How will Danica Patrick find a new NASCAR sponsor? ‘A little bit selective … but open-minded’

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TALLADEGA, Ala. – GoDaddy’s decision to terminate its Sprint Cup sponsorship was a case of dollars, cents and sentimentality for driver Danica Patrick, who playfully made a final plea to top management.

“For me, it’s bittersweet,” she said Friday before practice at Talladega Superspeedway. “I look at pictures of me in the suit and pictures of the car, and I can’t believe it won’t be the green GoDaddy car anymore. That’s actually what I said on the phone to (GoDaddy CMO) Phil (Bienert) and (CEO) Blake (Irving).  I said, ‘Are you guys OK you’re not going to see a green car anymore?’ ”

The answer remained yes. Though GoDaddy will remain a personal services endorsement deal with Patrick (“More smaller events, more specific events for them as opposed to getting their name out there”), its logo and colors won’t adorn the No. 10 Chevrolet of the world’s most renowned female driver after the 2015 season.

Patrick has embarked on the most significant sponsorship hunt of her career since becoming the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 a decade ago.

GoDaddy has been Patrick’s primary sponsor in IndyCar and then NASCAR since 2010, but it had eased into the role since ‘07 when the website hosting company placed Patrick in the first of 13 Super Bowl commercials.

With GoDaddy as the anchor for the $20 million-plus price tag of a Sprint Cup sponsorship, Patrick could be selective in building a portfolio of ancillary companies that fit her branding strategy. After mostly being insulated from the tough economic climate in NASCAR, Patrick admits her approach would need to be altered.

“Someone asked if it’s just a matter of picking a new sponsor, or if I’ve been able to do that sort of thing, and I have been,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate as a brand being able to be somewhat picky about who it is.

“For me, it’ll be more about what their plan is, and my two cents as to whether or how it fits in, or how I fit in, and I’ve found that companies are extremely open to your ideas as a driver, or as a personal idea that I believe will work. In this day and age, it’s about authenticity and people can see through it pretty quick and easy. Your personality shines so much better when you’re in a program that you enjoy, and you’re having fun with, and is a part of you.

“I think we’ve been able to be a little selective. I don’t think it’s so easy as to just say a company and go get them and have everything you want. It’s more about becoming part of the process with the marketing and the branding and making it all work and being a little bit selective. But yeah, it’s a tougher environment than it’s ever been, so you also have to be open-minded.”

Patrick said she has agent Alan Zucker and her inner circle of advisers working in concert with Stewart-Haas Racing’s marketing team in scrounging for new funding. GoDaddy was in the last year of its deal, so the decision didn’t come as a surprise.

Her three-year contract at SHR also expires after the 2015 season, which has featured the best start of her career with two top 10s in the past four races and a ranking of 16th in the points standings.

Those results, coupled with her celebrity appeal and marketability, should help her cause.

“We knew that it was possible GoDaddy would go away,” she said. “We’re all ready and prepared to move on and figure other things out.”

Teammate Kevin Harvick has hunted for sponsorship from the perspective of driver and as an owner of Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series teams. The defending Sprint Cup champion also owns a marketing agency that has helped manage the brands of athletes in other sports, such as MMA and golf.

“I sat in this room in (2010), and Shell Pennzoil announced that they were leaving the car that I was driving at that particular point,” Harvick said, referring to Shell’s decision to move from Richard Childress Racing to Team Penske. “When you are not in that position, and you haven’t approached that before it can be a little bit intimidating.  But I think when you know on May 1st and you have somebody like Danica Patrick that is obviously very marketable and I think she has done a good job on the racetrack and had some good results this year, I think that the opportunity to find a sponsor is very high.”

GoDaddy has termed its exit as a business decision, noting it has 81 percent brand awareness in the United States.

“The program worked,” Patrick said. “It just worked so well that they’ve evolved. I’m glad to still be with them and glad they gave us time to find someone else for that position.”

She also is grateful for the company’s willingness to provide the leverage needed for the biggest move of her career. GoDaddy moved directly with her from IndyCar to NASCAR, allowing her to guarantee the financing needed to secure a ride in making the leap despite having virtually no stock-car experience.

“GoDaddy has been phenomenal,” she said. “They supported me through every transition. It’s a new scenario, and it is a challenge, no doubt. Finding primary sponsors is a challenge, but I feel confident of all the people to find sponsors, I believe in my agent and my team. We’ll figure it out.”