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Friday Faceoff: Who’s Paying the Bills?

Nature’s Bakery, a sponsor new to the sport, signed on to sponsor Danica Patrick in 28 races next season. Is this reason for optimism about new sponsors entering the sport, or more of an isolated instance?

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I think sponsor shelling out the $20 million or so for a top-flight team like Patrick’s is a rarity anymore, and this went down because it’s Danica… very few drivers in the same points bracket as she is garner the same kind of money, and there are better drivers racing on less than her team has. But there is reason for cautious optimism if you look for it; several teams have had smaller deals with new sponsors this year. It may be just a race or two, but for some teams, that’s a big deal.

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I think Danica Patrick is unique within NASCAR because it’s not just about the on-track results for her. If that were the case, considering her track record the last three years there’d have been an opening at the No. 10 a long time ago. (It’s notable by the way Sam Hornish Jr., part of our next question, is getting pushed out at Richard Petty Motorsports, criticized for not being able to drum up sponsorship with an almost identical track record this year as Patrick.) As the sport’s only full-time female, that ace card she holds along with overwhelming popularity can open doors to a number of sponsors that would otherwise not take a second look at the sport.

A better gauge would be what happens with Michael Waltrip’s now-up-for-sale two-car Toyota program and race shop. If someone like Harry Scott takes it, fine, but he’s already involved in the sport. Can NASCAR get an additional owner/investor and some additional companies to come keep that program afloat instead of letting everything get auctioned off piecemeal? (Notable though is that Nature’s Bakery only had reported revenue of $100 million last year. That’s a heck of a $20 million sponsorship bill to suddenly add to a business functioning at that level. Can they sustain it?)

Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: While I want to believe this is a sign of sponsors flocking to the sport – and trust me, I really do – this is just an isolated incident. Love her or hate her, Patrick is one of the biggest names in the garage area. If anyone was going to get a major sponsor going into next year, it was going to be her. Don’t expect your typical drivers, the David Ragans and Cole Whitts, to get the same sort of sponsorship and support.

Joseph Wolkin, Assistant Editor: This really is a rare thing to occur in NASCAR’s premier division. With the insanely high costs of fielding a Cup car, it’s a shocker that Stewart-Haas Racing was even able to sign a business that isn’t a Fortune 500 company. However, this could be the beginning of a new trend in the sport. Maybe, just maybe, this will lead to other businesses like it entering NASCAR in all three premier divisions, showcasing the profit margin a company can have thanks to stock car racing.

Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: Believe me, it’s always good when a new company decides to press their luck in NASCAR.  Some of them stick around for a while and advance themselves (Ex: 5-hour Energy, Camping World). Others, not so much (the list is too long to count). I hope that it leads to good news long-term, but looking at the plans for Nature’s Bakery, they decided to go big right away. That concerns me. I think that they’ll heavily support Patrick in 2016, but beyond that, who knows.

It’s been reported that Hornish Jr. will be out of the No. 9 RPM ride at the end of 2015, with Ragan and Regan Smith listed as potential replacements. Is a driver change needed, and if so who would be the best fit for the team as they work to become a contender?

Bearden: Hornish Jr. finally made his way back to the Cup Series after fighting and crawling through the lower ranks for a few years, and he’s going to get cut after one season? That’s rough. Hornish hasn’t excelled, but he hasn’t run much worse than teammate Aric Almirola or former driver Marcos Ambrose, either. Sponsorship might be the issue forcing the Indianapolis 500 champion out the door if that’s the case. As for replacements, RPM’s best hopes would be to poach someone from one of the smaller teams or Xfinity Series. Brett Moffitt, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Alex Bowman come to mind. That said, the true answer would be any driver that can bring sponsor money.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I’ve always thought Hornish was a decent fit at RPM. The No. 9 is a good ride, and pretty much suited to Sam’s level of NASCAR experience. The idea of additional “Ragan or Smith?” discussion exhausts me, and it must do the same for the three drivers in question. I hope Hornish can convince RPM that he’s worthy of keeping his seat for the 2016 season.

Allaway: I’m not really surprised that Hornish could be out of the No. 9. However, Hornish is not the real problem here. The team went from being fully sponsored when Ambrose was still driving to struggling to put together outside support to cover more than one-third of the season. Andrew Murstein is putting a bunch of his own money out there just to field Hornish. Replacing Hornish more than likely isn’t fixing that unless whoever they replace him with brings money.  Because of that, Hornish is far more likely to be replaced by either Clint Bowyer (with 5-hour Energy) or Michael Annett (with Pilot Flying J) than anyone else.

