By Jared Turner
What does a driver have to do to keep a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride these days? That’s the question I was left pondering after Stewart-Haas Racing announced last week that it would not be picking up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for the 2018 season.
While it’s still possible that Busch could ultimately stay put at SHR — the team tweeted last week that it expected to retain Busch for another season — it’s bordering on insanity than I’m even having to spend good time opining on this topic.
Remember what Busch did in February? He won the Daytona 500. The freaking Daytona 500. And he did it in a Stewart-Haas Racing car, giving team owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas their first victory in The Great American Race (Stewart never won the 500 as a driver, either).
The fact that Busch hasn’t enjoyed the greatest season overall is in no way, shape or form a reasonable justification for SHR not picking up the option on his contract. The only plausible explanation would be the organization simply not wanting to pay Busch what he’s demanding.
As Dale Earnhardt Jr. astutely pointed out in the wake of the news about Busch’s contract situation, Monster Energy Series teams these days aren’t getting as much from primary sponsors as they did a few years ago. Less sponsorship money means less money allocated to drivers’ salaries. Therefore, if teams can get younger drivers for a lower price than they would have to pay a veteran, that’s probably what they’re going to do.
But regardless of the dollars and cents factor, it’s ridiculous that any driver less than six months removed from a Daytona 500 victory has to spend one millisecond thinking about whether he’s going to have a ride for the next season.