NASCAR Sponsors: A Driver’s Best Friend, Or Worst Enemy?


In NASCAR, a good sponsor is a driver’s best friend. Heck, without a sponsor in today’s NASCAR, you can’t even race a full season. And if you take a good look at who’s at the top of the points standings, you will notice that each driver has a $10 million-$15 million sponsorship deal with companies like Lowes, Miller Lite, M&M’s, and Fed-Ex.

But, in some cases, a big sponsor can be a driver’s worst enemy.

Some of the biggest sponsors in NASCAR, UPS and Budweiser, for example, demand so much of the driver’s time that the driver really can’t take all the time he needs to focus on what’s really important: Getting the car set up for the upcoming race. These big sponsors want their drivers to do commercials, appearences, and who knows what else. Ultimately, these are the drivers about whom many people say, “Hey, what’s up with him this year?”

Two prime examples of what I am talking about in 2009 are Roush-Fenway drivers Carl Edwards and David Ragan. Both have brand new sponsors this year(UPS for Ragan; Many new primary sponsors for Edwards), and both have been in a lot more commercials.

In Ragan’s case, I have already seen him in 3 commercials, and he is slated to be in at least 2 more as part of the new UPS Maximum Driver marketing campaign. This is ultrashock for a guy who has done very few, if any, commercial spots during his short career. In the case of Carl Edwards, he has done at least 3 commercials with Aflac, one with Subway, one with Claritin, and one with Gillette.

When the season started, many people were penciling these two drivers in as, not only Chase contenders, but possibly champions. To date, neither driver even has a win. Edwards is clinging on to the coveted 12th place points position, while Ragan(32nd) is struggling to even stay in the top 35 in points. The difference between these two drivers’ career year in 2008 and their struggle in 2009: Many more commercial spots and driver appearences.

But we’ve seen this movie before. One of the best examples includes Kasey Kahne, who, in 2004, burst onto the scene unexpectedly, and made himself known. Many people believed that, before long, Kahne would be a Cup champion. But since his rookie season, Kahne has appeared in countless commercials for big companies such as Budweiser, Allstate, Gillette, and Dodge. During that time period, Kahne has only made the Chase for the Cup once, and has shown vast inconsistancies during his career.

To further solidify the fact that big sponsors can be either a driver’s best friend, or worst enemy, you simply have to look at the top of the points heap. Jeff Gordon has appeared in maybe one commercial in 2009, the same number as Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin, while Kurt Busch hasn’t appeared in any.

If you look at who does well on a yearly basis, you can clearly see that the drivers who seldom appear in commercials, like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, are usually at the top, while guys who are always appearing in commercials, like Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Michael Waltrip, usually don’t fair so well.

When it comes to NASCAR, corporate sponsors walk a fine line between being a driver’s best friend, or his worst enemy.