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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Aspen Dental Latest Company to Exit NASCAR

Aspen Dental will not return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. They had previously been a primary sponsor of Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Ford Fusion but will leave the sport along with Patrick’s exodus next season.

The decision was first reported Wednesday by Adam Stern of the Sports Business Journal.

The move was not unexpected, as the team released Patrick in favor of Aric Almirola, who brings his sponsor Smithfield Foods to the No. 10.

Aspen Dental joined SHR in 2012 as a sponsor of Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Chevy Impala. They moved to Patrick in 2015 and served as her primary sponsor for roughly half the season in 2017 following the premature exit of Nature’s Bakery, which came after GoDaddy left auto racing altogether in 2015.

Aspen Dental is the latest in a string of major companies to pull out of stock car racing’s top series this year. Target left Chip Ganassi Racing and the No. 42 team of Kyle Larson in order to focus on sponsoring soccer, primarily as the jersey sponsor of Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United.

This summer, Subway left Joe Gibbs Racing and Daniel Suarez midseason following an NBCSN interview they felt hurt their branding. Hendrick Motorsports lost Farmers Insurance, Great Clips and LiftMaster, all of whom backed Kasey Kahne.

The sport’s top series has lost over forty major companies/brands in the last ten seasons, according to Frontstretch research through Jayski photo archives.

In addition to the aforementioned companies, SHR has lost Office Depot, Old Spice, Outback Steakhouse, and Quicken Loans, none of which are currently partnered with a team. The organization, a two-time series champion, is only nine years old.

Roush Fenway Racing has been hit hardest by this exodus, losing support from the likes of 3M, Aflac, Best Buy, Crown Royal, Kellogg’s, Scotts/Ortho, Subway, UPS and Zest all this decade. Several of those moved to other teams, but none are currently sponsoring a driver.

Richard Childress Racing has lost General Mills, Menards, Reese’s, and Quicken Loans over the last several years.

Joe Gibbs Racing is fairly steady sponsorwise, but losing Home Depot and Dollar General in back-to-back years played a role in Matt Kenseth’s exit.

Even the armed forces have had second thoughts. The U.S. Army and the National Guard both felt that NASCAR marketing wasn’t an effective or efficient way of recruiting, pulling out in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The U.S. Air Force is a notable exception, sticking with Richard Petty Motorsports and Darrell Wallace Jr.

It’s a well-known fact that if drivers bring money, they can stay behind the wheel. Paul Menard and the Menards sponsorship is a good example; it’s kept him employed with contending teams. Also, when drivers retire, their money goes with them. That happened to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2015 when Brian Scott hung up his helmet. His family-backed businesses Albertson’s, Shore Lodge, and Whitetail disappeared from the NASCAR circuit.

Red Bull exited NASCAR in 2011 with the closure of their self-owned race team in order to focus on their Formula One team and the Red Bull Global Rallycross series.

Mammoth company mergers ended the run of Alltel, Cingular, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable on racecars, while series entitlement sponsors Sprint and Monster Energy drove out competitors AT&T, Verizon, and Rockstar Energy.

At some point throughout the last ten years BB&T, Carquest, Claritin, Coors Light, Domino’s Pizza, Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, Kodak, the Miccosoukee tribe, Nicorette, Principal Financial, Prilosec, Texaco, and Thrivent Financial all stopped sponsoring cars/teams.

Sometimes businesses decide to shift their marketing efforts elsewhere, which has resulted in BRANDT (JR Motorsports), Pilot/Flying J (JRM), Rheem (JGR) and Hunt Brothers Pizza (SHR) all shifting to the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The Fraternal Order of Eagles went to GMS Racing and Justin Haley’s No. 24 Chevy in the Camping World Truck Series.

Additionally, the business may choose to promote a different division, as PepsiCo increased the presence of Mountain Dew on Hendrick cars while AMP Energy gradually disappeared. Anheuser-Busch similarly determined to market Busch and Busch Light instead of Budweiser on Kevin Harvick’s No. 4.

But just because a company may leave the Cup Series for a few years, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be gone for good. NAPA Auto Parts left Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013, choosing instead to back Chase Elliott in the XFINITY Series. As he moved up to Cup, they stayed with him.

Occasionally, the business decides it makes more sense to sponsor a race instead. as John Deere did in the late 1990s or South Point Casino did recently with the new playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

While in the days of Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace, drivers mostly had one full-time primary sponsor, now there are just a handful left in the series. Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson along with FedEx and Denny Hamlin are the most prominent examples.

Mobil 1 split their 2017 sponsorship with SHR among all four drivers. Bass Pro Shops will split their races between Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman in 2018. Menards will be on the Wood Brothers No. 21 for 22 races and on Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 for the other 14.

In XFINITY, Rheem will split their 2018 full-season sponsorship between JGR drivers Christopher Bell and Ryan Preece, while Flex Seal usually adorns several JD Motorsports cars throughout the season.

This decline in sponsorship dollars and continuity is disheartening to fans. However, the current growth and expense of the three national series have forced teams to adapt as best they can in order to stay afloat. Furniture Row Racing grew from a self-funded start-and-park outfit into the sport’s top team, partially due to money from increased sponsorship. Others could do the same.

About Wesley Coburn

Wesley Coburn
Wesley loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music, OKC Thunder basketball and superhero TV/movies. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma.

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4 comments

  1. Looks like Danica is looking back at a sponsor and looking back at Ricky through the rear view mirror. Took about a month, longer than I thought.

  2. Interesting…not a word about the solid relationship with sponsors (which is a huge positive) for Team Penske. Years and years of solid commitment from wonderful sponsors, backing Team Penske 1000%…2022 and beyond in many cases, a rarity. Speaks volumes about Roger, his relationship with his partners and his demand of overall professionalism for all involved working for Team Penske. It works.

  3. Of course no one in the NASCAR media ever calls them out on this and just accepts the non-answers they are given.
    Putting aside all of the unsuccessful changes to the product courtesy of the 3rd generation (and it’s hard not to put them aside), I think the whole AT&T situation back in 2007/2008 scared off a lot of then-existing and potential sponsors.

  4. Sponsors obviously enter or leave a sport based on the perception, or in the case of leaving, the reality of the return on their investment. Some such as those you’ve mentioned don’t see stock car racing as being worthwhile. The upside I suppose is that now other companies may be able to absorb the cost of a smaller, more limited, investment.

    As to teams I dont think you will see a repetition of what Furniture Row has done. The charters have eliminated the possibility of that recurring. Is that good or bad? For the existing teams its probably good. For the sport, probably not so much.