Clayton Caldwell, Contributing Writer: I think Hornish Jr. is a nice guy, but he simply does not get the job done in NASCAR. He was awesome in IndyCar, there’s no denying that, and had a few good years in the NXS before making his way back to Cup. However, his performance has not been great this season. They made a crew chief change and that hasn’t improved the No. 9 team much at all. Sponsorship has seemed to be few and far between on that car so maybe that’s why the performance has lacked. Are Smith or Ragan a better hire than Hornish? I personally think so. I would like to see what Smith can do in a decent ride. Remember he won a Cup race at Darlington with Furniture Row Racing. Ragan has won two races and if given a capable car can win at a plate track.

Henderson: There are a few drivers out there of similar caliber as Hornish… and I’m not sold on a lateral move being a good one for a mid-tier team. Why start from scratch with a new driver who’s ultimately going to get the same results? It seems as though building with a driver who the team is already familiar with and who the cars are set up for would be a better option. Now if Hornish gets a second year, there needs to be improvement. But I just don’t see anyone out there who’s that much better and available.

Smith, who just a week before was critical of Ty Dillon for getting into his No. 7 NXS car, laid a bumper to Alex Tagliani on his way to the win at Mid-Ohio… was Smith’s move any more – or less – acceptable than Dillon’s?

Wolkin: The difference between the two is that Smith’s bump was a lot less severe than Dillon’s. Smith got into Tagliani, who entered the corner too hot. However, Dillon basically punted him. Either way, it’s racing and they’ll all live. It’s not the end of the world for any of them.

Bowles: If there’s anything we’ve learned about Smith the last month or so, it’s that he’s desperate to win and stay on the radar screen. Not only does he feel the No. 7 team is still in title contention but Smith got a taste of Cup again, subbing admirably for Kurt Busch this season and, at age 32, knows his chance for future opportunities there is running out. How do you get noticed by potential Cup owners late in Silly Season? Win all the races you can and steal a championship under the nose of these tweenage “young guns” Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher and Dillon.

The bump and run has been an acceptable maneuver within NASCAR for years; everyone from Jeff Gordon to Matt Kenseth have used it. I don’t think we should go overboard criticizing a driver who’s had a long winless streak, saw an opening in front of him and took it. Tagliani has every right to be mad but it’s not unlike anything we’ve seen in past years.

Henderson: You can’t really compare the two, because they were in totally different situations. I don’t think Dillon intentionally spun Smith at Watkins Glen. Smith’s move was deliberate, but also completely acceptable — in the closing laps, for the win, and he didn’t wreck Tagliani. That’s how a bump and run is supposed to work, and it’s OK when it’s for the win late in the game. Intentionally wrecking another driver is never acceptable, but I think the Dillon-Smith deal was a racing incident and not deliberate.

Howell: It was one of them racin’ deals – there’s little more there than that. Such is the nature of road-course racing, especially for stock cars at Mid-Ohio. Let’s move on….

Caldwell: I think it was less acceptable. I always judge these situations by what the driver thinks about before entering the corner. In Dillon’s case I don’t think he had the intention of wrecking Smith when he dove off to make it three-wide in turn 1 at Watkins Glen. I just think Dillon got a little too aggressive and it backfired. Smith, on the other hand, went in to the corner with the absolute intention of doing whatever he needed to do to get by Tagliani for the win, which he then of course acted upon. Smith has a lot of skill and I am for a driver doing whatever he needs to do to win the race. However, when you act like he did the week before and then pull a move like he did a week later you can’t help but call him a hypocrite.

This week, Ryan Ellis used a GoFundMe page to get the remaining $3,000 he needed to run the entire NXS race at Bristol. What does the mean moving forward for drivers such as Ellis that need to prove themselves but can’t find sponsorship?

Wolkin: The first driver I remember doing this was Kenny Wallace a few years ago, and everyone that I knew at the time loved it. Crowd funding is great for something once in a while, but it shouldn’t be used too often. For a guy like Ellis, he has maximized on every opportunity he gets to race in the NXS or Truck Series, and asking for something as small as $3,000 compared to what other teams get for races from sponsors is something different. In this era, you have to be creative, and this might just be the best way to get noticed in a sport where opportunities are limited.

