A week after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. picked up the season sweep at Pocono Raceway, one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers is now without his biggest sponsor. The National Guard has announced that it will no longer sponsor auto racing teams at Hendrick Motorsports after this season, and now Earnhardt, Jr. is left without a primary sponsor. The no. 88 car has become famous for its patriotic red, white, and blue color scheme with the National Guard logo splashed across the hood, but all of that will be changing after this year.
Earnhardt, Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports has been sponsored by the National Guard since 2008. As reported in the Sporting News, this season is Earnhardt’s best in ten years as he has won three races — two at Pocono and the season opener at the Daytona 500 — and is currently first in the Sprint Cup Chase standings. In fact, this season is Earnhardt’s greatest showing since 2004 when he won six races. But recent budget cuts to marketing dollars at the National Guard have seriously called into question the value of sponsoring an auto racing team, even one with such a recognizable name as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
In a statement made public by The Sporting News, Major General Judd H. Lyons questioned the value of a tax-payer funded organization, such as the National Guard, sponsoring an auto racing team.
“I would like to know what are good metrics to use to measure the effectiveness of sports sponsorship programs, and that’s what I’m focused in on. … I’m trying to analyze these programs for exactly the reasons (committee members) are saying — are they achieving the intended effect, are they the best use of our taxpayer dollars and is that the right thing to be doing?”
Hendrick Motorsports plans to fight, as the National Guard is under contract through the 2015 season. In a statement published in USA Today, the team responded to the news:
“(Hendrick) has a contract in place to continue the National Guard program at its current level in 2015. We have not been approached by the guard about potential changes and plan to honor our current agreement.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is not the only racer losing the National Guard sponsorship, as IndyCar’s Graham Rahal, who races for his father, Bobby Rahal, and the Rahal Lettermen Lanagan Racing team, is also being cut loose. But the immediate concern is with Earnhardt, Jr., who is NASCAR’s most popular driver and the son of the legendary Dale Earnhardt, who died in a late-race crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. Will this distraction hurt Dale Junior’s chances at his first ever Sprint Cup Chase championship? Only time will tell.
The Chase for the Cup continues this Sunday for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Watkins Glen.