Plenty of time remains, but Hendrick Motorsports faces a pivotal year with several primary sponsorship deals ending after the 2018 season.
Thursday’s announcement that Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 next year after Dale Earnhardt Jr. steps away also included the nugget that Nationwide will extend its deal one year through the 2018 season.
That means that Hendrick Motorsports will have the following major primary sponsorships ending after next season: Lowe’s (Jimmie Johnson), Nationwide (Alex Bowman), Axalta (Bowman) and NAPA (Chase Elliott).
Those companies serve as a primary sponsor for a combined 94 points races next season:
Lowe’s will do 36 races, sharing some with vendors, on Johnson’s car.
NAPA will do 24 races on Elliott’s car.
Nationwide will do 19 races on Bowman’s car.
Axalta will increase its total by two to 15 on Bowman’s car next season.
And there’s more.
SunEnergy1’s deal of four races a year on Elliott’s car expires after the 2018 season.
Mountain Dew’s deal expires after the 2018 season and includes sponsorship of the cars of Earnhardt/Bowman, Kasey Kahne and Elliott, representing eight races total.
Rarely does an organization have so many significant sponsor deals end at the same time.
And there’s the fact that Hendrick Motorsports has yet to announce replacements on Kasey Kahne’s car with Farmer’s Bank Insurance not returning when its deal expires after this season, and Great Clips ending its agreement after this year. Those companies are scheduled to serve as the primary sponsor for 22 races this year.
Despite the challenges Hendrick Motorsports seems to be facing, it helps that the organization has done well in retaining sponsors — Axalta has been with the company since 1992 and Lowe’s since 2001 — but there are no guarantees. Lowe’s extension did not match the three-year extension Johnson signed. In 2015, both Johnson and Lowe’s signed two-year extensions. Before that deal, Johnson signed a five-year extension and Lowe’s signed a three-year deal, following with a two-year extension to later match Johnson’s contract length.
Nationwide and NAPA don’t have as long a history with Hendrick Motorsports as Axalta and Lowe’s.
Nationwide sponsored what is now the Xfinity Series from 2008-14 before becoming the primary sponsor of Earnhardt’s No. 88 car in 2015.
NAPA, which severed ties with Michael Waltrip Racing for its involvement in a team order scandal at Richmond in 2013, partnered with Elliott in 2014 when he was at JR Motorsports and followed him to Cup at Hendrick Motorsports.
With 16 months before the 2018 season ends, there’s plenty of time for Hendrick Motorsports to extend deals with each company or find others. Still, there is much work ahead. The pressure will be on to get those deals done in a timely manner.