Bearden: All that means is that the underfunded drivers and teams of NASCAR are having to get more creative to stay afloat. The fact that NASCAR fans managed to raise enough money for Ellis to race is impressive and a testament to the incredible loyalty in the industry, but unless Ellis can come up with some sort of subscription-based service to make the donations a weekly occurrence, it isn’t going to help him or any other drivers in the long run.

Howell: Raising cash through crowdsourcing seems to be in NASCAR’s immediate future. The days of convincing a local business to fund your car at a big time event are long gone. Small businesses (on which young drivers used to rely) are not as dependable as interested people with 1) Internet access and 2) cash to contribute. We’ve seen creative funding efforts many times before in NASCAR, and this is just another means by which to try and build a career. It’s sad that young drivers have to resort to such measures.

Bowles: We’ve seen fan-supported teams, donation-style teams and grassroots efforts to get a car or driver to a racetrack for decades. To me, Ellis’s tactic is nothing new; it’s just the fact it happened on GoFundMe. The problem is, these ideas will only produce limited success in the future considering how expensive it is to run even the Truck Series these days. I give Ellis points for creativity, but doubt we’re going to see an onslaught of GoFundMe efforts as random fans and giving donors can only spend so much.

Allaway: At this point, just about nothing. Drivers going to crowdfunding sites to raise capital in order to race is nothing new. Drivers have used sites like GoFundMe to raise quite a bit more than $3,000. Angela Cope raised $100,000 via crowdfunding and sponsorship in order to race for SR2 Motorsports at Charlotte a couple of years ago. It’s sad that someone like Ellis has to go to this level in order to race. The man has talent.

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20 thoughts on “Friday Faceoff: Who’s Paying the Bills?”

  1. I have always been suspect of marketing snake oil sales men..their college degrees handed out like toilet paper. I do not believe for one minute that somebody can accurately tell me SHR/ANY SPONSOR ROI . You can’t other than hard merchandise sales that promote her specifically. What a bunch of sales BS. But hey, that is what racing and lack talent has come down to. Kinda makes one sick that racer (again love him or hate him, he has more wins than the female) Clint B. “is free to pursue other employment” and this “female” back marker has a job for at least another year. That is what the business has become, not about talent, and that ruining NASCAR, imo.. You can talk business to me all you want, I get it…(more than you know) but to put her out as “racer” and a “driver” is foolish and does damage to the sport. If somebody had the balls to say they like her because she is a female and we know what SHE DOESN”T DO on the track and we are o.k. with it..would mean much more than the bull and flat out untruths that have followed her since her first day in NASCAR. Only sheep believe she has super powers because of her body parts, the super powers have yet to be shown on the racetrack. I guess they are lurking in her yoga vids.

  2. I never felt Sam Hornish was going to elevate or help RPM in any way, and sadly it seems I am correct. Sam AND David Regan have been given more that most regarding second chances in Cup. Maybe Bowyer, who at least has proven he could win races (again love him or hate him, his stats or better). And I ALWAYS felt Regan Smith was just seemingly on the crazy side and I don’t see him being consistent in any way in Cup, his inconsistencies in Xfinity should be a red flag for Cup. RPM should invest in a proven winner, not continue to go the Cat in The Hat route…it isn’t working in either shop. Smith is a desperate man…and DR and SM have had more than their share of second chances in Cup. Bye_Bye to all 3.

    • but i have heard over the years that rpm is “cheap”. they’re not one of the flagship teams, so i’m sure the operating budget for each of the teams is not what others are.

  3. Is my memory faulty, or did Ty Dillon manage to make the same mistake twice at the Glen? I recall that he dumped another driver in a very similar situation. Guess he didn’t learn from his first mistake?

  4. and for what reason is Danica “overwhelmingly popular”? because she’s the only female in NASCAR and she’s pretty? It certainly isn’t because of her driving. Kyle Petty got castigated by the media for stating those facts and yet a company making $100 million is willing to shell out $20 million to sponsor her for the season. Wow, that is a pretty impressive amount of investment for a small company. Hope that marketing campaign works out for them. Certainly I would not buy their product simply because Danica appears in their ads.

