• Nearly every time a new driver comes into the NASCAR Cup Series, fans wonder if the driver is there on merit or did he or she "bring money."
  • Team owner Richard Childress points to the amount of talent a driver possesses as the deciding factor as to how much money the driver might need bring to the table.
  • Childress admitted he’s had drivers bring money to get into one of his cars.

Money or talent, which is more critical in determining who secures a ride in NASCAR’s premier series.

Kyle Busch maintains John Hunter Nemechek could return to the NASCAR Cup Series if he had $6 million to accompany him.

NASCAR Hall of Fame members and NASCAR champions Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte, along with Jeff Burton, believe the deciding factor in gaining and keeping a ride at NASCAR’s top level is talent although bringing funding is essential in other series.

Team owner Richard Childress points to the amount of talent a driver possesses as the deciding factor on whether he or she needs to bring money.

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The top talents in the sport, including Kyle Larson, can usually find their way to the Cup Series without having to bring a boatload of sponsorships.
Logan Riely//Getty Images

“Not every driver has to have money, but if you’re borderline or you’ve just done something in Xfinity and you want to move up just because you want to be a Cup driver, that means you’re going to have to bring money,” Childress says. “With real talent, you don’t have to bring money.”

Childress cited Kyle Larson and William Byron as two talented drivers who wouldn’t need to bring money to get a ride. Their talent, he explains, attracts “big sponsors.”

“Today, a sponsor isn’t going to take a chance on a rookie (like they once did),” Childress says. “You’ve got to have the funding to race these cars today and if you can’t get it through sponsorship, then they’ve got to bring sponsors or money. That’s the challenging part. It takes money to put somebody in a car today unless they are an exceptional talent that’s coming with a resume of winning a lot of races and winning a lot of championships.”

Childress admitted he’s had drivers bring money to get into one of his cars. He’s also had two or three occasions where he wanted a specific driver, and the sponsor wouldn’t agree to that person.

In recent years, drivers who “buy” a ride have drawn the ire of fans who believe talented competitors who can’t bring millions of dollars to a team are being overlooked. It’s an issue that resembles a ping pong ball in play as the situation constantly bounces back-and-forth between the two.

Earlier this summer, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Josh Berry would replace the retiring Kevin Harvick, even though a sponsor hadn’t been signed for the No. 4 Ford for 2024.

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Lack of sponsorship will likely have Justin Haley racing for a different team in 2024.
Icon Sportswire//Getty Images

Now, Justin Haley is moving from Kaulig Racing to Rick Ware Racing at season’s end because there’s no sponsor for him at his current team.

“There’s a charter agreement that’s not finalized. There’s a TV deal that’s not finalized, and the election is next year,” Haley says. “So, I think for Matt (Kaulig, team owner) and Kaulig Racing and where they are, obviously, he’s a businessman and he needs to make business decisions.”

Haley has driven for Kaulig Racing for five years, three in the Xfinity Series and two in Cup. In his two Cup seasons, Haley’s primary financial backer has been team owner Matt Kaulig’s business, LeafFilter Gutter Protection. Now, Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice says they didn’t have a sponsor for Haley for the 2024 season.

“We need partners,” Rice says. “We’re a business just like everybody else. I think as the sport evolves … having partners is getting more and more valuable. We love partners that are outside the realm of what we can grasp, and that’s what we’re looking at.”

Due to it being a contract year for Haley, Rice says they began talking to potential sponsors in January.

“You look at what partners will work with us, what drivers work with us because we are a little different than everybody else,” says Rice, who expects the team’s Cup plans to be finalized by Aug. 15.

Kaulig Racing, which has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing, didn’t want Haley to leave, but RWR, which has an alliance with RFK Racing, pursued Halely relentlessly.

“Rick just kept coming and calling and just gave me a really good deal,” Haley says. “I believe in what they’ve been able to do, especially with the RFK (Racing) alliance.”

Haley noted RFK Racing President Steve Newmark was “very helpful in my decision-making process.” Team co-owner Brad Keselowski also was involved in some of the conversations and the meetings Ware had with Haley at the RFK Racing facility, the locale of Rick Ware Racing.

“Maybe on the surface, it might look like an odd move, but there’s a lot more depth to it than you might think,” Haley says. “But … I think come three, five years … I think there’s a lot more to it than just the sport side of it. I have to protect myself.”

Haley’s contract is a multi-year deal. He said the team owner wanted to sign him for a lifetime and he had to keep backpedaling him. Kaulig and Rice told Haley they, too, would have liked for him to stay with them forever, but Haley said “the economics of the sport right now, we’re just not in a position where a driver like me, who doesn’t have a lot of sponsorship can thrive.” He said it probably would be better for Kaulig Racing to have a driver “with a little bit more backing behind them and help them out in that way.”

“Rick gave me a really good opportunity and a really good deal that I kept laying in bed thinking about and wanting to take,” Haley says. “(Now) we can start to sell sponsorship.”

So, it still boils down to who can bring the funding or at least attract sponsors.