INDIANAPOLIS — For sale by owner: Major sponsorship for NASCAR’s most popular driver.
Act fast, time is running out.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not only looking for his first win of the season, he’s still hunting for a big-bucks sponsor for 12 Sprint Cup races this season.
Earnhardt said he’s not worried, a sign that perhaps Hendrick Motorsports has a deal on the horizon.
“It is important to try to fill out what we have this season and we will,” Earnhardt said Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I don’t have any doubt at all that we will get that done. I think we almost have to look forward beyond that to try to find out who is going to be the partner that we can put a long term deal together that matches up with what we want to do in the future.”
That’s part of the problem. Hendrick and Earnhardt would love to find a primary sponsor that would fund what’s left on this season’s slate as well as 2014, and possibly beyond. With 16 races left, putting together a multi-year deal with a committed corporate backer seems almost impossible to pull off.
“It’s just all the dollars and cents are accounted for at this point in the year,” Earnhardt said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t put some things together and do some creative stuff with some people and some partners that we already have.”
Earnhardt’s sponsorship woes started when Pepsi, through Diet Mountain Dew and Amp, sliced its sponsorship from 20 races to five in 2013. The National Guard did bolster its support of the No. 88, going from 16 to 20 races. Earnhardt, who has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship each of the past two seasons, is somewhat hindered in finding the right fit because of conflicts with committed corporate sponsors. For example, his Pepsi deal is the reason he ditched Budweiser when he signed with Hendrick for the 2008 season.
It’s not like he doesn’t have options. Earnhardt is one of the superstar faces of NASCAR. Even as the wins have dried up, he was still voted NASCAR’s most popular driver for each of the past 10 years.
POPULAR CHANGE: The NASCAR Truck Series stop at Eldora Speedway this week created a lot of buzz that still hasn’t died down.
The Ohio race was the first for NASCAR on a dirt track since Sept. 30 1970. Some drivers in Indianapolis for this weekend’s Brickyard race were talking Friday about a possible Sprint Cup series race at the track – someday.
Clint Bowyer, who is second in the Sprint Cup Series standings, was part of the broadcast of Wednesday’s event on Speed Channel. A part of him wanted to be in Eldora racing.
“Basically, I was stuck in a cage in there in the Hollywood Hotel with my world racing out there and it was really hard to sit there and watch,” he said.
Jeff Gordon watched every minute of it, too. Earnhardt Jr. tried. He was on his way to New York and didn’t get to see the finish.
He never got to see Austin Dillon capture the win.
But a sold-out crowd at the half-mile dirt track owned by Tony Stewart saw everything. So did 1.4 million viewers on Speed Channel.