Kimi Raikkonen, by all accounts, made $51 million (before endorsements) in 2007, the year he won the Formula 1 title.
Last Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Truck race, he bagged all of $9,500 for finishing 15th in his NASCAR debut.
The money was garbage, and for that matter, so was the race. If the Camping World Truck Series was looking for its equivalent to the 2008 Brickyard 400 Yards (that’s about as far as the teams could go before having to change tires), it struck pay dirt. Only Drano could restore flow to that mess.
But Raikkonen picked up on a little secret they try to keep hush-hush at Ferrari, McLaren and everywhere else at the supposed Aga Khan of auto racing: The worst NASCAR race that could ever be constructed puts Formula 1 to shame.
Raikkonen noticed, as did Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Carmichael, Jacques Villeneuve, Andy Lally, Sam Hornish Jr., Dario Franchitti, Travis Pastrana and anyone else who reached the pinnacle of another motorsports discipline. No matter what they accomplished, they looked at NASCAR, and Sugarland’s chorus of “There’s gotta be something more” bounced around their skulls.
I don’t mean to be flippant about NASCAR’s issues with television ratings and attendance the last couple of years. But the truth is NASCAR’s biggest concern shouldn’t be that empty seat in the grandstand. It should be the empty seat of a star driver who found another form of racing to be a more appealing option. That’s the doomsday scenario.
Fortunately, there’s nothing to worry about. Even with depleted sponsorship dollars (and, as a result, salaries), the only folks leaving NASCAR are doing so against their will. Scott Speed at the Indianapolis 500 serves as the prime example.
A few years ago the hot rumor was that LeBron James would consider leaving for tax-exempt and salary cap-free Europe if someone came with the right offer. But nobody can get an established NASCAR driver to even dabble somewhere else. IndyCar’s desperate offer of $5 million for any driver outside the series to compete in and win the October race at Las Vegas has produced less noise in NASCAR garages than voices drowned out by engines being tuned.
NASCAR can’t and shouldn’t ignore blank quarterpanels and tarp-covered grandstands. But you just have to put things in perspective. Never in history has a sport that was “struggling” had it so good.