News & Media

From the Notebook: Successful No. 17 epitomizes sponsorship struggle

March 06, 2012, Dave Rodman,

From the Notebook: Daytona 500 champ still unsponsored for 15 races

Maybe the starkest proof of the bleak state of the NASCAR sponsorship landscape is borne out by Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth's Roush Fenway Racing team, which has more than a third of its 2012 season currently unsponsored.

It seems that current partners Best Buy -- which reaped the extreme benefits of Kenseth's dramatic, and second, Daytona 500 win two weekends ago -- as well as Valvoline, Fastenal and Zest, "get it."

Stand-up guy

Matt Kenseth had a whirlwind week following his Daytona 500 victory with stops in Texas and California for a visit with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."

Other potential partners, not so much, and they're really missing the boat with Kenseth, who is one of the fiercest competitors while at the same time being socially conscious, family-oriented and downright funny.

It figures, when asked about it last week on his post-500 "victory tour" Kenseth was low-key about his paint-scheme situation. Of course, car owner Jack Roush fully committing to running his 2003 series champion in a full schedule this season, sponsorship or not, certainly has something to do with that.

"The sponsorship thing, I'm not entirely sure," Kenseth said. "They give me some updates, but other than that, I kind of let the sales department do their thing and I try to do our thing from a performance standpoint. Hopefully, they'll do their part there and we'll find some more sponsorship to get the car filled up."

Zest will feature the sport's latest new scheme this weekend at Las Vegas, but a Roush Fenway spokesperson said Kenseth's team had "roughly 15 races" out of the 36-race schedule that were unsold. Kenseth said he was a little surprised at the current state of affairs, but he's no less appreciative of his sponsor history -- despite losing two of the organization's long-time backers in the past two years.

"I think I've been very fortunate through the years with DeWalt and Black & Decker," Kenseth said. "We had them for 10 seasons -- it might have been 11 including the one year in the Busch [currently Nationwide] Series -- but at least 10 and had a great relationship with those guys.

"We had a real long relationship with them and even with Diageo and Crown Royal -- all the way back to '03 and '04, they were on our cars as an associate and had been at Roush a long time. So I hoped that with the way our performance was last year that it would have been a little easier for the sales department to be able to fully sponsor the car."

Kenseth knows things could be a lot worse.

"I know that's been a struggle, not only for our car but for some of the other cars in our organization," Kenseth said. "They shut the No. 6 [Cup] car down because they didn't have a sponsor and they're trying hard to sponsor Ricky Stenhouse in a Nationwide car and he's fresh off a championship year."

Too many outside observers might think Kenseth has a bland demeanor, but that's truly far from the case. And Kenseth is smart enough to know that isn't what's most important to him.

"We can all dissect my personality or my looks or what I say or what I do or don't say and don't do and pick on that, I guess," Kenseth said. "But you can look at the opposite end of the spectrum. You can look at 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, who won the Daytona 500, who everybody was doing backflips over because he won the Daytona 500 with the Wood Brothers and all that stuff. And they can't get a sponsor for him in Nationwide or Cup either.

"I think him and I -- I wouldn't say we're opposite, but -- we're on other ends of the spectrum as far as where our careers are at and what we've done. I've thought about that. Of course, you think about it and you're like, 'OK, maybe there's something I'm not doing right or saying right,' but I don't know. I've been in this sport quite a while and I've always just tried to be myself and never really changed for anybody, and I don't think that's really been a bad thing.

"I'm pretty much a face-value guy, so I don't know."

Waltrip knows the deal

Team owner Michael Waltrip was asked during Speedweeks if he was surprised that Bayne's sudden success -- his 2011 Daytona 500 win came in his second career start -- and how it hasn't developed into financial backing was a surprise. Waltrip's blessed to have three cars, two fully sponsored and one mostly-filled, but not much surprises him.

"Well, it's society, it's not just NASCAR -- it's just how difficult things are today," Waltrip said. "Trevor is a sharp young man, very well-spoken, good-looking kid with a great heart and can drive the heck out of a car and just didn't get the opportunity -- or hasn't gotten the opportunity -- to do it all full-time yet.

