Originally created 06/26/04

NASCAR says no to liquor sponsorship



SONOMA, Calif. -- NASCAR has rejected Roush Racing's bid to sign a hard liquor company as primary sponsor for Jeff Burton's No. 99 Ford.

Though beer and malt liquor sponsors are allowed by NASCAR, spirits advertising is not permitted at any of its events or as team sponsors.

Roush had negotiated a deal with British liquor giant Diageo, but it was contingent on NASCAR changing its policy that began in the days when many counties in the South were dry.

"Although we understand the sponsorship situation with the No. 99 entry, it is very unlikely at this time that we would change such a long-standing policy for this instance," NASCAR president Mike Helton told The Associated Press on Friday.

However, he said the sanctioning organization will continue internal discussions about the hard liquor ban.

Geoff Smith, president of Roush Racing, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.

"We've been working together with them to assess all the historical and current reasons why that policy exists and see if there were any reasons why it should be revised," Smith said. "My personal opinion is that 95 percent of their objection was just that - history."

A decision by TV networks years ago to also ban hard liquor ads reinforced NASCAR's policy even as fewer counties remained dry. But with the growth of cable, more TV channels are starting to air such ads.

NASCAR's position, however, remains unchanged.

Smith said he believes the general public does not make a distinction between beer and distilled spirits.

He said the team's relationship will continue with Diageo, whose Smirnoff Ice malt beverage sponsors Roush driver Matt Kenseth. Diageo manufacturers a number of brands of hard liquor, including Johnnie Walker, J&B and Jose Cuervo.

Jim Beam sponsors a car in the IRL and Crown Royal is the series sponsor for IROC, which includes NASCAR drivers.

Burton's entry, which had a series of sponsorships for anywhere from one to three races this season, continues looking for someone to pay the bills.

When asked if the team is committed to running Burton the rest of the season even without a sponsor, Smith shrugged.

"The plan is for him to run the entire schedule, but we have to find some money somewhere, soon," Smith said.