By Steve Mickey
November is the month that NASCAR crowns its champions in all three of its major series including the Sprint Cup Series. By this time of the year, the majority of sponsors, teams and drivers have solidified their plans for the following year. Paint schemes for cars are being designed and driver’s photo shots are already taking place because when the Sprint Cup champion is crowned later this month, Daytona’s green flag to begin the 2017 season will only be three months away.
Sprint will be leaving the series at the conclusion of this season after serving as the title sponsor since 2004 when it signed a ten year deal with NASCAR that actually began as the Nextel Cup. That sponsorship shifted from Nextel to Sprint in 2008 and the agreement extended their relationship through the end of the 2016 season. Sprint officials gave NASCAR noticed in December of 2014 that it would not return after the current contract was up.
Nextel’s $750 million, 10-year deal to become only the second series entitlement sponsor since 1971 was the largest in the sport’s history. When NASCAR began looking for a replacement sponsor almost two years ago, the reported price for would be sponsors was said to be $100 million per year with a minimum commitment of ten years.
The economic environment that NASCAR faces is not the same as it was when Nextel signed its original contract in 2004. Ticket revenues compared to last year has dropped 9.2% since the Daytona 500 and Television ratings have dropped 7% for the year. These numbers will make it difficult for NASCAR to get both the amount it is seeking and possibly the number of years in the contract.
November is very late for any sponsor to get involved in the Cup series for the following season especially for the title sponsor who would suddenly find itself having to put together a program in a three month span. It could be that NASCAR may not get the sponsor that it wants until the 2018 season which should not be a problem for the sanctioning body as it is a very sound financial organization but would much rather enter the 2017 season with a partner that would be willing to spend the dollars to advertise both its own products and the sport.
NASCAR may also be entertaining the idea of splitting the sponsorship up between more than one sponsor. The scenario most often brought up is that one company would sponsor the regular portion of the season that consist of the first 26 races on the schedule with another company coming on board as the title sponsor for the remaining 10 races that makes up the Chase.
One last consideration that NASCAR now faces in announcing any would be sponsor is the timing of the announcement as not to interfere with the Chase. NASCAR wants to keep the spotlight on the Chase as it heads to its conclusion at Homestead-Miami later this month but at the same time needs to start getting things in place as Daytona’s Speedweeks draws closer.
CHASE NOTES: Carl Edwards joins Jimmie Johnson as the only two locked in drivers for the Championship 4 with his rain shortened win at Texas. The two remaining spots will be up for grabs between six drivers with Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin all being within three points of each other followed by Kevin Harvick (-18) and Kurt Busch (-34). With only two spots left, all six of these drivers will have to run for the win as a different winner will only leave one driver advancing because of his position in the points. Kevin Harvick is the favorite as he has eight Phoenix wins and an average finish of 10.3 at the track. Matt Kenseth’s Phoenix record has him with the worst driver rating of the remaining Chase drivers with (88.1) and the worst average finish of 16.3.
Event: Can-Am 500(k)
Track: Phoenix International Raceway (1.0 mile oval, Turns 1-2 banked 10o-11o, Turns 3-4 banked 8o-90)
Date: Nov. 13, 2:30 pm
Defending Champion: Dale Earnhardt Jr.