Jeff Gordon on how NASCAR sponsorships changed during his career

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In a parallel universe (as explored in this SportsWorld story about Shell’s Team Penske sponsorship), Jeff Gordon might be sporting a uniform look during his final full-time NASCAR season.

Instead the four-time series champion’s No. 24 Chevrolet is emblematic of the trend toward rotating primary sponsorships in Sprint Cup. Through the first 10 races this season, Gordon’s car has featured Axalta, Panasonic, Drive to End Hunger and 3M (which joined the Hendrick Motorsports team this year). Later this season, longtime sponsor Pepsi will be featured.

It’s a far cry in many ways from the first 18 seasons of Gordon’s career, which was synonymous with the DuPont Automotive Finishes brand. The eye-catching, multicolored hues of those paint schemes inspired the nickname for the vaunted No. 24 pit crew whose swift work helped win three titles: “The Rainbow Warriors.”

Gordon said there are advantages to having a single primary sponsor for a full season.

“When it comes to brand recognition, the fans want to see the same color paint scheme and sponsor every weekend,” he said. “We’d like that as well. We’re very fortunate to have the multiple partners we have, and it’s fantastic, and we’ve got great partners, and we feel very fortunate that we have them to fill up those races.

“But if we could take one or two of them and have them on the car the whole year? Absolutely.”

That scenario is becoming increasingly rare in Sprint Cup, though. While the price point for a championship-caliber sponsorship has remained static over the past decade (roughly $20 million per car annually), the number of companies available to stroke a check that large has declined.

That was partially a byproduct of the Great Recession, which wiped out many companies’ marketing budgets and put heavy scrutiny on big-ticket expenditures such as a NASCAR sponsorship.

“Everybody cut back and did a reset,” Gordon said. “We had to find ways to eliminate some costs. They said, ‘This is what we have to spend.’ We had to find a way to manage that and get through it, and we did.”

Yet it’s also a result of companies growing more efficient with their branding strategies (through new avenues such as social media) and landing on ways to generate the same return with fewer races.

“Companies are doing a really good job of getting that paint scheme on the car and saying, ‘OK we need to be on the car for this many races, but we don’t have to be on the car every race and still be able to use the marketing,’ ” Gordon said. “So we recognize that. They recognize that. We’re just trying to constantly give them everything we possibly can from the social media side — at track, away from track, videos, the drivers’ time, whether it’s customer events or media pops — and hope they recognize the value.”

That shift has increased the demands on Gordon’s time, too. Every primary sponsor is guaranteed production days (which typically mean six to eight hours of photo or video shoots), and those have become more coveted than track or store appearances (which might take two to three hours).

Gordon had DuPont as virtually his only primary sponsor from 1993-2010. During his early seasons, the company “probably had 30 appearances and used 15 of them. Then after we won the championship, they started using more of them. Then we started trying to understand their use of time, my time and managing it that way. Somewhere along the way, the production days became almost more important than appearances.”

Gordon said the multiple-sponsor model also has had an impact on the process of negotiating sponsorships during his career.

“What we’ve seen is companies basically have come to us and said, ‘Here’s our budget, what are we getting for that?’ Then we as a business have to try to figure out what our expenses are,” he said. “What it’s costing us, mainly in salaries (for) driver, crew chief, pit crews, engineers. That’s where our biggest expense is where it’s hard to cut back on.

“What we basically do is come up with a per race cost. So if somebody comes to us and says, ‘Here’s our budget,’ then we basically put that into the number of races and tell them here’s how many races you can get. Instead of saying, ‘OK, yeah, we’ll give you the whole season for that.’ We can’t do business that way.”

Jimmie Johnson, Gordon’s Hendrick teammate, is among the only drivers left with a full-season sponsor as Lowe’s has covered the entire year since the six-time series champion entered Cup in 2002.

Other remaining sponsors that are committed for full or nearly full seasons in 2015:

–Aaron’s (Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota).

–Target (Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet driven by Kyle Larson; many of the store’s brands are featured).

–Dollar General (30 of 36 races with Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota).

–Mars (No. 18 Toyota normally driven by Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing).

–Menards (No. 27 Chevrolet of Paul Menard at Richard Childress Racing).

–FedEx (JGR’s No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin).

–AdvoCare (No. 6 Ford of Trevor Bayne at Roush Fenway Racing).

–Shell-Pennzoil (32 of 36 races on Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford at Team Penske).

Read more here about how the Shell sponsorship nearly landed with Gordon, how the company selected Team Penske and why it stuck through some turbulent times.

Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.