Denny Hamlin: 'NASCAR drivers should be making NBA, NFL money'

Feb 18, 2016; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48), Martin Truex Jr. (78) and Matt Kenseth (20) crash during the Cam-Am Duel at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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As team sponsorship dollars continue to dwindle, NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin said he thinks racecar drivers who risk their lives should be paid on par with NBA and NFL athletes.

“We’re way underpaid as racecar drivers,” Hamlin said, via ESPN and NBC Sports, at a charity event Wednesday in Charlotte. “There’s no doubt, doing what we do, the schedule that we have and the danger that we incur every single week, NASCAR drivers should be making NBA, NFL money.

“I'm sure this will be in some headline somewhere where Denny says drivers aren't paid enough, but I'm basing it off all other sports. I'm not including myself. I'm including the back half of the field — those drivers are risking the same amount I am and they should be paid a hell of a lot more."

 The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who is one of 12 drivers who advanced to the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, feels a reliance on corporate sponsorship should be “bonus money” as opposed to a main source of income for drivers. There’s no mandatory pay scale for NASCAR drivers.

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Currently, under a consolidated national network television deal, tracks receive 65% of revenue, teams receive 25% and NASCAR receives 10%. NASCAR is in the third year of a 10-year TV deal with NBC and Fox estimated to be worth around $8 billion.

 “The pie has to be shifted for sure,” Hamlin said. “The TV dollars coming into NASCAR is higher than it’s ever been, but we’re seeing fewer and fewer (sponsored racing) teams, and it just can’t survive. So it economically doesn’t make sense. The pie, the amount of TV money that the race teams share, has to go up, in my opinion.

"There's got to be a reset, and it doesn't come from the drivers. It comes from NASCAR helping the teams survive on a better basis. ...There just has to be different revenue-sharing."

According to Forbes, Hamlin was the third-highest paid driver in 2016. Hamlin, who opened 2016 by winning the Daytona 500 and finished the season ranked sixth in the final standings, earned $15.2 million from salary, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and licensing.  Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, who won his seventh championship last year, was the top earner with $21.8 million.

Forbes reported that the top 12 highest-paid NASCAR drivers earned $168 million in 2016 from salaries, endorsements and their share of purses and licensing, but that was significant decline from 2013 when the outlet estimated the top 12 at $192 million.