By Kraig Doremus, @Kraig_Doremus
Sometimes the biggest names in sports lose sponsorships. The same can be said for multiple NASCAR drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Danica Patrick have all been hit with the unfortunate news that their sponsors would not return.
For Jr., the news came at the end of 2014 when National Guard announced it would no longer sponsor his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Jr. wasn’t without sponsorship for long, as Nationwide Insurance stepped up. With its logo on the hood of Jr.’s stock car and his likeness in several commercials, Nationwide added the 14-time Most Popular driver to a lineup of celebrity endorsers that includes Brad Paisley and Peyton Manning.
Kenseth has not been as fortunate as Jr. Dollar General left Kenseth at the end of 2016, ending its sponsorship in the sport. Currently, the popular NASCAR website Jayski says that Dewalt and Tide Pods will combine to sponsor 18 races, and a recent announcement was made that PEAK was coming on board the No. 20 Toyota for two races. That leaves 16 events where the 2003 champion needs sponsorship. Even for a past champion, the sponsorship offers aren’t flowing in.
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At least Kenseth had some warning. Patrick, it seems, was blindsided. The fifth-year driver entered into an agreement with Nature’s Bakery at the start of the 2016 season after GoDaddy announced it would no longer sponsor the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Things appeared to go well between the two parties last season, but a piece of shocking news at NASCAR Media Day in Charlotte, North Carolina told the world otherwise. According to ESPN, SHR received $15 million from Nature’s Bakery in exchange for a 28-race sponsorship agreement, but eyebrows were raised when Patrick arrived at the Charlotte, North Carolina event wearing TaxAct colors on her fire suit.
Sure enough, something big was brewing. Nature’s Bakery, which completed the first year of its three-year agreement in 2016, announced that it was ending its sponsorship.
Patrick did not have to search far, as Aspen Dental stepped up its sponsorship to “double-digit” races, according to USAToday. With Aspen Dental increasing its agreement, and TaxAct also planning to sponsor three races, as well the potential of Mobil1 making an appearance on Patrick’s No. 10 Ford, she should be feeling much more secure than when the announcement that Nature’s Bakery was leaving happened.
While Earnhardt Jr. and Patrick have not had to do a large amount of talking to gain sponsors, at Stewart-Haas, sponsorship is still lacking for the No. 14 Ford driven by Clint Bowyer.
Boywer began the year with Mobil1 colors on his hood at the Daytona 500, but at Atlanta and Las Vegas, SHR co-owner Gene Haas put his company’s famous red and black look on Bowyer’s machine. According to Bob Pockrass, Stewart-Haas Racing has spent nearly 18 months attempting to lock down sponsorship for Bowyer to no avail.
The fact that longtime Bowyer sponsor Five-Hour Energy did not follow him to SHR and instead aligned themselves with the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota and driver Erik Jones certainly hurts. But thankfully, since sponsorships are hardly ever 100 percent nailed down at the start of the season, Bowyer can still receive sponsorship from a variety of companies on a race by race basis. The key? On track results, a beneficial partnership, and the ability to sell why the agreement would benefit both parties.
Sponsorships can be a tough sell, even for the biggest names in NASCAR. It takes months of negotiation and selling, with no guarantees of a deal ever getting done. Some drivers have been fortunate to find new sponsors, others not so much.
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