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NASCAR says ‘lot of interest’ in its search to replace Sprint as title sponsor

Sprint All-Star Race

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 19: Steve Phelps, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for NASCAR speaks to the media during the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 19, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With Sprint set to begin its final season sponsoring stock-car racing’s premier series, NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps said the hunt for a replacement remains steady.

“I think we would characterize it as we’re tracking as we thought we would, so a lot of interest,” Phelps told NBC Sports in an interview last week. “A lot of presentations. We have a number of companies active with us in the search, but nothing to report at this point.”

Phelps said there is good news with team sponsorship, which he said has grown in terms of the number of companies but become more diffuse in terms of how much each is spending per team. It’s resulted in a landscape where only a handful of sponsors (M&Ms, FedEx, ShellPennzoil, Lowe’s) are on a Sprint Cup for virtually the entire 36-race season.

“I’m encouraged, but it’s difficult (to gauge the sponsor climate) because the model has shifted so much to where the number of sponsors in NASCAR has increased, but the distribution is far different than it was five to 10 to 15 years ago,” Phelps said. “Within the new paradigm, you’ll continue to see inventory that’s open. You’ll see inventory open on some really good cars because they don’t want to devalue what the cost is, or devalue the partnerships they currently have.”

“Inventory” refers to Sprint Cup races available for sponsors to purchase, putting their logos and colors on a star driver’s car. Powerhouse teams typically ask for roughly $500,000 per race. In order to maintain that price point, teams prefer to leave a car open rather than offer a discount to fill it.

There is at least one example of a new primary sponsor paying the freight for much of the season. After the departure of GoDaddy (which had sponsored a full season from 2013-15), Stewart-Haas Racing landed Nature’s Bakery for Danica Patrick. The upstart snack food company is on her No. 10 Chevrolet for 28 races.

“That was probably the single-most visible (sponsor) that people were concerned with was Danica’s car,” Phelps said. “If it went unsponsored, would she stay in NASCAR? Would she be out of NASCAR?

“The Nature’s Bakery sponsorship is a really good one. It’s back into more traditional consumer package goods type of food company. We’re encouraged by brands coming into NASCAR the first time.”

Though there are some concerns about teams continuing to cannibalize each other’s sponsors, Phelps said the industry has made gains over the past five years, dovetailing with an improving economy.

After once lobbying teams to consider signing more full-season sponsors because the continuity helped with making the car and driver branding easier for fans to follow, there is understanding now from NASCAR that the new model of multiple primary sponsors might make sense all the way around.

“When the marketplace opened up, there was a shift to fractions of seasons,” Phelps said. “I think there are companies that found they can have success running 26 races vs. 36 race or 18 vs. 36.

“Because of the loyalty of the NASCAR fan, they’re still getting the pull and recognition from the NASCAR fan. From a marketing and business standpoint, I would certainly like to go back to 36 (races) with one primary. … But it’s not what it used to be.

“Having more sponsors in the sport is a good thing. Particularly as it relates to casual fans, or kids, I think it’s more difficult. ‘That car should be green? Why is it blue?’ With that said, we have more opportunities for activation and drivers to have their brands be visible and have their personalities come out.”