"There's people in all walks of life that are struggling for opportunities. That's the way things are today. I'm real fortunate that my team has been able to survive, because we started at absolutely the worst time in the world to start. We started when the economy was at the top of the world and we raced right into when it was maybe the worst it's been since the depression and we've been able to survive. There are no guarantees. We are just real fortunate to have partners like NAPA and Aaron's or we wouldn't be around today."

Tough times for Herm

It was being whispered in the preseason, but in an interview last weekend on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway the veteran Kenny Wallace revealed that he had the first five races of this season to produce -- or facilitate -- additional sponsorship for his RAB Racing team or owner Robby Benton would be forced to put paying drivers in the car.

Wallace, a nine-time winner in what's now the Nationwide Series, rejuvenated his career in 2011 by racing in the top 10 in the standings all season for the lightly-sponsored RAB operation. Last weekend, Wallace registered RAB's career-best qualifying effort, third, at Phoenix. That was his own best starting position since 2006.

But Wallace, who attempted to make the 2012 Daytona 500 with backing from American Ethanol, has only five races worth of sponsorship this season so his biggest career scramble of late, is on.

Here today ...

Rich Brenner, longtime sports anchor at Fox Channel 8 in Greensboro, N.C., died on the day of the rain-delayed 2012 Daytona 500 when he suffered a heart attack at a charity event. Brenner's was a familiar face to many in the racing community no matter where they were based and it was a tough message to hear of his passing.

Kyle Petty, a hometown athlete for Brenner throughout much of the son of Richard Petty's career, offered a tribute to Brenner, with his wife.

"Pattie and I send our heartfelt condolences to Rich's wife, Judy, and his children," Petty said in a statement. "Rich was a vocal advocate of Victory Junction since its inception, always making time for chronically-ill children. With his sharp wit and giving spirit, he also brought profound awareness and a very personal interview style to the NASCAR industry.

"He was a continuous and steadfast presence in the [Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point] Triad, as well as with the NASCAR family, for as long as I can remember. Rich loved NASCAR and we loved him back. We will miss him deeply."

Home away from home ain't all that

When Kenseth reached Phoenix it was after a zigzag week of celebrating -- and comparing the experience with his previous win in the Great American Race in 2009 -- that included some pretty humorous moments.

Kenseth, who when he reached Phoenix on Thursday evening had yet to return to his North Carolina home, had thought he'd get some rest on Monday night after the Daytona 500 got over about 1 o'clock in the morning. Some of his teammates had another idea.

"I actually walked back to the motorhome and I was going to go back and spend some time with [wife] Katie and try to get a couple hours of sleep before the kids got up so I could tell them goodbye for the week," Kenseth said. "So, I walked back there and I think all of my over-the-wall guys were back at my motorhome and they were all looking for beer."

Kenseth is nothing if he's not all about solutions.

"Katie walked down and found [Kevin and DeLana] Harvick's motorhome driver actually, because that's a good place to look for beer," Kenseth said. "[She] got a couple 12 packs of beer from him and some ice and threw it in a cooler and I sat there and talked to my team guys for an hour-and-a-half or something like that before they took off. So that was nice I got to hang out with them a little bit."

The whole thing was a flashback for Kenseth.

"Of course, the other guys were still in tech working on the car and these guys were done with their stuff, so they kind of wandered over and had some fun spending some time with them. You used to do that on Saturday night racing, but you don't really get to do that anymore because usually everybody is hurrying to get in an airplane and get home.

"That was kind of fun, but I haven't been home yet."

Trucks test tires at The Rock

NASCAR's return to Rockingham Speedway for an April 14-15 Camping World Truck Series round is being preceded Tuesday and Wednesday by a three-truck Goodyear tire test that's open to the public at no charge to provide a sneak preview of the event. Jason Leffler of Kyle Busch Motorsports, James Buescher of Turner Motorsports and Timothy Peters of Red Horse Racing are the three teams testing.

"This Goodyear tire test is a great opportunity to not only provide Goodyear with feedback on the tire selection for the upcoming race, but to get some laps in behind the wheel of the Dollar General Tundra and continue to get adjusted to working with a new team," Leffler said. "Working with these guys at the NASA test and down in Daytona, you can see why they've been successful -- they're really organized and make quick changes. It all starts at the top with the experience of Eric Phillips and Rick Ren. At Daytona, you don't go through a lot of adjustments, so this test will give us the chance to get a better feel for each other and build a stronger driver-crew relationship."