Opinion: Shrinking Market

Matt Kenseth

There are now fewer opportunities in NASCAR's top tier, especially for veteran drivers such as Matt Kenseth. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be NASCAR drivers ... at least if you want them to have healthy employment.

The job market in NASCAR’s top tier continues to be a tough place to find work. More and more drivers are finding fewer and fewer opportunities, for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost are the expenses associated with running a competitive team in any of the sport’s elite divisions, with the premier Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series the most costly. But rest assured, it’s not a cheap date to field competitive entries in either the XFINITY or Camping World Truck Series.

The financial squeeze has forced several owners to look at driver salaries as a means to cut costs. The result has seen an acceleration of younger drivers into the Cup Series - hello William Byron, Alex Bowman and Erik Jones, elbowing veterans such as Kasey Kahne, who will race for Leavine Family Racing in 2018, and Matt Kenseth to the side.

While certainly talented, the opportunity for youngsters to get a crack at top-notch equipment can come earlier than in the past because the dollars make sense.

At the other end of the spectrum are the middle- and lower-tier teams trying to make ends meet while staying as competitive as possible. These are not the easiest of times for the Front Row Motorsports, BK Racing and Leavine Family Racing teams.

But it’s not all peaches and cream at the top of the mountain. Powerhouse organizations are also seeking additional funding and sponsorship to just maintain let alone find more resources to stay relevant. Look no further than Furniture Row Racing, currently enjoying one of the most dominant seasons is recent history with Martin Truex Jr. However, the team car driven by rookie Erik Jones - despite its pedigree, performance and support from the Toyota/TRD camp - will cease operation at season’s end. Why? Lack of sponsorship.

The environment has raised much discussion inside the industry about the current team business model. Denny Hamlin made headlines last week when he shared views on how the sport’s revenues are generated and shared. Team officials such as Richard Petty Motorsports’ Andrew Murstein have advocated a spending cap similar to what professional sports leagues enforce with their franchises, but with a twist to reflect the NASCAR model of organizations being viewed as independent contractors.

"Every single league has a cap now. It creates a level playing field," Murstein told NBC Sports this summer. "It’s salaries, time in the wind tunnel, the whole kit and caboodle. It’s better for the fans if there's a level playing field. No one can outspend the other guy. It’s better for the owners. It creates more competition, more excitement."

Even NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France commented on the situation last weekend in Charlotte, acknowledging that the sanctioning body was looking at modifying the business model for teams while admitting, "It’s a process, but it takes a little bit of time."

The introduction of the "charter" system was a means of giving teams a potential form of equity in the sport. While it's provided some semblance of relief in terms of how purses and revenues are distributed, a charter has yet to command a massive payday to an organization looking to end operations and create a sale for an interested buyer. The law of supply and demand still very much applies.

There is still much value in the NASCAR universe with television revenue and Fortune 500 companies continuing to pump in millions of dollars. But where things head next is anybody’s guess.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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