More TV timeouts are what the sponsors have called for, and the drivers & teams are compelled to keep quiet, or they face heavy NASCAR sanctions. NASCAR writers on Fox & ESPN.com are nothing more than well-greased promoters.

The drivers have been grumbling during their stage win interviews. They don’t like having to work their way up through the field again, since everyone pits on a caution flag which jumbles the field. That takes much of the shine off an early-stage win. The fact remains: the only win that matters is stage 3– traditionally known to racing fans as the checkered flag.

Forbes on NASCAR’s new staged-race format: “The new format will break races into segments, with points awarded to the top finishers of each stage in addition to the race winners. More opportunities to win points should certainly generate more aggressive racing. And if that means more crashes and subsequent driver feuds, then all the better, since that could turn some of the sport’s young up-and-comers into the sort of household names needed to fill the shoes left behind by retiring stars.”  [4]

Brian France has shown he is a Donald Trump admirer, and that fits because he’s much like the current president of the US in that he’s ignorant, racist, and can’t focus on anything serious.  Therefore he relies on key advisors to guide him clear of the rocks. Brian France’s consiglieres are Steve O’Donnell & Steve Phelps (above), who  were handed the keys to NASCAR back in 2014, and have since taken control [5].

Racing is a team sport, as engineers, mechanics, crew chief, spotter & pit crew all have to work together for a driver. It’s around $500,000 to $1+ million per week to field an elite car in it’s top Cup Series.  NASCAR’s longtime premiere series sponsor Sprint bailed, and in 2017 it’s now Monster Energy drink.

This is a major step down in money and prestige for NASCAR, as Sprint paid $50 million/season over 12 years, and Monster Energy is paying $20 million/season on a 2-year deal. This goes along with the empty stands and declining television ratings which have hit this sport hard since the Great Recession began in 2007-08. Merchandise sales in NASCAR fell from more than $2 billion in 2008 to $1 billion in 2010.

The Daytona & Talladega infield is working class, and they can’t afford to go to these spectacles as often anymore. They are also starting to care less, which is even more problematic.  Commentary from hardcore NASCAR fans on ESPN.com is illuminating, and often richer in content than their published articles, because you hear these realities in their posts.  NASCAR’s legion of apologists keep trying to paper all this over, but facts are stubborn..

NASCAR’s grid has been trimmed to 40, leaving only a four non-guaranteed starting positions open for non-charter teams at each race. This new charter system is the only ticket for gaining access to the tens-of-millions of dollars in NASCAR prize money. This has forced these 19 teams into partnership with NASCAR, and the specific terms aren’t to be made public.

Charters can be sold, and here are NASCAR’s 2017 charter teams. Team charters haven’t blown up in value like NASCAR expected, trading in the $2-$4 million range. NASCAR was hoping for $10+ million per charter.

International Speedway Corporation (ISC) is an entity whose business is the ownership and management of NASCAR and IndyCar race tracks. Founded by ‘Big Bill’ France, Sr. in 1953 for the construction of Daytona International Speedway (below), and in 1999 merged with Penske Motorsports.  Basically:  ISC = NASCAR = Brian France.

Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) owns and manages racing facilities that host NASCAR & IndyCar Series. Bruton Smith (photo below) began building SMI in the 1950s. The company’s headquarters are located at Charlotte Motor Speedway. SMI owns nine racing facilities and Performance Racing Network (PRN).

NASCAR has a ten-year, $8.2 billion TV package with Fox & NBC that runs through 2024. NASCAR distributes 65% of their television earnings to the tracks, over half of which Brian France directly owns.  Around 25% of the TV money is disbursed to the teams through purses, and 10% goes directly to NASCAR.  What this means is the drivers and their teams are having to split 25% of the total revenues (which they create) in order to pay themselves, while the owner(s) take 75%.

NASCAR continues to operate under the same 65-25-10 formula it developed when it consolidated TV rights in 1999.  The track split of 65% of the TV revenue is unequally tiered, based on the whims of (who else?) Brian France. The twelve tracks he owns under International Speedway Corporation get the largest cut of NASCAR television money.  Speedway Motorsports Inc. (Bruton Smith & son) owns nine tracks, but gets lower-tiered payments from NASCAR, which has become a bone of contention within the industry.

For teams & drivers to have any negotiating leverage against NASCAR, they need to form a labor union.  As illustrated already, the level of political consciousness among NASCAR participants is very low, and as far as NASCAR media goes– it’s a gaggle of idiots talking about nothing.  NASCAR regards its competitors as independent contractors and the drivers have no collective bargaining rights.  A point of history: in 1961, “Big Bill” France blacklisted Curtis Turner and Tim Flock (both cars below). These two drivers led a rank-and-file attempt to unionize NASCAR. [6].

2016 Top NASCAR driver incomes: includes salary, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and licensing:

Jimmie Johnson   $21.8 million
Dale Earnhardt, Jr   $21.1 million
Denny Hamlin   $15.2 million
Kyle Busch   $15.0 million
Kevin Harvick   $13.9 million
Carl Edwards   $12.3 million
Danica Patrick   $12.2 million
Tony Stewart   $12.0 million

Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Danica Patrick have the highest endorsement incomes in NASCAR. The top twelve drivers in the sport made $168 million in 2016. NASCAR’s top-12 earners all came from the four power teams (JGR, SHR, Hendrick & Penske) which have captured 12 straight Cup titles.

In conclusion, the future for NASCAR looks bleak, which only means it’s an accurate reflection of the U.S. & global economy as a whole. Income is down from its traditional source, as it’s fanbase can no longer afford it.  Therefore television becomes the predominant revenue stream, with all the corporate interest it brings.  Racing fans aren’t interested in mid-race driver & crew chief interviews, they simply want a fair race with traditional continuity.

As for labor, the drivers and their teammates need to come together and collectively bargain a better revenue sharing agreement, by making it a labor issue.  Most leagues are around a 50/50 split with ownership. NASCAR insists on secrecy, so it can bluff & blow-hard it’s way through every negotiation with the drivers. The team owners are all France family.  These caporegimes keep the drivers & crew in line, with most drivers (even stars) very content to just be racing in NASCAR, even while knowing they’re being ripped off [7].

As we can see, capitalism has ruined ‘stock car racing,’ and honestly this hasn’t been anything close to stock parts for a long time.  No, this is high-tech, corporate-controlled propaganda in-your-face for 36 weekends of the year.  NASCAR fans were once mesmerized by what they saw, because it was of their own.  Now they watch at home in frustration & anger, trying to figure all this out.  Better not tell them; it might start a revolution.