|Tony Will Have to Switch to Bud|
Stewart-Haas Racing announced last week that sponsor Budweiser would be joining their team next year along with (as previously announced) Stewart’s new BFF, Kevin Harvick. Both are leaving Richard Childress Racing. SHR also announced it has been unable to secure the sponsorship dollars for a fourth car and, as a result, Stewart’s old BFF, Ryan Newman, won’t be returning next year. It was the second big sponsorship coup in as many years for SHR, which last year landed Danica Patrick and her sponsor, GoDaddy.
It also means Stewart, who has expressed a preference for Schlitz in the past, many because it's cheap, will have to switch brands. But he should be able to afford it.
The moves kick off what is sure to be a silly, silly season, with sponsorship dollars – not necessarily drivers – the most sought-after commodity.
Budweiser is one of the most recognized and valued sponsorships in the sport. A major NASCAR supporter sport since 1983, it has scaled back its sponsorship in recent years to little more than half a season or 20 races. But it remains one of the most prized logos in NASCAR. The company says a key reason for its move was the past investment and relationship with Harvick. The Bud folks also couldn’t have been happy watching Brad Keselowski and his yard of Miller Lite celebrate their championship last year and may have felt it was time for a change of teams as well.
Despite losing Bud, Richard Childress says he will have at least three cars next year and possibly four. Two of his cars are secure – Jeff Burton and Caterpillar in the No. 31 and Paul Menard with his family sponsorship in the No. 27. The No. 29 vacated by Harvick is up for grabs, both in terms of sponsorship and driver. No word yet on what the part-time sponsors of the No. 29, Jimmy John’s and Rheem, will do next year. Both are relatively smalltime players, but important links for teams looking to fill in the gaps on a full season of sponsorship.
The unknown at RCR is Austin Dillion, Childress’ grandson, who is ready to move up the Cup ranks fulltime next season. The move of Budweiser from RCR to SHR increases the already strong likelihood of the No. 3 returning to Cup next year. Gotta believe there are a number of sponsors who would be interested in signing on for the return of the No. 3, which has raced in more 12 years since Dale Earnhardt was killed at Daytona, than might otherwise not be interested.
Newman becomes the lead free agent driver looking for a 2014 ride, with Kurt Busch a close second. Childress says he’s interested in both. Jack Roush also says he interested in going back to four cars next year. But you can bet Busch, who Roush released a few years back, isn’t on his list of potential drivers.
No matter what the manufacturers say about driver selection being a team choice, they play a key role in who goes where. Ford helped Roush keep Carl Edwards and Toyota was important to Joe Gibbs getting Matt Kenseth. Chevy had a role in Harvick going to SHR and will have a say in who goes to RCR. That might give Newman the edge. At the moment the math doesn’t add up for RCR to add a fourth car. But it might if Chevy is willing to pitch in some bucks.
Adding to the silliness, Busch and Newman have no love for each other, having clashed often in the past, first as while teammates at Penske Racing, and as recently as New Hampshire. But both would do well to establish a temporary truce. Sponsors might choose to avoid both drivers if the conflict continues.