By admin | January 15, 2012
By Richard Allen
By all accounts, former Super Bowl winning football coach Joe Gibbs is a good person. However, his time as a racing owner almost certainly has tested his patience and has absolutely tested his ability to deal with sponsors.
During the years of NASCAR team expansion, Joe Gibbs Racing brought in the young but often volatile and outspoken Tony Stewart to drive for them. While Stewart proved to be a race winner and a championship caliber driver, his outbursts of temper became somewhat legendary among fans and media but disturbing to those who stood to have their images tarnished by his behavior.
In 2002, JGR sponsor The Home Depot took the unusual step of fining their own driver after Stewart shoved a photographer.
“Tony Stewart’s actions following the Brickyard 400 do not at all represent the values and beliefs of the over 290,000 associates who comprise the backbone and spirit of The Home Depot,” the home improvement store said in a release just after the incident.
And further, “We value our relationship with the media, fans and competitors of NASCAR, and the behavior displayed following the Brickyard 400 will not be tolerated from any member of our race team now or in the future.”
Rumor had it at the time that behind the scenes Home Depot very much questioned whether Stewart was the right representative for their company. “Tony has made a commitment to us and we’ve made a commitment to him,” Joe Gibbs said in response to the sponsor’s actions. “He knows he needs help in controlling his emotions and we’re going to do all we can to help and support him. All of our resources, as well as the resources of Home Depot, have been made available to Tony.”
Stewart left JGR at the end of the 2008 season to partner with Gene Haas and form Stewart-Haas Racing. So when Stewart left, the time of having to apologize to sponsors for a driver’s actions was over, right? Well, not exactly.
Just about the time Stewart left(with one year of overlap) Kyle Busch was brought into the JGR fold. And at the end of the 2011 season, Gibbs was once again cast into the middle of a near sponsor revolt after his driver angered and embarrassed a primary backer.
During a Camping World Truck Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway, Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday after a caution flag had been waved. NASCAR stepped in and benched the offending driver for that weekend’s remaining Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races.
Candy maker M&Ms was so upset that they pulled their colors from the #18 car for the remaining two races of the year. And again, it was reported that Gibbs had to do a considerable amount of apologizing to keep a sponsor from bolting.
But unfortunately for JGR, their issues with major sponsors are now not limited to the NASCAR side of their business. Over the past AMA Supercross off season, Gibbs signed well known rider James Stewart to handle Yamahas for his team and it only took one race for a controversy with a sponsor to arise.
In preparation for the season opening event in Anaheim, California last weekend, Stewart felt uncertain with his bike’s handling. So, the JGR team opted to remove its Pirelli tires and replace them with Dunlop branded rubber during a practice session. The trouble was, Pirelli is one of the team’s sponsors and was not appreciative when the practice change was reported. Once again, apologies were supposedly issued.
During the most recent Supercross telecast this past Saturday, JGR team manager Jeremy Albrecht explained that he would not make the decision to switch away from a sponsor’s product again. That was almost certainly something that had been made clear to him in the following week.
Poor Joe Gibbs. For a man noted for his Christian values and classy demeanor, he sure has to spend a lot of time apologizing to sponsors for things the people around him have done.
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