    • But whether we respect her as a driver or not, and IMHO she is basically average, she is indeed popular. These companies don’t shell out millions because some salesman is a good talker. But that is indeed a huge investment for a company that size. Unless they are able to quickly grow the company its hard to believe they can sustain it.

        • I know about the “Kardashians” but do I like them? Hell no..do I watch their show or follow them..hell no. But I think people confuse her name reco as a big like, I say just the opposite, most can’t stand her or are indifferent..with very good reason. It is the media who has built her up, and hopefully take her down. A marketing fraud, not race car driver at the Cup level.

  5. Edwards-Elmhurst Health Care are absolutely pumped about giving Danica half-a-million dollars a year to promote their “brand”! These are smart business visionaries building a portfolio of hospitals, walk-in clinics and fitness centers in the Chicago-land area who understand ROI. Danica’s detractors really don’t get her “marketing magic!” Much of Go-Daddy’s explosive growth can be credited to her.
    Though the Petty’s evaluation of her “race-driving skills” may be true, they should be so lucky to have her “Star-Power” in their stable… they just might be able to afford to field some competitive race-cars! It’s “too-bad” that a 3-time Indy-car Champ and Indy 500 Winner cannot generate the sponsorship dollars that a mediocre beauty queen can… But, that’s the reality of today’s market-place culture!

    • Seems to me that one of the things that separates the Nascar that many of us started watching years ago from todays Nascar is what you are alluding to. Back then it was a sport, albeit it on wheels, but still a sport. Today, it is a business, one that is powered by the dollars of sponsors and the savvy of successful businessmen. Right or wrong? who knows, but while they grew it to what it is they took the magic away – and its never coming back.

      • well said, russ! Exactly — the fun has been sucked out of the sport and all we are left with is the pith and pits.

        I didn’t start watching races because of the way it was marketed. I started watching because it was fun to watch the cars go fast and RACE. Long gone.

          • ..And they insult us with the likes of a Danica, a bought seat the premier level telling us she is competitive, an insult to race fans, imo of course… :)

          • John Q, no the cars aren’t the reason IMHO, or at least not for me. At the top of my list is the blatant over the top commercialism. Its a whole bunch of little annoyances that add up to the feeling you have when you realize that there really is no Santa Claus, or the car salesman that tries to pressure you into buying the car that you don’t want.
            Or, maybe I’m just an aging cynic.

  6. I said it in an earlier post this week and I’ll say it again. Nature’s Bakery is in this not because it’s NASCAR ,but because it’s Danica. We all know she is a highly visible personality and draws much attention. I’ve talked to people who know little about NASCAR or even are interested in learning about it but do know the name Danica Patrick. IMO once she’s gone they’re gone if not before.

  7. I have no problem with Danica and I’m happy she got a new sponsor. That money will help the other SHR cars too. NASCAR has not and will never be a pure meritocracy. Racing is expensive at all levels and there are plenty of examples today (and back in the day) in all three divisions where money trumped talent in the handing out of rides. Almost every driver in Cup today was born into racing or a financial advantage in someway. This is not a sport where a kid can run to a department store pick up some equipment and go racing for few dollars, never has been.

    The bigger issue is the drying up of new team owners and further consolidation (e.g. MWR). If there are more owners/sponsor in the sport more talented drivers will get chances. Danica is no different than John Menard buying rides for Paul until he got better.

  8. One top 15 in the last 15 races and she gets a 20 million dollar sponsorship. Nascars seats are down, viewership is down, who in the world is watching and buying tickets that would induce a small company to spend such an amount of money??

    • Stupidity, but some will tell us “dummies” that it is a brilliant move, but no defender of the female who is wasting a seat can tell us the actual dollar amount a sponsor for her has gotten regarding a “bang for their buck”. Nobody can, so I call bull, especially with her stats and insane attention because of her body parts. If this company sold where I live, I would boycott them in a second.

  9. Natures Bakery will pull out of their sponsorship deal after 2 years, when they realize that Danica is never going to win a race and they won’t be able to launch their Danica Victory Donuts product line brand.

  10. I think what people are missing in regards to Crazy Eyes Regan Smith is the drama show he put on last week with the same move, whether Ty’s moved worked or not Regan would have been his crazy self foaming at the mouth just the same. I know that is what I took out of what he did last weekend. I say hypocrite.

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