Drivers heading into Chase with future unknown

Photo by Brian DeGruchy/

Brian Vickers and Rob Kauffman stand on pit road prior to the start of the 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race marked Vickers' last Cup start to date.

By Justin Melillo
Staff Reporter
September 12, 2015



DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.



The NASCAR “Silly Season” is in full force, and we’re only just at the end of the regular season.


Drivers are renewing contracts, or moving on to other opportunities. Race teams are closing shop, and other teams are getting more backing for the future. Money is starting to become the loudest voice in the garage area.

Now, before I start elaborating, and before reading any further into this, the point that I’m trying to make in this dodge-filled essay on how NASCAR vehicles cost a lot of money is that sometimes, the right drivers don’t get their fair shake in the upper levels due to not having the right funding.

Don’t get me wrong, because you need to have some mixture of guts and talent to get drive these cars, it does not enable everyone to get that opportunity. The top level of drivers all had what it took to make it where they are today. They wouldn’t be there though, without some form of financial backing.

It’s difficult to get to the top level of NASCAR. It takes years of practice and coming up through lower series, and unlike most other pro sports, money is just as important, if not more, as having said talent.

NASCAR is simply a sponsor driven spectator sport, it has been for a long time now, to help businesses grow a brand through competing at a high level that is seen by millions of fans and consumers.

Just look at Kevin Harvick’s deal for next year; a proven brand has been on that car for quite some time, and now next year, the parent company decides to push a different brand that may not have the same popularity, just because Harvick is so successful that it doesn’t matter who he’s sponsored by. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. does it with Diet Mtn Dew as well, and I’ll admit that I’ve attempted a bottle or two just because it’s on the cars.

Photo by Dante Ricci/

David Ragan and Trevor Bayne turn laps at Pocono Raceway.

It’s all subliminal. There have been far more Bloomin’ Onions in my life as well thanks to Harvick’s deal with Outback Steakhouse.

The brand sells through the driver, and if an unproven driver were to take on a sponsor, it may not get the same end result that a proven driver may have.

Other national sports, such as the National Football League (NFL) or the National Basketball Association (NBA), will have sponsors as well, for the league, the teams, and even the players. However, LeBron James being sponsored by Nike is not going to help him turn into a better player, or give him the backing to win a championship, his talent and team will determine how well he does. His name being associated with the product will help it sell; that’s it.

In NASCAR, not only do the sponsorships help the product sell, but it puts funding towards putting the machine together that will help the driver have the tools to win. No sponsorship money means no funding towards research and development, and eventually the team will become a field filler, or it will shut down because it won’t have enough money to even compete.

NASCAR stock cars are expensive, and team owners don't normally put someone in their car without either a proven background or a wealthy sponsor backing them. In the same respect, it’s hard to put money towards putting a good racecar together without already having the results that would keep sponsors or proven drivers.

Is the driver marketable, talented enough to become marketable, unproven, or past their prime?

I don’t want to name any specific drivers, because that’s not the point I’m making. I will say this though: There are quite a number of drivers in the series that haven’t proven themselves yet, with many new faces on the horizon. Whether that be because of them moving up too fast, not having the right funding or team, or simply because they don’t have the skill set needed to wheel these beasts on wheels, the factor that will determine if these unproven drivers will continue forward or be held back is just money.

I’ve heard rumors that some teams have simply run out of money and even with competitive finishes, can’t afford to put good equipment in their cars for the rest of the season.

It’s a shame that the car limit on teams still exists, but that’s a separate argument for a different day.

I suppose if a driver were to go out and dominate in the XFINITY Series, they would get a better shot at a Sprint Cup ride, but it gets harder and harder to make that transition, because the cost is so much more, and the rides are few and far between.

At the end of the day, I’m not an economist or a business man, or even a wannabe driver, I’m just a journalist that loves this sport. I’ll root for the excitement and good racing no matter who sits in what seat.

Having been on a competitive robotics team in high school with low funding and far from perfect results to show from it, I can only sympathize with the lower budgeted teams and drivers as we head into these uncertain times ahead.

Where will Clint Bowyer end up in 2016?
With a full-time Sprint Cup ride
With a part-time Sprint Cup ride
Competing for an Xfinity Series championship