NASCAR & Auto Racing

Danica Patrick’s sponsorship loss underscores importance of financial backing in NASCAR

Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 1, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama.
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 1, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. Getty Images

With Sprint Cup team budgets running as high as $20 million-plus per year these days, corporate sponsors are as critical as ever to NASCAR.

That fact of life came into focus earlier this week when GoDaddy announced it would leave the sport after this season, stranding at least temporarily one of NASCAR’s most marketable drivers without a primary sponsor.

What Danica Patrick and her Stewart-Haas Racing team face now is another kind of race: one against time to replace GoDaddy, which has been Patrick’s primary sponsor since 2010.

But it’s something for which Patrick has been preparing. She’s always been aware that, especially in rocky economic times, sponsors can come and go.

“To imagine that this scenario was not possible is a lie, of course,” Patrick said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway before she practiced for Sunday’s Geico 500. “We knew that it was possible that GoDaddy would go away. I think we’re all ready and prepared to move on and figure other things out. I don’t know (what) exactly.”

GoDaddy is the latest sponsor to either walk away from NASCAR or reduce its presence. Most notable is Sprint – which sponsors the sport’s top series – leaving after the 2016 season. The Home Depot is no longer sponsoring Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 car driven by Matt Kenseth.

But other companies are coming into the sport or maintaining their presence in different ways. While Nationwide Insurance was replaced this season by Xfinity as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s lower level series, it remains as the official insurance company of the sport and is a primary sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr. for several races through 2017.

And companies such as Dow Chemical, Panasonic, Arris, Comcast, Hewlett-Packard and Hisense electronics have also come aboard.

No other sport has as much involvement from Fortune 500 companies (nearly 25 percent) as NASCAR, and that’s an 8 percent increase over 2008.

“It takes several years to get that solid foundation of money and sponsorship on one car,” said Kevin Harvick, Patrick’s teammate at Stewart-Haas and a former Xfinity and Truck series team owner. “Even for our car there is room for improvement on just what you think you should have for sponsorship on a car. When you are starting with the primary, obviously that is the first task, but the primary nowadays doesn’t bare all the load of the primary sponsorship. As a primary sponsorship you have to have other primary sponsors, you have to have associate sponsors and things like that. There is a lot to talk about and build and go through.”

Long-term sponsorships aren’t the only way to go in NASCAR. Avaya, an American information technology company, will be a partial sponsor on Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford next week at Kansas Speedway.

“(Sponsors) are the lifeblood of our race teams,” said Keselowski, whose primary sponsor at Penske Racing is Miller Lite. “There is some purse money that we are able to make if we perform well, but usually about 70-80 percent of a team’s budget comes from the sponsorship side.”

Patrick is in the third and final year of her contract with SHR, a team that provided her a first chance at Cup racing. While the car sponsorship goes away, she will likely be kept on with a personal-services contract with GoDaddy.

“It’s as tolerable a situation as you can imagine,” she said. “I am really happy at Stewart-Haas and they’re working hard already to find someone for the primary position. I guess on some level it is open season in a lot of areas. So I don’t think you can ever say never, but I am happy where I am right now.”

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Twitter: @davidscott14