NASCAR Race Weekend Central

No Nationwide? 5-Hour Energy Has Little Interest in Lower Series

“He was a lot more nervous when he made the announcement in October about what was going to happen than he was today.”

Those were the words of Ty Norris, Michael Waltrip Racing’s General Manager, as he led the press conference at Kansas Speedway announcing 5-hour Energy’s extended partnership with Michael Waltrip Racing. Rather than the 25 races the energy drink originally announced at this very track last fall, 5-hour Energy will be on Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota for all but one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this year.

“I just have to say, I can’t believe how well everything’s gone so far,” said Scott Henderson, president of 5-hour Energy. “We expected to have great TV and consumer exposure and on-track exposure … and everything that’s happened so far has really blown us out of the water and how great the sport has been in return for us.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? In a time where even some of the most competitive and long-running teams are struggling to find, keep, and maintain a full season’s worth of funding, it’s encouraging to hear from a multi-million dollar sponsor that they are seeing a return on investment.

However, as encouraging as that is, there was another interesting point that Henderson made that was more telling. At one point during the announcement, he re-visited the initial decision to move from the Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup Series.

“We were curious what would happen with the retailers, if they’d like to have a say in the bigger spend, and the retailers are just so much more into Sprint Cup racing than they are Nationwide.”

Henderson went on to talk about how Nationwide Series tended to be more of a regional gain while the Sprint Cup Series has opened up national opportunities, as well as the TV audience and weekly exposure.

While not all that surprising, it is incredibly disconcerting. Here at the Frontstretch, we weekly—almost daily—make a point of discussing how the Nationwide Series is fighting to gain its own identity and how lack of funding is hurting driver development and the quality of the series. The last thing anyone wants to hear is that a mega-company like 5 Hour Energy no longer sees a need for that series.

To be fair, their driver in the Nationwide Series was Steve Wallace and he certainly wasn’t known for his driving skills. There was practically a betting pool made of when—not if—Wallace would cause a caution in the race either by wrecking himself or someone else. Still, the fact that this company sees very little return on investment in the Nationwide Series—even though they are spending almost 50% more to race in the Sprint Cup Series—is alarming. I can’t help but wonder what other potential sponsors think when they hear things like that.

I hope those comments were just due to a bad experience rather than reality, but it definitely is cause for concern for Nationwide Series-only teams and drivers who are working day and night to try and find some funding.

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