NASCAR drivers struggle to find funding

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Trevor Bayne won instant fame with his surprising Daytona 500 victory last year. He earned a small fortune, too.

Bayne stands in the garage during practice for Sunday's Daytona 500 auto race in Daytona Beach, Fla.  PHELAN M. EBENHACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS
PHELAN M. EBENHACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bayne stands in the garage during practice for Sunday's Daytona 500 auto race in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He didn’t get what he really wanted, though: a full-time ride.

Going into Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500, the 21-year-old Bayne is as surprised as anyone that he’s only running a partial schedule for the Wood Brothers in the Sprint Cup Series this year. His situation is even more unsettled in Nationwide, where Roush Fenway Racing is committed only to run the first three races of the season and is hoping a few good runs can attract some more money.

“I figure if we can maybe be leading the points by then, then it would be hard for them to stop racing,” Bayne said. “But you would hope you could accumulate some kind of funding or some kind of sponsorship after the year that we had last year. It’s just tough right now for us, and for every team out there.”

Bayne and reigning Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are two of the most prominent up-and-coming drivers in NASCAR. In happier economic times, they might have Fortune 500 companies falling all over them.

The fact that neither driver has a full-time Sprint Series ride even caught the attention of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

“We’re seeing a lot of things showing that it’s turning around, and hopefully it turns soon and the young guys that are kind of in the queue now will be able to ride it out and get a chance when the time comes,” Johnson said. “But it’s crazy to think that Ricky Stenhouse, Trevor Bayne, you look through the list and they’re the first two that come to mind. They’ve had great success – and white race cars.”

Bayne’s stunning Daytona win kicked off a 2011 season that NASCAR officials believe was engaging enough to give the sport a momentum boost for 2012. It ended with an epic title fight that ended with Tony Stewart edging out Carl Edwards in the final race of the season.

NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps believes those stories will drive fan interest this year, and Phelps sees other signs that NASCAR is rebounding from the hit it took when the economy started sputtering.

“If you go back a couple of years, obviously, the economic downturn certainly affects our sport more than any other because it’s so dependent on sponsorship,” Phelps said. “When marketing dollars dry up, sponsorship dollars are part of those (deals) drying up. But you’ve seen it start to cycle back, and it’s really getting healthier and healthier.”

Phelps says NASCAR has plenty of stories to draw in casual fans and keep hard-core fans riveted this year. Will Johnson rebound from what was an off season by his standards? Can Stewart win another title? How will Edwards rebound after coming so close to a title?

And don’t forget Danica Patrick now is racing in NASCAR on full-time.

“There’s so many great storylines that will help us, I think, sustain the momentum we’ve had in the sport,” Phelps said.

DAYTONA 500

WHERE: Daytona International Speedway

WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday

BROADCAST: Television – noon, Fox-Ch. 54; Radio – noon, Motor Racing Network, Sirius Satellite Radio 90

RACE FORMAT: 200 laps

Comments (5) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/25/12 - 06:00 am
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"They’ve had great success –

"They’ve had great success – and white race cars."

Is a white race car supposed to mean a fast one?

benglish
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benglish 02/25/12 - 08:16 am
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No. A white race car means

No. A white race car means that the car is void of sponsorship decals especially on the hood (most obvious place) and/or any other part of the car. The car doesn't have to be the color white. It can be any other color - just doesn't have decals.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/25/12 - 08:17 am
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BenEnglish, thanks. I would

BenEnglish, thanks. I would have never figured that out.

benglish
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benglish 02/25/12 - 08:38 am
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You are welcome. It takes a

You are welcome. It takes a while to understand everything about NASCAR. One sponsorship can be 7 and 8 figured numbers.

itsanotherday1
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itsanotherday1 02/25/12 - 10:09 am
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I don't feel sorry for them.

I don't feel sorry for them. NASCAR has just become a big money operation like all other professional sports. It is high time corporate sponsors start holding onto their money and put some fiscal sanity back into the professional sports business where the average Joe can afford to go again; and drivers/athletes aren't making an absurd amount of money to do what most would for free.

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