Need yet another sign of just how screwed up the sponsorship system can be in NASCAR? Look at what happened on Tuesday afternoon.
Matt DiBenedetto posted a message to Twitter, saying his No. 32 car was in need of sponsorship for the fourth race of the 2018 season this Sunday at Phoenix.
We hate doing this, but we are UNSPONSORED as of right now for @ISMRaceway this weekend! If you or anyone you know has the ability to help us connect with a business interested in coming on board this weekend please contact the @GoFasRacing32 page ASAP! pic.twitter.com/3hbFnTBBqI
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) March 6, 2018
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) March 6, 2018
— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) March 6, 2018
So did Darrell Waltrip, who will broadcast the race for Fox Sports.
Boogity Brands is in for $5,000 where do I send the check!!! https://t.co/NOp8kZnvr4
— Darrell Waltrip (@AllWaltrip) March 6, 2018
DiBenedetto’s GoFas Racing No. 32 car has a charter, which is a guaranteed entry into each and every Cup Series race. That charter also guarantees the team a bigger share of the purse and prize money than it would get if it didn’t have a charter. That amount of money is not publicly known, as NASCAR stopped revealing purse sizes and prize money after the charter system started in 2016.
But it’s safe to say that what DiBenedetto’s team would earn for showing up at the track without a sponsor would not cover its expenses, especially if the team wanted to try to be competitive the entire race and use multiple sets of tires. A lease on a set of tires is approximately $2,000, meaning the money donated by Hamlin, Harvick and Waltrip would cover fewer than eight sets of tires for GoFas Racing.
It also raises some bizarre conflict of interest possibilities; what other sport’s participants willingly give their opponents money so they can show up and compete against them? Yeah, $5,000 isn’t much to Hamlin or Harvick — further illustrating the gulf between the haves and have-nots in the sport — but that’s still money going to help an opponent attempt to finish higher than them in the race standings.
You don’t see the Yankees and Red Sox voluntarily making life financially easier for each other. Or an NFL quarterback gifting an opponent with salary cap relief (as impossible as it would be).
Suddenly it’s not-so-farfetched to envision a title-contending driver and team gifting a smaller team thousands of dollars for a playoff race to make life hell for the guys they’re racing against for the title.
We’re not accusing Hamlin, Harvick or any other Cup driver who donates to DiBenedetto’s team for this weekend of any nefarious efforts. Their gestures are kind and noble. And we can’t blame DiBenedetto for asking either.
But there are many other teams throughout NASCAR’s lower two series that gladly need the sponsorship dollars to make it to the track too. DiBenedetto is simply one of the many symbols of the sport’s waning economic viability — not an outlier.
This is not a feel-good story. It’s a tragedy and yet another example of the dwindling economic viability of the sport, even for those fortunate enough to automatically race every time they show up to the track. NASCAR may indeed have that bright future that it wants to not-so-subtly remind you about at every opportunity. But the future isn’t here yet. And with TV ratings continuing to drop and teams taking drastic measures for sponsorship less than a month into the season, that future and its necessary changes can’t arrive fast enough.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.