In a press conference today, Joe Gibbs Racing and Dollar General announced a sponsorship agreement for 2012. It will include primary sponsorship of Joey Logano’s No. 20 Sprint Cup car for 12 races and Brian Scott’s Nationwide Series car for the full season. The company will also provide sponsorship to either the No. 20 or the No. 18 in ten additional Nationwide Series races. Finally, the Dollar General colors of yellow and black will return to the No. 18 truck of Kyle Busch in the Camping World Truck Series for ten races for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
On paper, it’s a great deal for both Dollar General and JGR. The Cup Series is undoubtedly a step forward for the company, which has been a longtime supporter of Nationwide Series teams, most recently the No. 32 of Turner Motorsports. It’s obviously a boon to JGR, especially Scott’s Nationwide operation. “We are thrilled to have Dollar General partner with us at Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Gibbs on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Our goal is to promote the Dollar General brand by delivering victories on the track. This is an exciting day for JGR and NASCAR.”
Too bad it’s not so exciting for Turner Motorsports. One of the last competitive independently owned Nationwide Series teams, Turner currently has two drivers in the top ten in series points: Justin Allgaier in fifth and Jason Leffler in sixth. Reed Sorenson, who is third in the standings, was released by the team last week for performance issues (despite his points standing, the team did not feel that Sorenson was providing adequate feedback during races), and Leffler was told that he is free to pursue other options for 2012 as sponsorship dwindles and current sponsor Great Clips will be moved to another car within the team.
Sorenson’s third place standing is the highest of any independent Nationwide team (currently that’s MacDonald Motorsports), and Dollar General was a big reason for that. Sorenson and Brian Vickers have also brought Dollar General into the spotlight (the No. 32 is seventh in Nationwide Series owner points; the best of the independents, and ahead of the No. 11 that JGR fields for Scott in 16th). No independent Nationwide team has won the series championship since ppc Racing in 2000.
It’s a series in crisis, and what is needed more than anything, is for loyal sponsors to step up, and for those teams to get adequate coverage by the television crews and adequate promotion from NASCAR.
But the sponsors want the Cup drivers, say the masses. That’s true. But the drivers and teams are the ones who make it so. If those drivers didn’t make themselves available, the sponsors would _have_ to look elsewhere. If the television coverage didn’t focus on the Cup stars even when they aren’t running up front, there would be return on the investment in a Nationwide team. It would take a concerted, community effort, but nobody is willing to do it, and with Cup teams actively poaching sponsors from the Nationwide-only teams, the future isn’t pretty.
Poaching sponsors is nothing new; it happens all the time in racing, but there’s something that just smacks of entitlement and greed when a Cup team woos a sponsor away from an independent Nationwide or CWTS team. It does make sense for the sponsor, there’s no denying that, but that’s in part enabled by a sport so enamored by a chosen few that they fail to promote dozens of drivers and teams, including some even at the Cup level in favor of the vanilla, over-exposed chosen few.
The deal between JGR and Dollar General is hardly unique, but there is one more aspect to consider. Gibbs’ team reportedly asked Home Depot to _scale back_ their sponsorship of Logano’s Cup car in favor of Dollar General. That’s right; there was already a full year of sponsorship in place for the No. 20, yet Gibbs and Dollar General told them to cut back. That’s a slap in the face to teams at both the Cup and Nationwide Series level who struggle and scrape for sponsors, sometimes race to race. It would be nice if Home Depot would step up and sponsor another Toyota team for the money JGR told them to keep.
Turner Motorsports, of course would be an excellent choice in terms of both performance and poetic justice. They already have a relationship via Raceday on Speed with Kenny Wallace, a three-time Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver whose single-car independent team does more with less than perhaps anyone in the series, and for whom that money could go a long way toward buying the speed it takes to win. If the company wants to stay in the Cup Series, the No. 13 Germain Racing entry is a Toyota and is not fully sponsored, having to start and park several times during the year for lack of funds.
It’s not even a performance issue. Turner’s team is currently outperforming the JGR team of Brian Scott in the Nationwide Series. Joey Logano is a talented driver, but he’s not Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin. Logano and Busch are ineligible for points in the Nationwide Series, so wins will come, but championships will not, though they might have with Turner in a year or two. That makes the situation even sadder. Performance simply doesn’t matter to sponsors in NASCAR as much as being attached to a name.
There has been talk among fans that perhaps NASCAR should simply get rid of the Nationwide Series and redistribute the sponsor dollars among Cup and/or CWTS teams, but what kind of solution is that? Not only would there be a heavy toll on the NASCAR community with the potential for 40 entire teams being laid off and the end of numerous driving careers that don’t deserve to end in that way, it would be a huge historical loss to the sport to lose a series that’s been around for decades and boasts some of the sport’s most memorable names. But the bleeding of sponsor money to the big Cup teams has to be stopped.
I’m not naïve; I understand the business side of decisions like this. However, it’s an ugly side of NASCAR. It bares a part of the sport’s underbelly that is not only sordid and greedy, but also very vulnerable. When the poaching of sponsors is taken to the level that teams are actually turning away money while others struggle to survive, it’s not exactly a sign of a thriving sport. It’s a sign that changes need to be made, and soon. There needs to be a concerted effort between NASCAR and teams to make sure that that money is being spent well, and television networks to make sure that there is a return on a significant investment.
I’m sure is was a great day for Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Kyle Busch Motorsports. Too bad it’s such a bad one for Turner Motorsports. As the clouds gather, dark days look to be ahead for the Nationwide and Cup independents. Then again, the best time for poaching is the dead of night…
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