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Friday, April 23, 2010

Motor oil and money: Sponsor move to Penske had nothing to do with the drivers

Another week has brought another big news announcement in the NASCAR world.

This time, it all revolves around Penske Racing, which has a boatload of change in store of 2011. And as usual with NASCAR, it revolves around money … sponsor money that is.

Shell/Pennzoil sparked it all with its decision to bolt from Richard Childress Racing and head over to Penske Racing. That alone is big news, as it makes the situation at RCR a little more tricky.

This deal fell apart with Shell/Pennzoil after a full year of negotiations, which has to be disheartening. Now, they have to find another sponsor for Harvick at a time when they are trying to sign him to a contract extension – an extension that some reports are calling highly unlikely.

Sports Illustrated claims Harvick has “burned bridges” at RCR, whatever that means. Rumors of Harvick to Stewart-Haas Racing are being thrown out too (So now SHR is going from 2 to 4 cars, if you believe the Kasey Kahne rumors … I don’t see that happening.)

More on that whole drama some other time, but let’s get back to the heart of the matter: Penske Racing.

Why did Shell/Pennzoil switch teams from RCR to Penske? Easy … it’s got nothing to do with who’s driving the cars at each place.

It’s all about the Captain himself, whose amazing success in business from racing to dealerships to moving trucks to a million other things allow Shell/Pennzoil a whole lot more opportunities to make money.

With the deal, their products can now be used at all Penske-owned car dealerships, as well as on the Indycar side of Penske’s racing ventures. That’s a business deal that goes far beyond putting their logos on top of a car every Sunday.

What can RCR do to compete with that? They just are a race team, not some billionaire with a much bigger opportunity for the sponsor. Really, it wasn’t a fair fight, and even Childress admitted in his statement he understood the reasons Shell/Pennzoil left, even if he didn’t like the decision.

The company couldn’t have cared less about Kevin Harvick or Kurt Busch when deciding what to do … they just knew they would make more money dealing with Roger Penske.

As a bonus, they bump Mobil 1 out of the sponsorship at Penske, helping them even more. In the end, they come up smelling like roses.

Who’s on the losing end?
No. 1 loser has to be the Childress team. This move makes the Harvick signing much more difficult, regardless of whether bridges were burned. It’s hard to find a sponsor now, more than ever, and unless someone big like Budweiser comes over they might have a hard time finding one company to fund the whole year.

Also, Sam Hornish Jr. gets the short end of the stick here. In the driver shuffle at Penske with this new deal, Kurt Busch has extended his contract and the drive the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.

Brad Keselowski, who can’t seem to stay out of the news lately, will now be the driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge starting in 2011. (That’s cool by me … Not only is Brad a local guy getting an even more high-profile ride, but Miller Lite is my beer of choice and I always loved Rusty Wallace in that car. And Brad’s aggressive style reminds me a lot of Rusty.)

But Hornish has nothing set up for 2011 as far as sponsorship, with the Mobil 1 decals leaving. The team has hopes to get him funding of course, and Penske’s pull can be strong – as this deal shows. But Sam Hornish Jr. is no Kurt Busch, so it will be more difficult.

I’m sure something will work out for him by year’s end, but for now he’s probably a bit concerned.

The overall lesson to learn from this deal: Sponsorship often has little or nothing to do with who’s driving the car.

Penske Racing can thank the Captain for this deal, as it wouldn’t have happened without all of his prior success in business making the race team attractive to Shell/Pennzoil.


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