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Silly Season is Money Season: The Realities of Getting a NASCAR Ride

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North Carolina Moonshine and Motorsports Trail

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Last week, Justin Haley signed with Rick Ware Racing in one of the most wildly unexpected moves of NASCAR Silly Season. This weekend, the media finally met up with Haley and his current bosses at Kaulig Racing along with those at Rick Ware Racing to discuss what it was that caused such a drastic move. This, and other discussions, fed into the cold, harsh reality about the amount of money it takes to race in NASCAR.

Justin Haley and Kaulig Racing

Justin Haley’s first comment says a lot about how this came about. He went on to later discuss what he saw in Rick Ware Racing, and what it was that made that opportunity attractive to him. However, it’s hard to say that was Haley’s first option based on these portions of his comments.

For Matt and Kaulig Racing, and where they are, obviously he’s a business man and he needs to make business decisions. I think we were close to doing a deal. I feel it was a probable option. I feel I had a few deals, and Rick (Ware) just kept coming and calling and just gave me a really good deal.

Justin Haley (via Bob Pockrass)

For months it seemed a formality that Haley was going to re-sign with Kaulig. It does not seem that Rick Ware came in with wheelbarrows full of cash to pull Haley away, it seems that those in charge at Kaulig Racing made the decision first. Haley clearly said that Matt Kaulig “Needs to make business decisions.”

So, from there, let’s turn the tables to those in charge at Kaulig Racing. Do they sing the same tune as Haley, or did it seem that they wanted him back regardless of any other consequences or circumstances.

We had made our decision with him a couple of weeks ago, so, (we) already knew what was going on. Like we always say, it’s business.

Chris Rice (via Frontstretch)

This was clearly not a Justin Haley decision. This was a Kaulig Racing decision. It also was clearly not a performance decision, but a business decision.

Haley talked more with the media about the importance of bringing sponsorship funding to a team later in that clip, and it’s also worth noting the one who’s been on the hood of Haley’s car this season. A good chunk of races are sponsored by Leaf Filter, which is Matt Kaulig’s company. Kaulig is paying for that car out of his own pocket at that point.

How long can he realistically do that before it becomes unsustainable as a business for him? Furniture Row Racing shut down in 2018, and that was a team primarily funded by its owner, Barney Visser. Kaulig probably does not want that fate.

This is also far from just a Justin Haley and Kaulig Racing problem. Another team is dealing with this very scenario as well.

Lower Series Rides Are Not Immune

The JR Motorsports number 8 car is still open for 2024, with Josh Berry moving up to the Cup Series with Stewart-Haas Racing. Many people have their theories about who could or should go to that car, but, an unlikely name emerged this weekend in Jeffrey Earnhardt. He gave some insight to Frontstretch about what it is that is important in those talks.

The very first thing he brought up was money and funding. This is coming from a guy who has sponsors such as ForeverLawn. He has sponsors, but does he have enough to race with a competitive team like JRM?

It takes a lot of money to race. Earnhardt even has some of the best connections in the garage. His last name is literally Earnhardt, as he is Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s grandson. The fact that JRM, one of the most highly coveted rides in the Xfinity Series garage, does not have a driver for one of its rides yet is mind-boggling to some.

Just a few weeks ago, Kyle Busch had some comments on John Hunter Nemechek. One of the top drivers in the Xfinity Series, and what it would take for him to make the jump to Cup. Busch said Nemechek needs “$6 million” to drive in NASCAR.

The Difference of Tony Stewart and Josh Berry

This is what makes the Tony Stewart and Josh Berry situation such an anomaly. Stewart is taking on a huge risk by bringing in a driver with no real sponsorship, and he is also letting one of his major sponsors walk in Busch Beer.

Stewart is willing to take this on for a driver who has seemingly “Paid his dues,” This is not normally how business is done in NASCAR. Usually it’s a combination of talent and money that allows drivers to work their way up the food chain.

No one really knows how Stewart will find a way to fund Josh Berry’s ride in 2024, but they are going to find a way to do it. Hopefully it’s a pathway for more of these types of driver moves in the future, because it can be frustrating for fans to see talented and deserving drivers passed over because of dollars and cents.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, NASCAR is a “Pay to play” sport, even at the highest level. If you are not bringing significant financial backing with you to support your endeavors, you will not get very far in motorsports. It’s just the simple reality.

Talent is not the only determining factor in who get the top rides. It also comes down to how much funding you bring. This weekend was a reminder about that reality.

This is why NASCAR team owners are looking for a bigger slice of the TV revenue with the next TV deal because it costs so much to race, and the reliance on sponsors is shakier than in the past. It’s harder to convince a sponsor to join today than it was 15 years ago.

This is just the reality of NASCAR. Maybe it will change, but maybe not.

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Joshua Lipowski

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