By admin | July 31, 2013
By Richard Allen
All my be fair in love and war, but very little is fair in racing. That is especially true of modern day, sponsor driven racing.
For proof of that, just take a look at this past weekend in the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ryan Newman pulled off an emotional win in his home state to capture the trophy for one of the sport’s biggest races. That’s a sponsor’s dream, right? Well, it may be but it didn’t come in time to save the driver’s job.
Just a few weeks ago, Newman was told by Stewart-Haas Racing that he would be released from the team after the end of the 2013 season. That announcement coincided with the poorly kept secret that Kevin Harvick and sponsor Budweiser would be moving from the #29 car at Richard Childress Racing to SHR in 2014.
While each ownership organization is allowed to field as many as four teams, SHR has apparently opted to stick with its current number of three going into next season. This is no doubt largely due to a lack of sponsorship funding for a fourth team.
Since Newman has driven for SHR, his #39 car has relied on piecemeal funding from various companies, which is commonplace in the current economic landscape of NASCAR. However, Harvick’s Budweiser backing will bring multi-year stability along with unrivaled marketing power. Bud may be the “King of Beers” but it is also the “King of Sports Marketing” as well. And that will provide added exposure to the team that no one seemed to be willing to offer up for Newman.
Harvick will join current SHR drivers Tony Stewart(team co-owner) and Danica Patrick when he makes the move next year.
Patrick provides the quintessential example of modern day racing as it relates to sports marketing. While her performance pales in comparison to many other drivers, she is fully sponsored for the foreseeable future. So far in 2013, she has managed only one top-10 finish and has placed outside the top-20 in 16 of the 20 races contested.
At the same time Newman was earning the right to kiss the bricks at IMS, Danica was meandering her way to a 30th place finish in a race that had been ballyhooed as her return to the track of her racing dreams.
With Sunday’s victory, Newman has one win along with three top-5 and nine top-10 results for 2013. He also qualified on the pole for the Brickyard 400. Even though he only ranks 16th in the overall Sprint Cup standings, his win gives him a very real chance of earning a wildcard invitation into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But as anyone who has followed racing for very long knows, performance is rarely the deciding factor in determining who gets what ride. At some point in the sport’s history, the onus of acquiring sponsorship fell completely on the drivers while the teams seem to have disavowed themselves of any and all responsibility in the matter.
The phrase, “If he(or she) can bring sponsorship, he can have the ride” has become common. The days of teams going out and signing a talented driver then landing a sponsor to go with said driver seem to be gone forever.
The case of Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick just happens to be a convenient example after recent events, but there are many others. Just look at the number of drivers from wealthy families who have rides despite the lack of talent worthy of their place for more examples of the power of finance.
Performance in racing is nice, but it is hardly the only thing that matters. This past weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway proved that.
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